Meet Phoenix, World’s First Hijab-Wearing Champion Wrestler
At home, Nor Diana is a shy and studious hijab-wearing Malaysian woman, but when in the ring, the wrestler is known as “Phoenix” — a female Muslim fighter breaking multiple barriers in a male-dominated world.
Dressed in a black and orange hijab and top, Nor participated and won in Malaysia’s biggest wrestling tournament – defeating four men for the title – Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) – last month. The 19-year-old headscarf-wearing woman is just 152cm (5ft) tall and weighs 43kg (94lbs), and she is argued to be unlikely figure for a pro wrestler. The way she speaks, softly and gently, it is not the way you see a regular pro wrestler talk or make a gesture.
“In the real world I am really shy, I am very reserved, but something happens to me when I go into the ring as Phoenix, I become a totally different person,” Nor said to The Guardian. “Phoenix is more fun and more energetic and brave, she has this fire in her and she always wants to win. And that’s why I love wrestling because I get to do things I could never do in real life.”
Nor has been training day and night for the past four years to be Phoenix, to steadily grow to become one of the biggest names in Malaysian pro-wrestling. She is defying stigmas and smashing traditional barriers that often placed on Muslim women in Malaysian society. “The response has been amazing,” says Nor. “Last year, we had all-female wrestling tryouts and no one turned up. But this week we had tryouts and three hijabi girls came to the training.”
Nor started her endeavours in wrestling when she was 14, playing WWE wrestling games with her brother and then watching matches on TV with her father and four brothers. The WWE icons such as The Rock, The Undertaker and John Cena really inspired her to be one like them. “I just loved the characters of the wrestlers and stories they told for each match,” she recalls. “And even though it seemed impossible, I kept thinking: what if, one day, I could be one of them.”
Goal was finally set after watching female wrestler Sasha Banks fight. An obsessed Nor would Google professional wrestling in Malaysia and scour Facebook, and finally found her way to the MyPW, Malaysia’s first and only pro-wrestling outfit’s first show in 2015. With the support of younger brother and father, she chose the wrestling ring like a pro.
“When I saw she was this small hijabi girl, I was a bit surprised but for me, I’ve always believed that if a person is passionate about something, who are we to stop them,” says her coach, Ayez Shaukat Fonseka Farid. “Since that first day, she has never missed training. The only issue was that she was very, very timid, it was very hard to break her out of her shell, and in order to be a good pro wrestler you need to be very confident and very charismatic. But I saw potential in her from her first match because as soon as she came on, she just transformed into this whole different person.”
“What fans really love about her is the heart,” he added. “She gets slammed around a lot but she always gets back up.”
For the first three years, Nor chose to wear a luchador wrestling mask when she fought in public as Phoenix. “I was always afraid of what people in Malaysia, but especially the fans, would think when they saw a hijabi girl wrestling and so wearing a mask made it a bit easier,” she says.
“Before I took off the mask I was really afraid,” says Nor. “But as soon as I took it off and people could see that I was wearing a hijab, people started cheering and shouting all these supportive things and I cried in the ring. And my friends told me later that backstage, when I unmasked, some of the wrestlers, the guys I train with, cried too. For them it showed how much pride I had as a wrestler.”
“There has been quite a big backlash, people telling me that hijab girls should not be doing extreme sports and I should not train with guys because it was shameful,” Nor sighs. “It is hard for me because I am with my phone 24/7 and you can’t help but scroll through all the comments.”
“But actually they fuel my fire,” she adds. “If I had listened to those voices when I started I wouldn’t be where I am now. So I use their words as motivation to train more, to prove to these people that being a hijab girl should not stop me, that I have something here I know I can do well – no matter what they say.”
Feature Image Credit: The Guardian