If you see Bozhena Antoniyar in the street, you might have dismissed her as a pretty petite girl. But when you see her in the ring, she is a force to be reckoned with. Nay Thiha e-interviewed the rising mixed martial arts star who is presently training in Bali.
Antoniyar, better known as Toto in and outside the arena, started boxing at the young age of 16. She was just 23 when knocking out the opponent in just 24 seconds at the first round of her ONE Championship debut. It was recorded as the fastest knockout in ONE women’s history.
Stands at 155 centimetres, Toto is not tall at all. But her stature hardly presents an obstacle. Toto’s bullet punches and firm grappling give a hard time to every opponent she faces inside the ring. With 3 wins and 2 losses in her ONE career, Toto has become one of the most promising Myanmar female athletes in a short time.
On being a woman in the men’s world, Toto says: “The combat sport is very tough. As a woman, I got to try very hard to compete with male fighters. My body is kind of tiny compared to others. So when I fight, I have to struggle more than usual. But I never get depressed and try as hard as I can.”
Grew up on a farm in a village in Kayah State, Toto’s journey to sport stardom is an unusual one. As a child, Toto took interest in singing and playing musical instruments.
When she was done with the school, her dream was to move to Yangon and make a living as a musician. But her parents were worried for their youngest daughter and did not permit her to move out. She tried to pursue a football career, but again, had to give it up because of the same reason.
Then, Toto found a new passion – and her true calling – boxing.
“Since I was young I wanted to be successful,” Toto recalls. “When I was living in Kayah, there was a state boxing competition and the officials selected me to represent our state in the ring. It was the first step of my combat career.”
Her parents did not approve of boxing, either. But Toto moved to Yangon and decided not to return home until she made a name in boxing. She lived in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw briefly to train for the 2013 Southeast Asian Games.
In 2017, she had worked as a fitness instructor and boxing coach at Transcend Gym and it was when she learnt jiu jitsu (Brazillian martial art) to diversify her fighting style. Through her local boxing matches, Toto’s talents caught the attention of ONE Championship. When she was offered an opportunity to fight in ONE Championship: Quest for Gold, she jumped at it. One thing led to another and she is now training with the Bali MMA.
“Every bout I fought was full of challenges. Accepting a match means facing the challenge. The most challenging and toughest opponent is Bi Nguyen.”
She faced her Vietnamese-American opponent in July 2019. Their intense, full-round bout was five minutes long and Toto emerged victorious by a split decision of the judges. Spectators recognised her ability to shift between offensive and defensive stances in the ring. Her jiu jitsu skills were praised by acclaimed MMA fighter Aung La Nsang himself.
“I agree that losing is a part of the game. But I don’t like losses and don’t want to be a loser. After losing a match, I feel so sorry. But I pick myself up and train for the next match,” she says, reflecting on her career.
When Toto is not training, she comes back to her hometown Loikaw and spends time with her family. Her parents have now made peace with her career. She may be found listening to music or playing some instruments in her spare time. The Kayan woman believes MMA is a way to promote her country and heritage.
She considers opening a training school when she retires from the ring. As a headstrong woman herself, Toto also wants the youths to follow their dreams without having second thoughts.
“I want to advise the next generation of fighters to try hard and be ambitious. Everybody will face difficulties and struggles. But don’t give up easily. If you want to be successful, you have to endure hardship. When you consider choosing this career, I suggest you walk till the end.”
Follow Toto @bozhena.antoniyar.10 on Facebook.