A French woman who moved to the US to escape an abusive relationship has begun competing a an MMA fighter, after taking up boxing in the hopes of reclaiming her confidence and overcoming the trauma of enduring physical and sexual assaults.
Single mother Kheira Saadi, 32, was born and raised in France but fled in 2012 to escape her former partner, who she began dating after facing years of abuse while growing up in the foster care system in Paris.
The nursing student took up boxing shortly after fleeing her home country and says that the hobby has given her the confidence she needs to stop living in fear – because she knows that if she ever finds herself at the hands of a violent person again, she is more than capable of defending herself.
‘It’s so empowering to know that I can’t get beaten up by anyone again,’ said Kheira, a nursing student and aspiring MMA fighter from Sacramento, California.
Tough: A French woman has revealed she turned to professional MMA fighting to help her deal with the trauma of physical and sexual abuse after fleeing to the US to escape a violent partner
Brave: Single mother Kheira Saadi, 32, who now lives in California, was raised in foster care in France, where she faced abuse from an early age before moving onto an abusive relationship
Strong: Kheira fled France in 2012 with her young daughter, and soon after she took up boxing, before turning her skills to MMA fighting after arriving in the US
‘I’m no longer scared or traumatized. Now I know even if someone looks sketchy, I can take them down and knock them out.’
That feeling of strength is something that Kheira was never able to gain throughout much of her life – having faced horrific abuse when she was just a small child and growing up without her birth parents.
Kheira was placed in foster care as a child; her father was in prison for drug dealing and she had no other family who were able to look after her.
However, while in the childcare system, she had to endure shocking abuse, which led her to act out and look for support in all the wrong places.
‘There was physical violence and sexual abuse,’ she said. ‘My father was in prison for drug dealing.
‘By the time I was 14, I was already on my own, making friends in all the wrong places.
‘I used to be really anxious around men. I always had a problem with them from a young age.’
Knockout! Now, the single mother says that learning to fight and defend herself has given her back the confidence that she lost after suffering abuse
Strength: ‘I’m no longer scared or traumatized. Now I know even if someone looks sketchy, I can take them down and knock them out,’ she said
Empowered: The single mother says that fighting helps her to feel strong and independent – and she advised any other women who’ve been abused to try combat sports for themselves
Within a few years of being on her own Kheira fell into an abusive relationship.
But in 2012 she decided to escape to Brussels, Belgium, with her young daughter.
From there she headed to the US in pursuit of new opportunities and to put distance between her and her abuser.
‘I went to Brussels to put myself back together, I walked around like I was being hunted by the FBI,’ she said.
‘But by 2014 I finally built myself back up financially, so I could buy a plane ticket and go to the US.
‘I first tried boxing when I was in Brussels, but when I arrived in the US I started getting into MMA.’
After a few years of training she was prepared to step into the ring and begin competing.
Training: Kheira is now focused on moving away from Sacramento so she can train at a gym that will help her to better hone her skills
Pro: Since she first moved to the US in 2014, Kheira has fought in four kickboxing matches, two of which she has won
‘I fought four kickboxing matches,’ she recalled. ‘I won two and lost two by decision, but I have never been KO’d or seriously hurt.’
For Kheira, fighting isn’t just a competitive sport, but a means of empowerment and catharsis.
‘I would say that any woman who has been abused should get into combat sports,’ she advised.
‘My abuser would never be able to beat me up now. I’m no longer easy to put hands on.
‘Now I can talk about things, and I’m starting over.
‘The next step is to move away from Sacramento and train at a very good gym.
‘My ultimate goal is to train full-time while going to nursing school.
‘I would love to have a boxing or MMA career. I just need to get into the right gym in a bigger city.’