ANISHA BASHEEL “THE MASSACRE” IN OFFICE
“If soldiers go to war, they should conquer or die…” this was the motto of the Dahomey Amazons, the all-female army of the Kingdom of Dahomey, modern day Republic of Benin. As celebrated warriors in the region of Nigeria and Togo, they made the expansion of the Dahomey empire possible beyond its capital of Abomey. Of course, this is the summarized version.
Fast forward to present-day Malawi, 5 ft 8 female boxing champion Anisha Basheel is a force to be reckoned with in the boxing arena. Also known as “The Massacre”, her 8 year boxing journey covers 34 matches in amateur boxing and 14 matches professionally with 6 losses and 8 wins. Anisha is very happy with herself for making significant strides in her boxing career in Malawi and across the globe. But, where did the journey really begin for her, especially in a country where most people are of the view that boxing is a sport only for men?
Anisha’s first encounter with boxing through television when she saw a female boxer in action, she instantly knew she could do it. First though, she had to face the challenges of not being able to afford shoes, clothes, even boxing gear. Training at the community center meant going barefoot but as the matches started coming in, she could afford to buy necessities a step at a time, including decent training gear.
“Everything goes step by step,” she says. She looks back at the transformation that has happened in her life because of her hard work and boxing dream, becoming more financially independent as her boxing career steadily grows. Anisha took on trainer Leonard Metazama for 3 years before working with Clyde Musonda for the past 5 years. Her intense training involves sit ups, squats, jogging in the morning and shadow boxing, making sure she is keeping her energy up by eating several meals through-out the day. “I could eat nsima every day,” she laughs.
Anisha says preparing for fights often involves isolating herself from social gatherings in order to fully concentrate mentally, physically and emotionally on her training and upcoming matches. This sounds reminiscent of the training the Dahomey Amazons underwent in becoming the ferocious warriors they were; living separately from the rest of society to focus on their training and protecting the kingdom of Dahomey.
“When I am in the ring, I am in my office, I respect my profession so much that I cannot allow anyone to confuse me in my territory,” Anisha says. From her experience, inadequately preparing for a fight can cost her a match, so she makes sure that she is in her zone especially in the months and weeks leading up to her fights. She adds that there are some people who have the ability to instill doubt in yourself or who can stir up trouble that can lead to physical harm which can become a physical set back to her performing well during fights. And because of that, she sticks to her routine and follows her trainer’s advice and instructions.
As one of the recently unveiled brand ambassadors for Plan Malawi, the boxing champion’s message to young girls is to give absolute focus to their dreams and ambitions. She adds that along with having a clear-cut direction of how you want your life to be, you have to be more committed to it than anyone else and work towards achieving it. When you have achieved your goals, which involve self-development and shaping your career path, then you can look into doing other things in your life, such as getting married or pursuing other interests.
“Put your career first, you can do it,” Anisha says. Her most exciting fight was her first match ever with American female boxer, Jessica Zuzik. She remembers fighting with her at the community center ground when she first got into professional matches. She says it is her favorite match because listening to her coach’s advice and instruction on how to maneuver in the fight led to her victory. Anisha realized how strong and powerful she is from her training with her male counterparts. She knows she can do everything they can and more, an experience that empowers her to keep pushing herself to break the stereotypes and limitations placed on women, especially in the boxing field.
“Being with a partner that understands the passion I have for my boxing career has been a great support system,” she says. Some men find it intimidating to pursue a woman involved in physically demanding sport. She believes it’s important to one’s personal and professional growth to be with a partner that understands the vision and drive you have for your life without trying to take from it or dismiss it.
To aspiring female boxers in the country, she urges them to join her in breaking the glass ceilings for women in the boxing arena so that more championship belts can be brought home and celebrated. “I see myself as a catalyst to many more Malawian female boxing champions,” says Anisha. Just like the great Dahomey Amazon female warriors of the Kingdom of Dahomey who contributed to the expansion of the empire, Malawian female sportswomen have the ability to expand the economy and glory of the country as has been proven from their various performances across different sports, locally and internationally.
“In my own journey, I started off fighting for free and now I am getting paid for it. It isn’t necessarily about benefitting in the form of money but about continuously cultivating the passion for the sport and the opportunities that come with it,” Anisha says. “The individuals who have the most negative things to say about your life and what you are working on are the same ones who admire and flatter you when they realize how wrong they were.” The most important thing to Anisha is to keep growing the value of her brand through consistent hard work in her sports career. People will try compare you to others, but you have to be determined enough to push past comments that can throw off your focus and slow you down.
To become a champion, you have to do whatever it takes to come up winning whilst staying true to your authentic self. For us to raise a generation of influential and powerful Malawian females, we have to invest in teaching one another how to take charge of our narrative and push past limitations placed on us by society.