Queensland teen gets monster MMA debut
Aussie teen sensation Alma Juniku is just hours away from making her debut in the world's biggest Mixed Martial Arts promotion on Saturday night in China.
The Queensland fighter is in the middle of whirlwind four weeks that have forever changed her life.
There will be no going back for her now - especially if she is able to shock the world and be crowned the ONE fight promotion's atomweight Muay Thai champion when she steps into the ring to take reigning champion Stamp Fairtex's championship belt in Shanghai.
The 18-year-old has been turning heads around the world in recent weeks, making her ONE debut one of the most anticipated Muay Thai fights of the 2019 calendar.
The bright lights of a main event title fight in front of more than 14,000 fans at the Baoshan Arena on a global broadcast to 2.6 billion potential viewers across 140 countries is a long way from the Modern Warrior MMA Muay Thai gym she has trained out of in Brisbane's southern suburbs since she was eight-years-old.
Despite a rich list of achievements already and her following of more than 28,000 supporters on Instagram, she admits this is the biggest moment of her career.
"It's not the first time I've been going for a title and fighting in the main event, but I'm really, really excited and thankful that I'm fighting for the belt," Juniku told BJPenn.com.
"It would mean the world to me to win this title because it would really boost my career. It'd be such a huge accomplishment."
It all changed for her in May when she was signed to the ONE promotion. Five days later she'd been handed a title shot against Fairtex.
Juniku has always had a fascination with the brutal kick-boxing sport and has been training as a Muay Thai fighter since she convinced her father to let her give up soccer and take up the combat sport.
It has all led to the biggest fight of her career on Saturday night where she will join fellow Aussie champion Martin Nguyen in the Singapore-based promotion alongside some of the biggest fight stars on the planet, including former UFC champion Demetrious Johnson.
Her big moment hasn't come from completely out of the blue either.
Juniku, an Australian champion kickboxer, holds the WBC Muay Thai bantamweight world title and the IPCC World Muay Thai bantamweight title.
She was also last month crowned WBC Muay Thai female fighter of the year for 2018.
The daughter of Albanian parents, who moved to Australia in the 1980s to flee their war-torn homeland, Juniku happily admits growing up in the "rough" area of Logan, south of Brisbane, has helped make her the fierce fighter she is today.
"Logan City is a bit of a rough area with violence and crime," she told ONE.
"I grew up in a nicer area, so it wasn't too bad, a little bit rough, but it made me the person I am today - maybe tougher."
She says her father wanted her to play football as a child and was "heartbroken" when she made the switch to kick-boxing.
Juniku's father Afrim Juniku was a professional footballer who played for Brisbane City when the team was previously part of the National Soccer League.
Despite his love for football, all three of his children soon took up Muay Thai fighting.
"We didn't know if it was a sport for girls," she said, revealing her brother was the first to take up the sport.
"He said it was fun, so we got into it, and ever since then we fell in love with it.
"It was a blessing in our life. I'm really happy that me and my brother and sister all train together and fight professionally together because we all get advice from each other."
She will now be using all that rich background to make history on Saturday night.