By Wong Li Za & Sara Hendawy
Clinic assistant by day, fearless wrestler by night. That’s who 19-year-old Nor “Phoenix” Diana is, and proudly so.
The professional wrestler is Malaysia’s – and likely the world’s – first hijab-wearing professional wrestler who is rocking the ring in a male-dominated arena.
Earlier this month, Nor Diana was named the Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) Wrestlecon champion at MyPW Fightback, the first woman to receive the title, beating four male wrestlers including former champion Gotham.
One of only two women wrestlers in the country at present, Nor Diana has garnered over 37,700 followers on Instagram. She even received a shoutout recently on Twitter from American-Muslim WWE superstar Adeel Alam, better known as “Ali”.
“I don’t believe that because I am female, I cannot pursue my dream and passion. Wrestling is tough, yet I like it because it proves that women can do anything,” declares the petite Nor Diana when we met at a wrestling gym in Puchong, Selangor recently.
Nor Diana’s initial introduction to wrestling started when she played such games on her handheld device with her younger brother. She progressed to watching wrestling matches on TV and as her interest grew, began taking lessons at MyPW, the country’s pro wrestling body, in 2015.
After just two months of training, she was asked to replace a wrestler at a match at the last minute. To everyone’s surprise, including her coach, she won the fight.
That marked the start of Nor Diana’s exciting journey in pro wrestling, a combination of theatre and athletics where although skills and techniques do matter, the winners are somewhat predetermined.
“What I like about wrestling the most is how the audience and I connect; how sad they become if I get hurt and how aggressively they behave to defend and cheer for me like a family,” shares Nor Diana, who is from Kuala Lumpur.
Her idol is Sasha Banks, a pro wrestler from the United States.
“I like her charisma and confidence. When I see her on TV, she makes me feel that women wrestlers can do so much. She inspires me as she is also small (in size) and that if she can do it, why can’t I?” adds Nor Diana, who stands at just 155cm and weighs 43kg.
Grooming her from day one is coach Ayez Shaukat Fonseka Farid, founder and head coach of MyPW.
“She has never been treated differently here. She is as strong as the other male trainees and if a man has to do chain push-ups, she has to do it too,” says the 31-year-old coach, who is also an actor and director.
Ayez has positive comments about Nor Diana’s dedication to the art form.
“What I like about her is her passion. She knows she is the only girl at MyPW, yet she never takes that for granted. She loves what she is doing and will not miss any practice session even though she is hurt or injured,” he reveals.
Despite being a pro wrestler for under four years, Ayez says her skill and strength level matches women wrestlers with over 10 years’ experience.
“That’s how good she is. But when she first came, she was so shy and quite apprehensive about pro wrestling because she is a hijabi. But she showed up regularly and I started to have faith in her. I can tell when someone can make it when there is the willpower and the passion to continue training and to keep improving,” he says.
Without a doubt, Nor Diana believes that neither religion nor gender should stand as a barrier to pursuing what one loves.
“After (news of me went) viral, many people were surprised at a hijab-wearing Muslim doing wrestling, but I do not want them to overlook my talents. I want people to see my passion and love for wrestling. At the same time, I want them to acknowledge what hijabi girls can do,” emphasises Nor Diana, who hopes to go against JY Eagle from Malaysia and Indi Hartwell from Australia one day.
Her long-term goal is to fight at WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), with her dream opponent being Sasha Banks.
“If you have a dream, just follow your heart and whatever your passion is, just go for it. You never know what you are capable of until you try.
You don’t have to think about what other people say. Just do what makes you happy,” she ends.