SINGAPORE - Since discovering martial arts at the age of 11, Jackie Buntan has steadily risen up the muay thai ranks, winning competitions such as the IAMTF Featherweight Championship and the California State Muay Thai Championship.
But her journey has not been without challenges.
As a female fighter, the 24-year-old Filipina-American often struggled to find other female martial artists to spar with, especially in the early stages of her career.
But Buntan believes things have improved significantly with more female fighters in the combat sport scene and is also encouraged to see more all-women cards such as the One Championship: Empower event in Singapore that she will be part of on Friday (Sept 3).
Empower, which was postponed from its original May 28 date owing to the Covid-19 situation, is the first all-women event in One's 10-year history. It will feature China's Xiong Jingnan defending her strawweight world title as well as the four quarter-finals of a grand prix competition, which will see the winner earn a shot at Angela Lee's atomweight world title.
Buntan, who also competed in an all-woman card in Toronto in 2018, said: "Empower and other shows showcasing all-female cards can help grow women's martial arts by proving to the world us women are just as hard-working as any other man, if not more.
"We are serious competitors that showcase our skills, hard work, humility, confidence, resilience and power - everything you gain from martial arts. I hope it shows other people around the world that women in martial arts are a powerful thing and that we learn so much about ourselves despite the stigma of chaos that fighting has."
One chief executive Chatri Sityodtong said the upcoming event was a celebration of women's empowerment, specifically through martial arts, and hopes that it will inspire more women to pursue their dreams.
He is confident that the event will be a hit among audiences, saying: "With the buzz that this event has generated since the grand prix was first announced, I have no doubt that it's going to be one of our biggest cards of the year.
"This event is our way of sending a message to the world - that if you are the best at what you do, your gender does not matter. The success of women in sports deserves to be celebrated given all they have had to overcome."
The show will be headlined by Xiong, who will be defending her belt against second-ranked contender Michelle Nicolini, a 13-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) world champion and BJJ hall of famer.
Alyse Anderson, who will be making her One debut in the atomweight world grand prix, is no stranger to an all-women card having come up as a professional through Invicta Fighting Championships, a United States-based all-female mixed martial arts promotion, and she acknowledged the importance of having such events around the world.
She said: "I think One provides athletes of both sexes one of the biggest spotlights in the world so if the women go out and show they can perform it will be inevitable that naysayers will become fans.
"It happened here in the United States and it can happen anywhere."
The American, who will be coming up against undefeated Itsuki Hirata, knows it will not be easy to overcome the Japanese, but is excited to make her debut.
She said: "I want to make my family and team proud. I go into every fight thinking it will be my toughest fight. I'm not overlooking her by any means so I'm expecting her to be tough."
Buntan will be hoping to continue her fine form since making her promotional debut this year. With victories over Thailand's Wondergirl Fairtex and Belarusian Ekaterina Vandaryeva, she will be hoping to get another over Argentina's Daniela Lopez in a strawweight muay thai bout.
She said: "With my past victories, it definitely motivates me to keep bringing the best version of myself into the cage. It adds to my confidence as well but my confidence is found with the little victories I find daily.
"I think it will be a different type of pace when I fight Daniela. We have two completely opposite styles so it should match for an interesting and entertaining fight."