Lessons in grit from the gutsy 20-year-old wrestler celebrated both here and abroad
In 2019, 'Phoenix' was the name on everyone's lips in Malaysia's pro wrestling scene and in similar circles across Asia and the UK. Dressed in black attire rife with blazes of red and yellow, the petite young wrestler garnered thunderous applause from the crowds before even stepping into the ring for a match.
It wasn't just the fact that she was the world's first hijab-wearing wrestler that left audiences reeling with admiration; it was that they could almost feel her steely tenacity and determination each time she appeared.
Today, the reserved 20-year-old also known as Nor Diana has been around the world, featured on international platforms like The Guardian and ESPN. She's challenged larger and intimidating opponents in matches, sometimes leaving the fight as the victor and sometimes not – all under the watchful eye of her coach, Ayez Shaukat-Fonseka.
Amidst the seismic changes in her life this year – the loss of her mother the most devastating of them – Diana's impressive physical strength is still secondary compared to the inner strength that she's had to muster up in the last few weeks. Below, she shares what keeps her motivated through the fiercest of challenges.
How did your interest in wrestling start?
Growing up, I used to play games on my PSP, and one of my favorite ones was WWE. I honestly didn't know that wrestling matches like these even existed outside of my game. When I found out about WWE sports, I started watching pro wrestling often.
What takes up most of your time besides wrestling?
I spend most of my free time with my family. I also put effort into physical training in the gym to improve my strength and conditioning – these are vital in pro wrestling.
What kind of training that you undergo and how often do you train?
I train in wrestling twice a week, and the gym 4 times a week. Wrestling is a very physical sport, so we must also be athletically inclined. For wrestling training, we usually start with warm-ups followed by tumbling drills (like in gymnastics), and then we move on to techniques. We also learn the art of storytelling in the ring. It's really interesting and more in-depth than most people think.
What goes through your mind when you first step into the ring?
When I'm in the ring, I take on a whole different persona: my stage character, Phoenix. She is different as compared to me personally. I am shy, reserved and introverted. She is confident and outgoing. I love telling stories in the ring through pro-wrestling, entertaining the audience.
What are the biggest goals you've set for yourself this year?
I wish to lay the foundations for 2021. I want to build my name and brand so people around the world know me by the time I make my way there. In the UK, they've already started to notice me. I'd love to perform in more countries for a better 2021.
What has been your biggest source of strength?
My family, especially my late mother. She just passed away, but before that, she was my number one source of strength and my constant support.
I always think of her to keep myself motivated. I'm grateful to my coach too, for pushing me, guiding me to be where I am today and continuing to push me to achieve beyond what I believe I can. I also have an aunt in the UK who has been very supportive of my wrestling career.
Looking back, how has pro wrestling empowered you?
I believe it's given me more confidence. It's helped me to trust myself more and realise that I can achieve more than I thought I could. It first started as a dream, but 4 years on, I'm known all around the world and have travelled to different countries to wrestle. I feel like the only thing that can actually stop me, is myself - and once I remind myself that, I’ll continue to break barriers.
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