French boxer Anissa Meksen will be celebrating Bastille Day in New York. Weighing in at 53 kilos (117 pounds), the athlete will be taking part in a gala match in Madison Square Garden this Friday. The event marks the first American fight in her professional boxing career.
Anissa Meksen exudes determination and self-confidence, even as she answers our questions on the phone from her club in Nanterre, in the Paris region. She lists her multiple awards, reciting them like a nursery rhyme: Eight times champion of France, three times champion of Europe, and five times world champion. “I knew I wanted to become a world champion as soon as I started savate [a French form of boxing, similar to kickboxing] at the age of 12.
Originally from Nancy, in Northeastern France, the challenge-hungry competitor turned her attention to Thai boxing (or “Muay Thai”) and traditional kickboxing (K-1) in 2012. And it is in the latter discipline — which allows the use of feet, fists and knees — that Meksen will be facing the Brazilian Jady Menezes on July 14, in the “super-bantamweight” category. This exhibition match is part of an 18-month contract between the French sportswoman and Glory, one of the world’s biggest kickboxing promotion companies.
Meksen is hoping her first American fight will “boost [her] visibility” in the United States, where combat sports enjoy greater media attention. The French Boxing Federation currently has 31 professional female boxers on its books — compared with 384 professional male boxers — but women’s boxing has been buoyed by the “Olympics effect,” according to Meksen. Just last year, Estelle Mossely became the first female French Olympic boxing champion in the lightweight category (under 60 kilos, or 132 pounds) at Rio 2016. The French boxing team won a total of six medals at the Olympic Games in Brazil, including two golds.
“My life is devoted to competition,” says the 29-year-old Meksen. She discovered judo, karate and ju-jitsu as a child, before her brother encouraged her to try French boxing. Her days are now organized around her training sessions, with physical preparation in the mornings, and technique practice and matches in the evenings. “I’m so driven by new challenges, top performances, and victory,” she says.
Alongside her French boxing and kickboxing career, Meksen is also considering a foray into mixed martial arts. Last year she attended two, month-long training programs in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, New Mexico. And April of this year saw her take on her first professional traditional boxing match. “You don’t know me!” she called as she left the ring after winning in six rounds. “But you will!”