August 12, 2022

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Pasha Rafiei, 36, now lives in London and is a proud member of the MMA...
Comp of Pasha Rafiei training at K.O. Combat Academy
Pasha Rafiei, 36, now lives in London and is a proud member of the MMA group at Okay.O. Fight Academy (Image: Gergana Krasteva)

There’s a distinctive odor of sweat – typical to well-oiled gyms – at Okay.O. Fight Academy in east London the place blended martial arts star Pasha Rafiei trains seven days every week.

That is the place the ‘Persian powerhouse’ – as he is referred to by followers – has rebuilt his life over the past two years after fleeing Iran in concern for his life.

Watching him ship highly effective kicks whereas carrying an altitude masks, it’s laborious to think about that in 2019 he lived in a refugee camp in Greece the place he used previous car tyres as a boxing bag to remain match.

Again in his homeland, Pasha was often known as Mohammad Hadi-Rafiei – a profitable MMA fighter who had received plenty of medals representing his nation overseas.

However his life took a darkish flip after he complained towards the Iranian Martial Arts Federation over ‘corruption’ in 2016.

The sporting authorities additionally found Pasha had been secretly coaching feminine college students.

‘Below their guidelines [Sharia law], males should not allowed to coach or combine with girls, in order that they banned me from coaching,’ the 36-year-old instructed

Pasha Rafiei training at the gym
Pasha wears an altitude masks throughout coaching to enhance his respiratory (Image: Gergana Krasteva)
Pasha Rafiei training at the gym
Pasha watches over one in every of his lessons, serving to fighters enhance their approach (Image: Gergana Krasteva)

‘Everybody ought to be taught martial arts and self-defence, particularly girls, even whether it is simply to assist others.’

When Pasha returned from a championship in Denmark the next yr, the federation twisted the knife even additional and banned him from coaching in gyms.

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‘I used to be proud to characterize my nation and I waved the Iranian flag after I received the gold medal in Denmark,’ he stated.

‘Danish officers even provided to sponsor me to maneuver there however I refused as I had my household to take care of again dwelling.

‘However after I got here again I used to be banned from coaching in MMA gyms and collaborating in competitions. This was actually laborious for me.

‘Is that the way you recognize your champions? Forcing them to coach in native parks?’

Pasha took half within the August 2018 rebellion towards Iran’s theocratic authorities that noticed protests erupt throughout the nation.

When police arrested him, he recollects being overwhelmed so badly by officers that blood began gushing from his head and he was taken to hospital.

Pasha Rafiei
Earlier than escaping Iran, he had a flourishing profession within the MMA world (Image: Gergana Krasteva)

‘Everybody had their purpose for collaborating within the protests,’ the athlete stated. ‘Police used teargas towards the crowds.

‘They caught me and beat me up. My total face and nostril have been damaged, my ribs as effectively.

‘I keep in mind not having the ability to see after which I misplaced consciousness as a result of my head was actually injured.

‘Police took me to the hospital as they didn’t need the accountability of me dying of their fingers.

‘They let me go after three days and I used to be pressured to signal a letter saying I’ll now not participate in any future protests.’

A clip of Pasha laying on a stretcher within the hospital and coated with blood was shared on-line tens of hundreds of occasions, additional igniting the demonstrations, he stated.

His buddy Navid Afkari, who was with him, was additionally detained and later accused of murdering a safety guard through the anti-government rally.

Pasha Rafiei with his students
Pasha pictured along with his college students after an hour of sparring (Image: Gergana Krasteva)

Activists exterior Iran nonetheless imagine these have been bogus expenses and that Navid’s preliminary confession had been obtained beneath torture.

There had been worldwide requires Navid to be pardoned, together with from then-US president Donald Trump.

However the Iranian judiciary denied claims of torture and he was executed within the metropolis of Shiraz in September 2020.

‘There was by no means any stable proof to indicate that he was responsible, it’s horrid,’ Pasha stated preventing again tears.

‘Navid was killed simply weeks earlier than my birthday, it was the saddest I had been my entire life. I’m nonetheless devastated.’

He feared the identical destiny awaited him even earlier than his pricey buddy Navid – a well known Iranian wrestler and his coaching accomplice – was sentenced to demise.

So, Pasha fled Iran along with his spouse utilizing faux passports, leaving his household, dwelling and flourishing profession behind.

Pasha Rafiei with his youth class
The coach along with his youth class within the east London health club (Image: Gergana Krasteva)

The couple crossed the border with Turkey through a bus after which travelled to Greece the place they have been moved to a refugee camp on the island of Samos, which housed some 3,000 asylum seekers in ‘tragic’ slum-like circumstances.

With ache, Pasha remembers residing in a tent there for practically 12 months. However this didn’t cease him from coaching.

He stated: ‘I ran on the seashore on daily basis. I did shadow boxing and body weight workouts. I used to be not allowed to coach within the gyms in Greece, in order that’s what I needed to do to maintain my type.

‘I additionally stacked three tyres on prime of one another and hung them on a tree to make use of as a punch bag.

‘My fingers have been coated in cuts from the boxing, so I ripped some garments aside and used the fabric to wrap round my knuckles. That was my life there.’

After leaving Samos, he travelled to Athens, then to France after which to the UK.

Pasha and his spouse had married in 2018 however quickly after he found that she was a lesbian.

‘I didn’t know this on the time however her brother pressured her to marry me. She didn’t need to,’ he stated.

‘One of many the explanation why I’m so obsessed with coaching LGBTQ+ folks is due to her.

‘Over time, I obtained to know her higher and I learnt that she was a lesbian however she didn’t truly inform me.

‘I introduced her with me as I felt chargeable for her. She was frightened of the Iranian regime.

‘After we arrived within the UK, she admitted her sexuality to me. She now lives in Birmingham and volunteers for a rainbow organisation. I’m very comfortable for her.’

Now, the Okay.O. Academy within the Bethnal Inexperienced railway arches has turn out to be his new dwelling and its tight-knit group his new household.

Some 40 days after Pasha arrived in London, he started volunteering on the MMA health club, which is an area establishment. 

As a part of his work there, he teaches self-defence lessons for LGBTQ+ folks, hoping to empower them.

Alongside his two jobs, he additionally volunteers with Extremely MMA London, which has raised hundreds of thousands of kilos for Most cancers Analysis since 2019. 

Members get two months of coaching totally free and are then matched up in newbie fights.

The coach additionally volunteers with a 12 to 16 youth group within the space with the hope to offer them self-confidence. 

At present, Pasha is getting ready for his subsequent combat at Crystal Palace on Saturday, June 25 .

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