Elaheh made it to the finals, where her opponent was the tough as nails South Korean fighter Hyebin Kim. It was riveting, bloody battle—all eyes in the stadium were on the two women as they put everything they had on the table. In the second round, Kim delivered a devastating back kick to Elaheh’s face, opening a large gash.
Elaheh’s face became a gruesome mask, with blood streaming down and one eye swollen completely shut. She would later learn as she lay in the hospital that her cheekbone had been broken in three places. It would take her six months to recover.
Yet at that moment, with doctors hovering over her and the match on the line, she refused to quit. She continued, she persevered, and she won. She was not only a winner, but she was also a hero. Pictures of her battered face, and painful smile as the referee raised her hand in the ring, flew around the world on the Internet, along with the story of her bravery and grit.
All those years, Shahrbano was at her sister’s side at most every sanda competition, fighting 2 weight divisions up. It was a golden road all the way, starting with a gold medal in Turkey at the World Wushu Championships in 2011, another in 2013 in Malaysia, and again in 2015 in Jakarta. But her biggest challenge was defending her title last November in the 8th Sanda World Cup in Xian, China.
In Xian, Shahrbano fought her way to the finals to find herself up against seasoned Philippines champion Hergie Bacyadan—the same tough opponent she had defeated in Jakarta. But this would be no easy repeat. Shahrbano came out strong with a push kick to the face in the first round, and Bacyadan returned with a roundhouse kick to the torso. Shahrbano knocked Bacyadan down with another push kick to win the round. OK, business as usual.
Then Hergie came roaring into to the second round with the crazy hard punches Philippine boxers are famous for. She landed several combinations; Shahrbano countered with a takedown—but then Hergie knocked the Iranian down with a hard right, and followed up with a hard kick to the head. The Philippine peppered her opponent with punches—and won the second round.
Shahrbano jumped into the third round, and experience kicked in—literally. Her offensive, trademark high kicks began upping her points right away. Keeping Hergie at a distance she found an opening to take her down. With 45 seconds on the clock, the score was close. But Sharbano’s strategy prevailed. She took the third round, and victory.
The Mansourian sisters recently celebrated double gold medals in the 9th Asian Wushu Championships in Taiwan held this past September. And back home in Iran? They’ve come a long way from being poor farm girls. Finally, there’s security, as well as honor. As professional athletes, they receive a steady salary from the Sports Ministry. Each gold medal also comes with a large cash bonus, which lets the Mansourian sisters pursue their sports careers and achieve financial independence.
Shahrbano is married and lives in Isfahan. Elaheh has opened her own business, a club for fitness and martial arts, also in the city of Isfahan. With her earnings, she supports her whole family since Shahrbano got married. Off the leitai, the Mansourian sisters train daily and mentor younger women athletes who are hoping to achieve the same level of world champion. In fact, they also train their middle sister Soheila—who is following in their footsteps and recently took a bronze medal in the Asian Wushu Championships.
In Iran, Elaheh and Shahrbano are now famous—their gold medal wins make the national sports news, and there have already been three documentaries made about them. The latest is called Zero to Platform—it recently screened at the Iran International Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Best Documentary Feature award.
Elaheh and Shahrbano like being role models for the young women not only in Iran, but all around the globe. Could the next Rhonda Rousey come from the sport of sanda? Or from Iran? It’s entirely possible, and the world will wait and see.