It’s an early Tuesday morning in November when Pannie walks down the stairs of Onechai Muay Thai in Hornstull, linked arms with her boyfriend Ilaz Zabeli. She has arrived from Malmö to spend the weekend in Stockholm and has planned as many training sessions she possibly can. Today’s agenda says Thaiboxing sparring with Gabriella Ringblom, Jenny Krigsman and Viktoria Lauenstein. After a dozen of rounds with jabs, uppercuts and lowkicks Pannie drops her gloves and sits down on the mat to give us her life story.

From geek to MMA pro

The year was 1991 when Pannie opened her eyes for the first time in the city Ahvaz in Iran. Her father had by then been imprisoned eight years for his political work and two years later the parents and their four children left their home country. They went via Turkey to little Åstorp outside of Helsingborg. “Åstorp was nice, but it’s a really small village. When I was about to start school we moved to Helsingborg and you can say that I stuck out considering I was the only foreigner in class. I was quite tall and big compared to the other small, thin and blond girls so of course I felt like an outsider. But I guess everybody does in elementary school, I think it sucks. I was super geeky back then and I had no interests at all, but when I was 13 I started to train boxing. The other girls wanted to dance but since I suffer from a complete lack of rhythm I felt boxing was more for me!”


In secondary school Pannie started competing in boxing which went well in the beginning, but with time her nerves started making it a painful experience to enter the ring. After about 25 amateur fights she had lost the motivation to box and the bad relationship to the boxing gym didn’t make it better. “I decided right there to never compete again. But then one day I ran into Mats Nilsson when he was coaching some shootfighters in Helsingborg. He suggested that I should come by Kaisho and try their training. I’d seen MMA on TV but I didn’t like it at all, I thought it was for hooligans! But eventually I went there and realized how fun it was to roll. I started competing in submission wrestling and became a reserve in the national team but soon after I’d transfer to shootfighting. It went well and I wanted to compete in amateur MMA but back then there were no girls to fight. After winning the National championship in Shootfighting 2011 I decided to book my first professional MMA fight.”

With relatively little grappling experience Pannie faced Helin Paara, an Estonian brown belt in BJJ, in her pro debut. At one occasion in the fight Paara got hold of Pannie’s arm and it looked like she would almost break it, but Pannie managed to get out and was in the end awarded the win by unanimous decision. A few months later she won two more fights, against Cheryl Flynn and Lina Länsberg, but the fight against Flynn could have ended in a quite embarrassing way if she wouldn’t have finished it in the first round. “I had eaten something weird after the weigh-in and I had a terrible stomach ache. There was another fighter in the same dressing room and I really can’t go to the toilet with other people outside, so I just laid on a bench, trying to endure. I couldn’t warm up at all and when my coach asked me what I was going to do I said that I would either win quickly or the whole crowd would see my light pink tights change colour!” Pannie finished her opponent via TKO in the first round.


Career journey via Rostov-On-Don, London and Las Vegas

After her three wins Pannie went to Las Vegas and the try-outs for The Ultimate Fighter where she performed well, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make it into the show. Instead she got another challenge: a fight against the big favourite Milena Dudieva in the Russian city Rostov-On-Don. “My trainer had given me the advice to start training in Copenhagen instead, to get better MMA sparring, so when it was time to go to Russia Nicolas Dalby joined me. I’d had the worst camp ever prior to the fight, so it was super scary to go! It was a different place, this Russian city. I remember we sat in the sauna for the weigh-in and this huge Russian man with an umpalumpa hat was whipping us with a towel so that we would sweat more. It was an amazing experience to fight on the main card against their big favourite. I was worried it’d be a close fight, because I was sure the judges would give her the win in such a case, but my confidence grew during the fight and when it was over I felt I’d been dominant. The judges gave me the win, reluctantly. Afterwards we partied the whole night, in was great fun. They really drink liquor as if it was water over there, and Nicolas can drink quite a lot as well!”

Her next challenge would be on home ground in Helsingborg, a fight in Superior Challenge against Annalisa Bucci. Pannie felt a bit rusty after being away for a couple of months due to a bad knee and on top of that she felt uncomfortable fighting in her home town, but she did enough to win the fight and had a record of 5-0. The Brittish MMA organization Cage Warriors had noticed Pannie and offered her a contract, and she gladly accepted it. Her debut fight was booked in Jordan’s capital city Amman, against the skilled judoka Megan van Houtum. After defeating van Houtum via TKO Pannie was offered the title fight in Cage Warriors. Her opponent dropped out just a week before the fight and was replaced by Eeva Siiskonen. The fight was held in London and it was Pannie’s first five round fight, and it took all of them before the judges declared her the winner and the first female bantamweight champion in Cage Warriors!

Many thought that UFC would recruit the Swedish, undefeated talent by now but instead she got an offer from Invicta FC, the world’s largest MMA organization for women. Apparently UFC said they wanted more exciting fights from Pannie, more aggression and action. “It was tough to not get the UFC contract but at the same time I like Invicta. It was awesome to get to fight in Las Vegas! I remember walking in at MGM Grand, thinking to myself how far I’ve come and that I never thought I could do that. I won my first fight in Invicta and many people who were there thought I did a great fight, but the UFC still didn’t contact me so I was offered a title fight in Invicta instead. And it went to hell!“ Pannie didn’t feel well prior to the fight and was struggling with depression and other personal issues. Looking back, she should probably have cancelled the fight, but when you got a chance on the title it’s difficult not to take it. The opponent Tonya Evinger defeated her in the second round.

It was a lot for Pannie to deal with after her first loss in her career, and she now realized how tough her life situation actually was. “My trainers had no idea how I felt within, they just thought I didn’t give a shit about them or the fight, that I didn’t take it seriously. They said that I had to start from the bottom now. But I mean, all fighters have lost at some point, I’m not going to start from the bottom because of that. I haven’t come all this way to start from the beginning. Why don’t I have the same right as everybody else to fail? I felt extremely lonely when I came back to Sweden. I came back to postponed bills, an empty bank account, a job I hated and a gym where I thought everybody hated me. As a consequence I started abuse both training and food, and I varied between vomiting, training too hard and eating too much. Eventually I travelled to Thailand to train, but I suffered from bulging discs so when I came back home I stayed in bed for a long time and finally decided to deal with everything. I started seeing a psychologist, quit my job, ended relations with people who didn’t want my best, I started my own company and I moved in with Ilaz. Now I feel so much better and I can’t wait to get back with a stronger mental game than ever!”


Cash is king

For most MMA fighters who want a career in the sport, the big goal is the UFC. A contract with them has become equivalent with being part of the world elite. Lina Länsberg just recently became the first Swedish woman in the UFC when she fought Chris Cyborg. But there is actually someone who was offered a UFC contract three years earlier. “I’ve never talked about it and almost no one knows, but after my fight against Milena Dudieva in 2013 I was offered a UFC contract. They wanted me to fight Julie Kedzie at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Bigfoot in Australia, but my knee was so swollen and I could barely walk. The fight was just three weeks away so I had no chance to heal up until then so I had to turn down the offer. It feels unfair of course, that I haven’t got any second chance after that. After losing to me, Milena beat a beginner and then entered the UFC. If she and Lina Länsberg are worth UFC contract then I definitely think I am as well!”

A big part of the reason Pannie wants to the UFC is the economy. As a fighter it’s a struggle to make a living and it’s only in the biggest organizations you got a good chance to train full time. “It’s tough to work full time and still train twice a day. When I was injured over a long period of time I didn’t get any money at all from fighting so I couldn’t afford the train card to Copenhagen which meant I couldn’t go to my gym for two months. Fortunately a friend donated some mats to me that I could have in my living room so I could train there with Ilaz. But the salary really sucks. There are no sponsors that hand out cash and for my title fight in Invicta I got 5000 dollars, that’s nothing! People don’t think about the costs we have when preparing for a fight. X-rays, eye examinations and all of that cost at least 6000 SEK plus the pay to the trainers. I try to push my managers all the time so that I can know how to pay my next rent!”


To secure her economy Pannie has brought out her entrepreneurial spirit and started her own company, and she proudly shows us her first product: a pair of crisp, white boxing gloves with pink laces of the own brand KIANZAD. At the side of the laces Pannie’s favourite sentence is printed: Humle, not afraid to rumble. “I’ve always loved gloves but the gloves I’ve received from sponsors have been so bad. With some help from my friend, professional boxer Torben Keller, who makes gloves of the brand Keller, I developed this one. It’s not expensive at all, every fighter should afford it. There are already companies in Norway and the US who want to start selling them, so I’m optimistic. We also have gear for MMA and Thaiboxing and at the moment we’re working on street wear.”

Inspiration and future

There’s one fighter who’s been Pannie’s source of inspiration for a long time. “I’m a huge [Chris] Cyborg fan, and I’ve always been. I hugged her once and could feel how incredibly strong she is! We fought at the same card in Las Vegas and I got all star struck. She was so kind offering me her bath tub to cut weight, as mine was broken. I know her boyfriend quite well so he actually keep in touch from time to time. She wrote to me recently and said I should come over and train with her sometime, that would be awesome! Besides from her, I also love everything about Demian Maia, but who doesn’t?”

”If I would chose someone to read an interview with, I’d say Robbie Lawler. He’s so cool, fighting in the UFC so many years ago, getting thrown out, coming back like nine years later, becomes world champion and then knocked out! But to be honest I don’t watch that much UFC, only if the girls in my division or someone I’ve fought are fighting. I watch more of Metamoris and other BJJ competitions, but also Bellator, Cage Rage and lately a lot of Rizin.”


Pannie has been injured since August but is now healed and ready for her next chance in the cage. “I would like to fight Cindy Dandois, or maybe Raquel Pa’aluhi. I have one fight left on my Invicta contract and we’ll see what happens after that. It could be nice to feel free for a while and see where you want to fight. A dream I have is to fight more in the Middle East. It was so cool to fight in Jordan and now I have a lot of fans over there. In one way I’d rather have fans there than in Sweden. Everyone here falls in love as soon as they see Alexander Gustafsson but forget that there are other fighters as well. But we’ll see what will happen; I would absolutely fight in One FC, World Series of Fighting or Bellator.”

FighterInterviews thanks Pannie Kianzad for the glimpse into her life and wish her all success in the future!