IMAN Barlow announced her arrival among the Thai boxing elite on Saturday by controlling the biggest fight of her life.
The 19-year-old comfortably defeated multiple world champion Alexis Rufus at the O2 Arena to bring the Enfusion 54kg world title back to Melton.
Roared on by thousands of fans with a world title up for grabs and with her dad and coach Mark in her corner, Saturday night in London was dreamtime for Iman. Suddenly, the 15 years of fights, endless training, and sacrifices all made sense.
Recalling the events two days later, Iman still seemed stunned by the scale of the occasion.
She said: “It was the most amazing night of my life, it was crazy. Everyone was chanting my name and clapping for me, it was like my home crowd.
“There were people on Facebook and Twitter telling me I was an inspiration, and people waited around after the end to have their photo taken with me. It was unbelievable.
“It makes all that training and not going out drinking totally worthwhile.”
In the biggest night of her long Thai boxing career, Iman showed remarkable composure to take control early on and maintain it through all five rounds. Her dominance was reflected in the judges’ scorecards which gave her a unanimous points decision.
The assured performance also earned Iman the added prestige of the Fighter of the Night award and a handy 250 Euro bonus.
She added: “I knew it was going to be a tough fight because she is such a strong puncher, and in the first round she came at me, but she didn’t rush in as we expected her to which gave me time to find my range.
“In the second round she just came running at me and from then until the fifth round, that’s all she did.
“She only tried kicking about four times in the entire fight. I don’t know how she thought she was going to win just by steaming in and boxing. I didn’t batter her, but I was in control.”
The fight was the penultimate bout of a star-studded show which was streamed to 92 countries across the globe and attracted thousands of UK Thai boxing fans to the London venue’s Indigo Rooms.
The Melton fighter was inundated with good luck messages before the bout and the wave of support continued all the way to the final bell.
But despite a dominant display, Iman refused to believe she had won until it was officially confirmed.
She said: “Every time I came back to my corner my dad said the round was mine. Sometimes he says that just to keep my confidence up, but I knew I was winning because she wasn’t doing enough to win.
“At the end I knew I had won, but I kept asking my dad to make sure.
“When I was training I pictured myself winning the belt, but when the referee put my hand up, I just started crying with happiness.”
A well-earned week off precedes her next big occasion, her 20th birthday, but it won’t be long before she returns to serious training for her next big fight in Guernsey in June.
And the fights will get even bigger after September when she begins a six-fight contract with Enfusion, the promoters of Saturday’s show.