Rocking to and fro, heel to toe, the two fighters circle each other, feinting strikes here and there, gloves raised defensively. Then, fast as lightning, a foot lashes out at shoulder height and clips the smaller woman on the chin; she shakes her blonde ponytail, momentarily stunned. This is not a fight; it’s a technical sparring match, designed to train the eye to anticipate an opponent’s blows. But the two young women are engaged in serious training for what is widely recognised as the most brutal professional martial arts style — mixed martial arts or MMA. For both fighters — compact amateur newcomer Steph Erasmus and lean Jada Ketley, a titled professional fighter transitioning to MMA — actual purse-bearing fights are still some way off. Ahead lies a punishing training regimen in which both Erasmus, having no prior fighting experience, and Ketley, who has to adapt her highly stylised traditionalist format to MMA’s dynamic environment, will develop their own signature moves. In a...

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