Katie Zelem challenges Lionel Messi to a fight after training with Jack Cartwright ahead of Oktagon 48

While Oktagon 48 is full to the brim with exciting fights, the promotion may have to open up a space for Manchester United captain Katie Zelem, who fancies a tear-up with Lionel Messi.

Prior to his massive collision with Antun Račić, Jack Cartwright gracefully welcomed the footballer into his gym for a spot of pad work. And it’s fair to say the pair got on like a house on fire.

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In a testament to his coaching prowess and Zelem’s natural athleticism, the sportswoman quickly caught the fighting bug, smashing the pads with the same palpable enthusiasm she’s showcased throughout her footballing career.

In an exclusive interview with Sporf, Zelem laughed: “I’m glad you thought I looked ferocious. It’s amazing. I love immersing myself in a new sport. Jack’s obviously a great teacher because I have no experience whatsoever.”

Katie Zelem vs Lionel Messi could be on the cards

Throughout her illustrious climb to the pinnacle of the footballing pyramid, the 27-year-old has displayed heart, courage and determination, inherited from her father, Alan Zelem, who played in between the sticks for Macclesfield. Therefore, with the Lioness undeniably possessing those unteachable qualities, a switch to MMA isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. But who would the midfielder want to take on?

Oozing faith in her abilities, she joked: “I could fight Lionel Messi.” And to be fair, standing at 5 ft 4, she’s only an inch smaller than the Argentinian great, making a potential collision between the pair anything but a mismatch.


Ultimately, her experience in the gym was not only eye-opening for herself but also for Cartwright, who adores United.

Following the session, the heavy-handed warrior compared himself to Lisandro Martinez, and Zelem couldn’t help but agree with his assessment.

She asserted: “I would totally go with that. He’s quite small, he’s ferocious and really passionate. So, I’m going to back him on that one.”

Katie Zelem can’t wait to watch Jack Cartwright shine at Oktagon 48

While the Mancunian legend can’t attend Oktagon 48 at the AO Arena in Manchester on November 4, due to footballing commitments, she’ll be watching from afar, hoping her new friend can do the business. And after it’s all done and dusted, she wants to test his abilities on the pitch.

She beamed: “Maybe I can have a game of two-touch with him and see how he does. I just want to get behind Jack, a Manchester lad. Everyone from Manchester knows how much it means to be from this city. We’ve produced so many winners, and I’m sure he’s going to be the next.”

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Katie Zelem has become a role model to girls from every corner of the country

Similarly to Cartwright, Zelem knows precisely what it means to fight. Growing up in an era where women’s football was frowned upon, she refused to listen to the naysayers.

From being a young girl, the athlete couldn’t get enough of the ‘Beautiful Game’, ignoring any gender stereotypes and instead, getting stuck right into the action. And through her unrelenting will to be herself, she’s become a successful woman who’s represented her country at the highest level, serving as an inspiration for the next generation coming through.

She reminisced: “We all used to take our jumpers off and put them on the floor. A lot of the kids on the street were boys. So, that’s why I started playing football. In school, everyone was playing football, and I would go in my little skirt and join in, and all my friends would sit on the side and wait for me. 

“I think all my friends were accepting; they wanted me on the team, and it wasn’t until I played against other teams where parents would sometimes shout stuff at me from the sidelines that I realised not everyone was very nice; I was six, seven, eight years old, and grown adults were shouting at me. I don’t want that to ever happen again, so I’m so glad there are pathways for the girls coming through now.”

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Featured Image Credit: Getty & Flip Agency