The UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter has always been a conundrum for young mixed martial artists.
Those with vibrant personalities have often come out of the show as larger-than-life characters that fans have clung to, resulting in increased career longevity regardless of fight results. Crazy antics and sharp wit can go a long way.
Others have struggled. Introverted personalities find the constant cameras, training, and stuffed living arrangements to be suffocating.
The Ultimate Fighter 20’s Felice Herrig falls somewhere in between.
On paper, Herrig appears made for reality television. With good looks, a rambunctious personality, and social media following, she’s proven she can self-promote with the best in the sport. Her unique look, coming to the cage decked out in a custom-made skirt, along with her charmed fans around the world. Revealing, provocative photos have endeared her to the more chauvinistic of fans, while her high-paced fighting style has made her an attractive commodity to the sport.
When the UFC came calling, she knew it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.
“I was made for stuff like this,” said Herrig. “I'm really active on my social media; I put myself out there a lot. I do a lot with TV. This is just something that I love to do. Something like this is only going to help my career. I've been pretty much self-promoting for a long time. A lot more people are going to see me; a lot more opportunities are going to come.
With over 41,000 Twitter followers before her UFC debut, Herrig is one of the most popular women in the sport of mixed martial arts not named Ronda Rousey. Her constant social media interaction with fans is one of her many endearing qualities and her Instagram account is one of the most popular in the sport.
Her sexuality has long been a focus of conversation throughout her career. While some female fighters feel that the focus should be on the athletic side of things, as it is with the men, others like Herrig have embraced it and used it to their advantage.
“I'm not saying sexuality is a key component,” said Herrig. “If you're an athlete, then you have to be an athlete first. If someone's going to market you that way, it's a bonus. It brings you opportunity you might not get if you didn't have that.”
“A lot of fighters think this is just about fighting and a lot of fighters give me a hard time,” said Herrig. If you don't put yourself out there, you're not going to get sponsored and you're not going to bring a value to the show that is ultimately going to promote you and give you more opportunities. If nobody wants to see you fight, it doesn't really matter how good of a fighter you are.”
Thankfully, plenty of people want to see Herrig fight, an opportunity they’ll be afforded as she takes part in The Ultimate Fighter 20 tournament to crowd the promotion’s inaugural 115lb. women’s world champion.
The road to the Octagon hasn’t been an easy one for Herrig. Now 13 years as a fighter (six in MMA), she’s quickly becoming one of the veterans of the sport. Her record isn’t crystal clean (9-5, all five losses by decision), but her bulldog attitude and dogged toughness have made her a constant on the North Eastern regional scene including stops in Bellator and Invicta FC.
Perhaps Herrig’s most interesting and helpful career stop was her time spent on the Oxygen Channel’s Fight Girls, a reality-based television show that took place in 2007. The premise of the show wasn’t all that different from the Ultimate Fighter. A group of 10 fighters spend six weeks in Las Vegas training with a Muay Thai instructor. Throughout the weeks the 10 women compete, narrowing the field to five. Those five then travelled to Thailand at the end of the season to compete against female Thai fighters.
“This one was a little different just because you didn’t have your phone and you didn't have the internet and you didn't have TV,” said Herrig. “There was no contact with the outside world.”
Despite her reality show experience, it’s clear from talking to Herrig that the TUF experience was a tiring, taxing, and challenging time for her.
Like so many other veteran fighters, she became dependent of a routine. There’s a variety of bizarre fight rituals that fighters must complete to feel comfortable.
“I'm fine being on camera, but you get emotional,” said Herrig. “After a fight, whether you win or lose you get emotional. If you win a fight, you want to call your coach… but you can't call your coach. You want to celebrate with the people you want to celebrate with. If you lose, you want to cry on somebody's shoulder that you feel comfortable with. There was no comfort there on the show.”
It’s wild to think that during the most important time of their careers, they don’t get the routine they have become accustomed to. If you do anything for 13 years, it becomes natural. And like any habit, it’s hard to break.
“You're stuck in the house with a lot of girls you don't want to be with,” said Herrig. “As time goes on, the house gets tenser and tenser. You just want to go home. You just want to go somewhere and escape. You're always under surveillance. There's always a microphone on, there's always a camera on. Sometimes you just want to vent and don't want it on camera. A lot of emotions are contained and bottled up.”
Herrig struggled with The Ultimate Fighter experience, but that doesn’t mean she regrets it. Her personality is one that most certainly will thrive throughout the show, even if it irritates others in the house. She knows how to keep the spotlight on herself. Much like the Chael Sonnens of the world, if she’s talking, people are listening.
In the show’s premiere episode, Herrig was seeded sixth, making her a bit of a longshot to win the show and subsequent world champion. But like the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers or the 1988 Kansas City Jayhawks have proven, she looks to prove that six is just a number. Herrig’s grit will go a long way in helping her strive towards the almighty goal of a world championship.
“I definitely think I'm a better fighter now (after The Ultimate Fighter),” said Herrig, With anything in life, when you've had to go through hardships, whatever brings you down always lifts you up. Everything I had to go through on the show was really, really hard. As far as the fighting goes, that was a pretty bad situation to be put in. It was really, really awkward. But I definitely know I'm going to come off a better fighter.”
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