Check out Part 1 here, in which the author watches her good friend Nikki "Knuckles" Knudsen lose a lopsided fight to 14-time boxing champion Holly Holm at Legacy 24 in Allen, Texas.
Headed back to Houston the day after Nikki’s loss, and in the days subsequent, I was quietly fuming about all of it. How could this fight have been allowed to happen?!! Being new at this writing thing, and being so personally invested in Nikki’s health and welfare, I had to ask my editor how to write this piece without sounding like a raging lunatic, and of course he had the answer: talk to the owner of Legacy and let him say his piece. So I got ahold of Mick Maynard, who once again left me with the impression that he is truly a stand-up guy… and I felt pretty childish by the end of our conversation.
Fightland: Maybe we could start by you giving me your overall impression of Nikki and Holly’s fight.
Mick Maynard: Just to give some background. We approached well over 40 people to accept this fight with Holly. Originally we had Erica Paes, who pulled out with an injury. We started the search again with two of us going down an extensive list of female 125-pounders, 135ers, and 145ers. Nikki not only said yes but jumped at the opportunity and did it all with a smile and a lot of excitement. I know the nickname “happy warrior” is already taken but she is also very deserving of that name. She is awesome. As far as the fight, I was expecting Nikki to be similar to Lauren Murphy (née Taylor) based entirely on them coming from the same camp [in Alaska]. Early on it was evident that Nikki was tough as nails but also undersized and out-experienced. I was expecting her to go for the takedown but she didn’t and that surprised me a lot.
I’m pretty sure that was her plan, but she was unable. Had you known that Nikki would not be able to touch Holly at all, do you think the match still would have been made?
No, we probably would not have, although it is impossible to know what fighters and their camps know about their fighters’ abilities. Obviously everyone questions Holly's ground game and when Nikki was so excited and accepting of the bout, plus coming from Lauren Murphy's original camp in Alaska, we just assumed her and her coaches were confident and knew something we didn’t.
It is difficult in the WMMA landscape. UFC has most of the top bantamweights so finding matchups for Holly is difficult. At featherweight in the women’s division you have fighters ranked in the top 15 in the world that are 2-0. That is unheard of in the men’s division. It still has a way to go to reach the depth that is necessary. Until then it will be very difficult across the board. But Nikki was 2-1 and Holly was 4-0.
* * * * * *
So, Mick knew two things: that Nikki was chomping at the bit and that she had at one time trained with Lauren, whose ground and pound is widely feared in the WMMA world. Based on those things, I might have made the same decision.
It’s frustrating sometimes to realize that you’ve fallen into the same naïve pitfalls as everyone before you, even though you’ve been warned about them. In my attempts to help Nikki, I’ve had the very people who cautioned me that the MMA world was full of sharks turn around and try to shark me, and now I can’t help but wonder what treachery I am failing to hear beneath people’s words, maybe even when there is none to find. After reconsidering everything, I turned to Lauren to talk about Nikki's fight.
Fightland: How did you feel when Nikki told you she’d accepted the fight?
Lauren Murphy: When Nikki told me she was fighting Holly, it was kind of offhand, as in, "The fights up here in Alaska were great; I saw a lot of people I knew; yeah, I'm doing wonderful; oh by the way, I'm fighting Holly Holm in three weeks in Legacy." Of course, I was like, "What?!?!" and she got really excited and said, "Yeah! Isn't that awesome?!" She was very excited and proud. I had that same feeling you get when your best friend or brother tells you they are going to marry that girl they've been dating who you think is a total bitch, or when someone is all excited about their new outfit that you think is hideous. Of course I thought it was a bad idea. I knew how dangerous Holly was. She's no joke.
I did talk to Nikki a bit later and told her, "Holly is tough. I talked to my coaches and to my manager about it, and we think it's a bad idea. And I'm just going to tell you, if those two ever tell me something and they agree about it (which doesn't always happen), I listen to them. They're pretty smart about this kind of stuff, much smarter than me." And I told her we were just worried for her safety. No one wants to see their friend get hurt, or lose. Nikki just said, 'Thanks for your concern and I know you guys love me, but I think there's a reason for this and I want to fight her.' She seemed pretty convinced there was a higher power at work here, like a bigger reasoning for it all. She said, "I just have a feeling about this one." What could I say? I have said those exact same words about taking fights before when I was a massive underdog, and it turned out fine. I couldn't say, "Well, I did that once and it worked out great, but you can't." So I did what any friend would do: I said my piece (“You shouldn't do this”), let her say hers (“I'm gonna do this”), and then got behind her 110%.
So when she came to Texas and we worked with her a bit the day of the fight, just going over game plan and stuff, I could tell her cardio was good. In fact, it was great. And Nikki had lost weight; she had clearly worked really hard. Maybe Nikki could pull it off. Upsets happen, and I had been the underdog so many times. Hell, who knows. I am a big believer that the universe unfolds exactly as it should, so I still think there could be some reason for that fight that none of us know, and may never know, because it's none of our business.
What did you think about Legacy making the match-up?
I think the guys at Legacy didn't have much to go on. When they asked me to fight Jennifer Scott, all they really knew was that I recently moved to Houston and had only fought in Alaska, and even then, not in almost a year and a half. I had four fights and Nikki had three. I had a bit better record, but not by much at that time. Holly was the big favorite, but I really don't know if they were aware just how mismatched that fight would be. Of course that's all speculation, but I think Mick Maynard seems like a pretty straight-up dude.
How did it feel to be in her corner and see Nikki take that kick that broke her ribs?
That was awful. I felt like crying. I did cry a bit later about it. I kept thinking how I would feel if my son had made that kind of noise. I still do sometimes. I knew pretty quickly that Nikki would be fine. She was upset but she was sitting up and talking to the doctor, so that was all good, but still, you don't want to see anyone you know and love get hurt like that. But, she stayed true to form all the way through the fight camp, the fight, and afterward, and just kind of did what she wanted to do--which at that moment, was take a shower and go to the bar and have a few drinks, not go to the ER. At that point, I just figured, “Well, fuck it. That's Nikki. She has done exactly what she wanted up till now, why argue? Let's go to the bar!” I think that's what I would want if I had just lost a fight. I hope that when I do lose, whenever it is, I can be as classy as she was. She wanted to make sure she shook Holly's hand, and thanked her for the fight.
Do you think, in the end, this will have been a positive thing for her?
Yes. If nothing else, Nikki is too positive of a person for it to end any other way. She's too happy. She'll find some kind of lesson and some kind of joy in all this, no matter what.
* * * * * *
I have been told before that I have what you might call “Mama Bear” tendencies. I get protective. I can be hotheaded. And in the case of Nikki Knudsen, my hotheadedness had overshadowed my journalistic objectivity. I am embarrassed about it, but all that does is ensure I won’t forget next time. Eventually, I worked up the guts to talk to Nikki about the fight. I don’t know why I was surprised that her answers were so gracious.
Fightland: I’m afraid to write this story and make you sound bad. I would sooner shoot myself in the foot. It was hard to watch you get hurt and I placed a lot of the blame for it on Legacy for making the fight, until I talked to Mick and now I feel like a jackass.
Nikki Knudsen:You can't help that you were emotionally involved with this story because you are a good friend and experienced the ride with me. I never want sympathy from others, especially when it's self-inflicted, being my choice to get in there. The people that matter, like yourself, other friends, family, and teammates have only said how proud they are and I see relief in their eyes that I am not hurt worse. Pain is only temporary and I do not fear it coming from something I love so much to do.
Had you heard of Holly before they called you about taking the fight?
Yep, I had watched a few of her boxing matches over the years and I remember reading about talking about getting into MMA about six months ago. I hadn't seen any of her MMA fights until her head-kick knock out [of Allanna Jones] about month before I fought her.
Was Holly what you expected, both in terms of skill and personality?
Yes. I knew she would be amazingly fit and fast and powerful. Just based off of interviews and YouTube videos, she seemed very nice and humble. But I'd say she exceeded my expectations with just how friendly and kind she was! We actually had quite a few run-ins that with most people could have been awkward or uncool, but we always made little jokes and had little laughs. She is really an impressive individual in every way.
Before the fight, you had kind of a “This is what I was meant to do” kind of feeling. Looking back, do you feel the same way?
Yep. I was supposed to do it. And I would do it again tomorrow. Sure, I wish I had performed a lot better. But what is done is done and it was an amazing experience. I learned so much, including the fact that my jaw is made of better stuff than my ribs. I wish I went for that takedown we had planned, but nothing goes according to plan in there. I did a lot of chasing. One of the announcers had said he's seen a lot better jabbing in his day and I’m sure he has, but I wasn't so much trying to connect these "jabs"; I was probing to find my range to shoot inside. But as you could see, I hesitated. And well … there wasn't any time for hesitation; you have to just commit. Gosh, I'm not sure at what point I broke my nose but I can tell you up until that leg kick that broke my rib, I didn't feel a thing and was having the time of my life. It still feels like a dream. Didn't go exactly how I wanted it to, but no regrets.
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