Everyone—or almost everyone—loves a good origin story. From the New Testament to the neverending deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents and Peter Parker’s uncle, we’re fascinated by the catalysts, epiphanies, and pivotal moments that make people who they are.
With that in mind, Fightland has started talking to our favorite professional and amateur fighters and enthusiasts about the first big defining moment that started them on their martial arts journeys. Whether it was their first sanctioned bout, their first sparring session, or even some random scrap on the street or playground, when did these future warriors first realize that combat was something that they wanted to—and could—do?
In today’s My First Fight, we talk to TUF 20 dark horse and UFC strawweight Randa Markos about discovering that she could take a punch in the middle of her first ever amateur bout.
Randa Markos is getting back to basics.
Following a frustrating decision loss against the undefeated Polish powerhouse Karolina Kowalkiewicz at the tail end of last year—a moment that she’s called the worst of her professional career—the pride of Windsor, Ontario has been spending a lot of time reflecting on her past and present in the cage.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Markos says of the aftermath of that fight. “I learned that you’ve got to trust in your training. I always wondered what more I could add to my training, what I could add to my skill set and I just realized that I came from basics. Basic jiu-jitsu. Basic Wrestling. All of that stuff got me this far.”
After a stint at the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal, the fighter moved back to her hometown to be closer to her family. She now trains across the border at Dearborn’s Michigan Top Team where she focuses on the strengths that made her such a dangerous force in the early days of her UFC career. “I realized that I just need to believe in myself, believe in what I know and believe in my training camp and where I came from,” she muses.
Markos is also choosing to focus on herself and not pay too much attention to factors outside of her control when it comes to her fight against Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger at UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa this Saturday, June 18. “I have no idea what she’s capable of. I have no idea what she’s working on or what kind of fighter she is,” she says of her strategy. “I’m just focused on me in this camp, and that’s what I’m going to bring to the cage.”
This attitude is also a return to the fundamentals for Markos. Trusting her own abilities and knowledge to get her through the unknown has essentially been her game plan since her very first amateur fight.
Marokos, who wrestled competitively in high school, had been taking jiu-jitsu at a local gym in Windsor for a couple of years—and had absolutely no striking background—when she first got the MMA bug. A number of her training partners had signed on for a fight card in Michigan and she decided that she wanted in on the action. “After two years of training jiu-jitsu, I was like ‘I think I’m ready. I’m going to try this out!’” she recalls.
In retrospect, she admits that she might not have been entirely ready for an amateur mixed martial arts fight at that point in her development. Mostly because she doesn’t believe that anyone can be truly prepared for their first time in the cage. “I don’t think I was ready, but I think I needed it. You’re not going to get ready until you actually have that first fight and realize what it feels like. You’re constantly going to think about ‘Oh my God! What if this happens? What if this happens? What if this happens?” You don’t know what’s going to happen until you finally get in there, you experience it and, after that experience, then you can start working on everything. You can train all you want, but you’ve got to get in there and get that first experience to get better.”
Markos wasn’t without concerns in the time leading up to her fight. “I was so scared. I was scared to get hit. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was fear of the unknown.”
What she did know, though, was the solidity of her own grappling. “I got in there and I just thought ‘OK, if anything goes wrong, I’m going to use my wrestling.’ I come from a pretty strong wrestling background.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Her opponent caught her with a punch early on in the fight, but even that ended up working in her favor. First of all, it quickly conquered her fears about her ability to take a hit in the heat of combat. “The moment she hit me in the face, I was like “I didn’t even feel that! This is great!’” she laughs. “Your adrenaline is rushing so much that you feel unstoppable.”
It also forced her to rely on her wrestling and her jiu-jitsu, which she used to take down her opponent and secure the mount.
At that point, she faced an unexpected challenge. “It was really hard to hit her in the face,” Markos admits. “I remember I was in mount and I was hitting her in the face and I was getting so tired because I wasn’t used to throwing punches. And, at the same time, I was seeing people’s reactions around the cage because I was hitting her and I just didn’t want to hurt her for some reason. I was like ‘Oh no! I can’t do this!’ It took me a while to get used to that.”
The instinct and desire to hit back might have taken a few more matches. “I took a pretty bad beating a couple of fights later, and that’s when I thought ‘If she was in my position, she would be trying to destroy me right now’ and then I got more aggressive.”
But the desire to get back in the cage was immediate. “I wanted to fight right away. It turned on a switch in my head. I was like ‘I really like this. I’m really committed to this. I need to fight more and more.’ And, after that, I was completely committed to training and committed to wanting to be better and get myself wherever I could go. I didn’t even know where MMA could take me. I just knew that I really loved it and really wanted to get better at it.”
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