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 UFC women’s bantamweight competitor and The Ultimate Fighter 18 alumna Sarah “Cheesecake” Moras about taking up jiu jitsu... and stepping into the cage less than a year later.
Sarah Moras was an 18-year-old trying to figure out what to do with her life until she was old enough to pursue her dream of becoming a forest fire fighter when a man that she was dating told her that she should give Brazilian jiu jitsu a try.
“He was like ‘Oh, come check out a class!’ And he drew a map of how to get to the gym. So went to the gym... and he wasn’t there,” the Kelowna, British Columbia native laughs. “So I got partnered with someone else and I learned an armbar and a triangle and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That was basically my first day. After my first class, I knew that I would be in this for the rest of my life.”
Moras immediately started scheduling her whole life around training. “I had a full time job at the time. I went back to my boss the next day, and I told him I couldn’t work Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights, because that’s when the gym was open. I was like ‘If you don’t like me not working those days, you can go ahead and fire me.’”
Her boss was happy to accommodate her, so she didn’t have to quit. At least not that particular gig. “I’ve kind of always done that with jobs,” she admits. “If they don’t let me have time off for training, then I just tell them to fuck off.”
After eleven months of the Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday schedule, her coach told her that he’d booked an amateur fight for her on a local card. “I told him, no. I’m not ready. And he said, ‘Well, you can back out if you want to.’ But I’m not the type of person to back out of anything. So I fought.”
The rookie fighter’s BJJ was as solid as possible for someone with just under a year of experience, but the rest of her game was nonexistent. “I probably shouldn’t have been fighting,” Moras laughs. “All I knew was a jab to a double leg to take someone down and I didn’t know anything else.”
Her opponent had about the same level of jiu jitsu, but she’d also been boxing for three or four years. “And she had some extra supplemental help,” Moras adds, wryly.
There wasn’t even a weigh-in before the fight. “I think it might have been one of the first amateur fights in BC, or Canada. It was the only amateur fight on the card,” she says, wondering if that led to confusion about the proper procedure. “And my coach was like ‘Oh, you both look like you’re about the same weight, so you don’t have to weigh in! It’s just amateur.’”
None of this deterred Moras, though. She’d committed to the fight, and she was getting into that cage. Which is exactly what she did on one fateful day in September, 2007 for the first match on the Valley Fight 4 card in Chilliwack, BC.
The bout itself didn’t leave much of an impression on the crowd, and Moras wasn’t exactly thrilled with her performance. “It wasn’t the most entertaining fight. I just jabbed, shot, took her down, and then she hugged me with her super big arms. Then the ref would stand us up, then I’d take her down. I think I took her down about nine times in the three three minutes rounds, and I just won the decision.”
But the experience itself left a lasting impression. “It was just so crazy to get into the cage. I think I sort of hovered above. My body did everything. My mind came back to me after the fight.”
She didn’t come out of her debut wanting to step right back in the cage again, but she did want something that’s perhaps even more important in a young fighter’s formative years: she wanted to go back to the gym so that she could be ready for the cage.
“I was like ‘Thank God I’ve got another year before I’ll fight again!’” she says of her post-match reaction. “I fought seven or eight months later, and that one went much better for me. I won the first one, but yeah, the second one was a lot nicer.”
Her first amateur fight might have been the pivotal moment when Moras realized that she was willing to dedicate her life to mixed martial arts, but it would take another year—and an opportunity to train with a WMMA legend—before she realized that it might be something she could actually do for a living as well.
“To be honest, I never really thought anything of it until I moved to England and got to train with Rosi Sexton, who was ranked number one in the world,” she admits. “And I thought ‘Why can’t I do this professionally? Do this as a job? Do this to become the best in the world? Why does it have to be all of these certain people? Why can’t it be me?’ So I just started working my ass to get toward that goal. And somehow it started to happen.”
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