Photos via Paloma's website.
It’s better if you don’t see him, or wander your sight towards the guy warming up on the edge of the mat, preparing to come out when he hears “next.” It’s better that you focus my attention on the guy on top, who is throwing punches from everywhere, and he’s not going anywhere until he hears the order.
“Next!” yells the coach, and you have one or two seconds to fill your lungs until the next sparring partner grabs hold of you. A three-round circuit with rotating (and fresh) partners feels like an entire gang is attacking you. Fifteen minutes straight with six guys that punish you one after the other. All fresh, all professional fighters, all of them heavier, stronger, more experienced than you, and to make it worse, you’re a woman.
It’s also not recommended you cry. If you cry, you get tired, you lose rhythm and you choke yourself. And if you choke yourself, they hit you more. It’s better to store your air for more important things such as hitting, kicking, holding, pulling, bridging, twisting, escaping, and continue to strike. You might get so tired that all you want to do is lie still, turtle up, and allow the swarms of blows to overwhelm you, but you have to attack. After all, you are fighting mixed martial arts, and it would be a good thing to win at least half a round…
You end up exhausted, dizzy, bruised up all over the place, and your ears ready to be in a botanical manual. You take your protein, and little-by-little the life starts coming back. You get on the stationary bike and pedal until your heart stops pumping as it needs to. Drops of sweat start falling more slowly, and all of a sudden, without noticing it, you’re smiling. It’s the week before the last for your fight and there is only one more circuit left. If you survive this one, nothing can kill you.
Of course, the following week isn’t easy either: the dreariness sets in as you start the weight cut. You go from the intense insanity to a smooth rhythm, and to obsessively weigh yourself every minute. A lot of fighters cut several pounds the last week. I prefer doing it gradually, so I don’t get too fragile. It’s been a month and a half of dieting and 15.4 pounds less. Only three to go. Reducing physical activity increases anxiety, and the fridge becomes your worst enemy.
To burn off the last bit of weight, carbohydrates are reduced to nil, and your mood is at an all time low. The brain works off sugar, and without it, simple things such as laughting or saying hi becomes Mission Impossible. If sacrifices make the spirit stonger, I hope my opponent hits me whereever that is, because she’ll break her hand.
To make it worse, there are the details: closing deals with sponsors, making sure the clothes are ready on time, that your name is right for the weigh-ins, that you don’t forget your banner. There’s the walkout song, your ID, and the mouthguard. Latin fighters are all one-man orchestras—athletes, artists, and businessmen of our own careers. And why all the sacrifice, if the check we cash out barely even take care of the hospital bill? If we don’t get recognized anywhere, and even our own mothers think we’re crazy?
Years of practice, months of sacrifice, weeks of anxiety—all for one fleeting moment. When the referee grabs your hand and raises it over your head toward the sky, you can feel your fingers almost graze that place where you dreams live. Then, all of the sacrifice is worthwhile, the fatigue is worthwhile. Then, and only then, everything goes. It’s vale tudo, everything goes.
Paloma is a contributing writer for Fightland Mexico. She fights tomorrow, May 10, in Heroes Tucumán.
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