I started writing this with the intention of relaying my experiences in MMA as a woman—my evolution from a cocky nobody chick to UFC fighter. There’s not much about my career that separates me from any other fighter, except maybe how prolific it’s been. When sitting down to try and recount specific bouts or experiences, all I can really come up with is a series of memory fragments--moments that send little zings of fear, anger. or exhilaration through me. You know, like the cologne or perfume that someone was wearing when you lost your virginity: You catch a whiff of it and then … BAM! Tingles! And since I’m not very succinct in thought or action (and very tangential), I figured I’d just throw out some of those random memories and see if they worked.
I decided to watch my first fight, from 2004. Almost immediately I got drawn back to a time when I thought I was untouchable. Soon I was swimming in an evocative weekend full of do you remembers. This dive into reminiscence probably resonated extra loud now for a few reasons: I just had my first fight in the UFC a few weeks ago, and I’m returning to Indiana next week to see some of the old faces I used to train with. Plus, I’m suffering from a nagging depression as a result of being stuck in a funky losing streak, which would make anyone look back on their past with rose-colored glasses.
Anyway, I started remembering the insane mixture of naivety and extraordinary self-confidence I felt that night. And remembering made me happy. I remembered the old Julie. I remembered why I do this.
I’m a cocky 24-year-old who has been in martial arts for a while. I’ve had a handful of kickboxing fights and trained with some really great people. I obsess over PRIDE and UFC DVDs and scour the Internet for any information I can get about the sport. All I can think about is getting an MMA fight.
I tell the my jiu-jitsu coach that I got offered an MMA fight with Hook N Shoot, an organization that promotes women as well as men. We’ve been dating off and on for a bit and I’m madly in love with him. He doesn’t feel the same way. He also thinks I’m a nut. Has no idea why I would want to take an MMA fight after so little training.
You should be more prepared, he says.
I say, We’ll see. Our relationship doesn’t last.
My Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai teachers from another school also study submission grappling and they try to prep me as best as they can. I believe all my training is on point, that I’m always ready to fight at any time. I believe that because I am with those coaches, I am untouchable. None of them has had an MMA fight before, but they must know everything because they are my teachers. And they look really good in training.
The fight is set at 145 pounds and I’m walking at 150-55. I search the Web--“how to make weight for a fight”--and find a thread on something called “The Underground” (yes UGers, I joined in ’04). There’s so much conflicting information that I decide to just not eat or drink for two days and sit in a sauna for half an hour.
It’s a three-hour drive to Evansville, Indiana, from Bloomington. I sit in the car, miserably thirsty but trying to play it cool.
I weigh in at 145 on the dot.
I have no idea how to rehydrate so I drink about six Diet Cokes and a Pedialyte, because I read on the MMA forum it’s good for you. I eat some candy. I eat a protein bar and my stomach revolts at the first food inside it for two days.
I meet the other fighters. Aaron Riley is on this card and he headlined one of the first live fights I’d ever seen. I’m too shy to say anything, but I watch what he does and how he interacts with the other people to get a sense of what I should do. But he’s way too mellow for me to learn from. My nerves are jangled like crazy. My voice gets too loud and I laugh too much. How is he so calm?
I meet another woman fighting on the card, Del Greer. She tells me she loves MMA but that this will be her last fight. Her brother is sick, she says, and she will be giving him one of her kidneys. Just wanted to get just one more fight out of the way. She says this in a matter-of–fact way, as if giving up fighting to risk your life is a natural thing to do. All of these fighters have crazy stories.
These people are kind of beautiful.
I see my opponent when we weigh in, but I am numb to any impression of her. I don’t know how to act. She doesn’t smile. She weighs a couple pounds less than me. She is from Kentucky.
I just want to go eat now. We find an Olive Garden and I stuff my already sore stomach with too much pasta and breadsticks. It’s carb-loading and it’s important, right? I don’t sleep much that night.
Nervous as fuck. Pretend to be cool, but yawning compulsively, which is my reaction to stress.
Pre-fight interviewer: Why are you doing this?
The loud voice and hyperactivity return. I’m like a cheerleader on crack:
I’m gonna be in the UFC someday!
Jumping around, cheesing hard. Don’t want to show fear, so grinning like a fiend and giggling. Wave. Hug everyone. Whatever synapses fire off in my brain when I’m drunk are the same that go haywire when I’m nervous, I guess.
The dressing/warm-up rooms backstage are separated into little stalls. The corners are dark and damp and littered with cigarette butts. There is a distinctive sweaty, moldy smell. The bathrooms are across the arena from the staging area and you have to walk through the crowd to pee. I do this about 30 times, still grinning manically at people.
My friend had made me a mix CD to make me laugh. I take my Walkman backstage and am jamming to it loudly. It will always be hard to think about the dank backstage dressing rooms of the Evansville Coliseum and not hear Madonna’s Immaculate Collection in my head.
Someone calls my name.
I walk up a narrow staircase to stand behind a curtain next to some old furniture and wait to walk out on a ramp to the ring. There are some pyrotechnics and the idea that my hair could catch fire scares the shit out of me. But the crowd is cheering. My heart in my throat, but they are cheering for me. COOL! I wave.
Bam. Fight on. I can’t remember the details, except she’s a boxer, so I know I need to take her down. She’s left-handed. I read once that you keep your left foot to the outside of her right foot, so I try to focus on this.
Kick her. Take her down and hit her often. She’s hitting me from the bottom and that’s not supposed to hurt, but it does. Hit her back. She’s keeping herself tucked underneath me and it’s hard to get the right leverage. Try to armlock her. No. Just hit. She’s tucking under. Hammer fists. Ref says to watch the back of the head. I nod at him. Sorry. She’s hitting me from the bottom again. Bitch. How come she can hit the back of my head? Now I’m pissed. My contact lens pops out. Bell rings; round one is over. I was on top of her nearly four minutes. I’m winning, right? I stand up and give her a hand to her feet.
Round 2. She lunges at me, I try to clinch and trip and fall over my own feet. Typical Kedzie. Back up. Kickbox her. Clinch. Separate. She whacks me when I try to kick. We clinch again and she tries to trip me. I yank a reversal and fall to side mount. Again she traps my head but I pull her arms and take her back. She turns and I keep a high mount, with her half-turned on her ribs (I will later learn that this is a variation of something called “S-Mount,” but I sure as shit didn’t know it then).
I swing from mount to a shit-tastic armbar. My head gets caught up in the ropes. I hate ropes in MMA. I hammerfist her face, trying to extend the arm and pull at it with all my might. Finally I get it. She taps. Fuck yeah,I scream. FUCK YEAH!
The crowd is overwhelmingly nice and asks me pictures and autographs, like I’m some kind of star. The promoter, Jeff Osborne, thanks me and give me $300. He offers me a spot on his next all-female fight show. Holy crap! I’m a fucking professional now, I think.
A man comes and tells me he loved the way I fought. It turns out he and his wife are close friends of my ex (Indiana is a small, small world). He offers to help me with my jiu-jitsu and later on becomes one of my most influential coaches.
I meet then-MMA stars Kevin Randleman and Wes Sims. I ask if I can take a picture with them and Randleman laughs and swings me up on his shoulder. A couple of weeks later he would KO Mirko Cro Cop in PRIDE. I’m pretty sure it was because he watched my fight.
It’s impossible to quantify the feeling I have right now. After nearly 20 years of theoretical punches and kicks, I am swimming in the new idea that this can be real. I can fight.
I wanna go again!
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