Photo by Wilson Fox
On March 19, 2007, I packed my bags and drove 18 hours from Greenwood, Indiana, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Three days later, I was knee-deep in snow with Damacio Page riding piggyback on me while coach Greg Jackson bellowed inspirational platitudes at 10,500 feet above sea level. Although this was six-and-a-half years ago, I can still remember the wind biting into my cheeks, the snot running down my nose, falling down over and over again, and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone picking me up, putting me back on my feet, and drawling, “C’mon baby girl, you’ve got this!” I remember Leonard Garcia’s huge grin as he patted me on the back afterwards, and the feeling of complete pride I had that I had not quit.
I remember feeling like I had just met my family.
Before the lights and the crowds and the groupies, before the “behind the scenes” footage that makes couch potatoes and forum jack-offs believe that they have total insight into the inner workings of a fighter’s mind and are completely qualified to judge a coach’s character by the way he speaks to a fighter in between rounds, there is a very real, very human process. It’s a process that breaks a fighter down to his very bones until he has nothing left but the person standing next to him to give him the will to not quit. If done exactly right, this process leaves the fighter naked and vulnerable, with only his soul on display.
Before I fought Miesha Tate in 2012, I was absolutely mauled by people trying to prepare me to get taken down against the cage. I can still remember the feeling of Erik “Goyito” Perez grinding my flesh into the cage as he ripped me down with high crotch to double-leg transitions. Before I fought Germaine de Randamie this last fight, I was rocked continually by high left kicks by Holly Holm, to the point that my right eye would involuntarily twitch and I would tear up when I was paired with her in sparring. I may have lost both of those fights, but watch them again with those techniques in mind.
Anyone who has told you that MMA is not a team sport has clearly never sat in an airport alone the day after a loss, with a low hat to cover black eyes, ignoring every phone call or text except from teammates and coaches. When I sit completely bruised and tearful after a hard sparring session, I can’t help but think that MMA is the ultimate team sport, that the only people who can actually understand your pain are the people that put you there. The element of building fighters is also one that develops character through repetition, trust, and fear. If you’re lucky, you will experience the cycle of building-by-breaking-down every fight camp, growing stronger on a personal level with each smashing. I can honestly say that from the snowy mountain run in 2007 to the epic beatdowns I experience at the hands of teammates I find myself continually reborn at the hands of the people around me.
This past week, I was helping my teammate Tara LaRosa prepare for her upcoming fight in Japan and at one point she looked at me and snarled, How the fuck do you keep losing fights? She wasn’t saying this to be cruel. She was saying that I have to improve and change at this point, that my teammates—my family—are giving me the gifts of their vulnerability and I have to honor them by getting better. When I enter that cage, I carry the responsibility of everyone else’s efforts.
Check out Julie's earlier tales:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.