Taking a year away from fighting was one of, if not the best thing I could’ve done for myself. Anxiety issues that I’ve battled my whole life, and continue to battle today, often leaves me a bundle of raw and exposed nerves. My time in the TUF house was a physical and emotional challenge, and left me harboring so much self-doubt.
If I’m honest, though, things were bad before I even got into the house. Don’t get me wrong, I own who I am, and I built this persona up and marketed myself in a certain manner to put as much attention on myself as I could. I know I’m a very polarizing figure, but I also know that a lot of that comes from being misunderstood.
Guerilla marketing is defined as unconventional, cost-effective marketing techniques aimed at obtaining maximum exposure for a product. I’m the product in this scenario, and I went full-tilt with building myself into a brand. I was (and still do) getting big sponsorships and opportunities when there really weren’t any to be had.
I’ve always felt that I got the edge on that earlier than most of the women in the sport. I grasped the concept that having a career in MMA, a real, long-lasting career, was about more than just getting in the cage and throwing down for 15 minutes.
All the things I did, the weigh-in outfits, the photoshoots, they weren’t for attention. Let me rephrase that—they weren’t born of a need to garner attention without any real purpose. I was trying to make money.
Colleges send out scouts looking for the next big thing in sports, but promotions and sponsors don’t typically come out to fights looking for new talent. They wait for new talent to find them, whether it be from the buzz around a certain fighter on social media, Youtube videos, etc.
I started working on branding myself before it was even a thing for women in the small circles of our community, and I was getting big opportunities left and right. That said, I also got a lot of hate for it.
Because I’d spent so much time creating the image, people developed their own preconceived notions about who I was as a person. I often got this kind of stuff, ‘Well, maybe if you spent less time worrying about your costumes and more time on fighting…’ or I’d get complete assaults on my looks, my character, just any insult you can think of. It can really mess with your head.
It wasn’t reserved just for the fans, either. It got to the point where almost all my fights would be these hate-filled grudge matches. They were getting way too personal in the lead-up, and often saw my opponents crossing lines with shit talking, and I’m not referring to your standard fight hype, either. I’m talking personal stuff, where rumors and lies get spread around; horrible stuff that can really work its way into your psyche like a virus.
By the time fight night would roll around, I’d already put so much undue pressure on myself, that I could barely handle the weight of it. It became an entity, a presence that was always with me. I always felt like I had to beat my opponents, not because it would advance my career; I had to beat this girl, because if I don’t beat her, then everything she said about me would be true, right?
Wrong. What I wasn’t getting at the time, was that those things were never true, but I let them get to me on such a personal level, that I would often go into my fights as this roiling storm of emotions. I was all over the place. Everything outside the cage was getting dragged in with me.
By the time I got into the TUF house, controversy had become some sort of dark friend that attached itself to me, following me around as if it were my second shadow. Now, I’m in a house with 15 other girls, some of them I’d already fought. I felt like I walked into a hornet’s nest with a target on my back.