“You have to be willing to get your heart broken. That’s just what fucking happens when you try.” -Ronda Rousey
It’s been a week now since I lost my most recent fight. The first few days were really rough. I wrote some stuff down the day after the fight, and I just went back and read it.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I thought I was better than that.”
“Everyone is laughing at me.”
And on and on, things like that. I cried every time I thought about it; that I wasn’t good and never had been, that this was all one big embarrassing mistake. I thought about all the people I imagined were rooting for me to lose; past opponents and their coaches, ex-boyfriends, ex-family members, faceless people online, and I thought they must all be reveling in my loss. I thought people who liked me and believed in me were really let down. One of my cousins had a viewing party at his house and I figured he must have been pretty embarrassed.
That stuff might not be true true, but it felt true when I was thinking it, and things don’t hurt any less because they’re not true outside your heart.
I had planned to leave for a vacation after the fight. My husband, Joe, who also coaches me, was sent to Florida with his Air Force Reserve unit for his yearly two week tour of duty. It had sounded like a good opportunity for me to relax after the fight. His departure date was the day after the fight, so he flew straight from Sioux Falls to work, and I flew to Phoenix to drop off our things from fight week before leaving to join him.
Before I left for the airport, I watched the fight with my coach. We sat on his couch and watched it with the sound off because I didn’t want to hear if the announcers criticized me.
And the more I watched, the more my thoughts changed. I didn’t do badly. Actually … damn, I looked alright out there. I fought hard. Look, there was some good head movement I never had before.
There was me staying in the pocket, way more than my last fight. I got hit hard in the eye, I remember that, but I can’t tell in the fight where it happened. Look at me staying calm and composed in there, even when I thought I was going to have to fight with one eye. I never got frantic. That was a goal of mine. Those elbows from the clinch, those were good. She turned away a little, but I can ask coach how to land those better. I tried all the stuff we worked on during our two week camp. A year ago, I wouldn’t have. I might have lost the fight, but goddamnit, it wasn’t because I sat there and let the moments go by.
It’s an odd comfort, doing your best even when you come up short.
On one hand, it’s a heartbreaking thought; that your best isn’t good enough. On the other hand, I never have to wonder if I had just tried harder, or done more, maybe I would have won. I’ve felt that way before and it’s a terrible feeling. Wondering makes the mourning process after a loss almost impossible. I will never have to wonder about this fight, because I gave it my all and didn’t waste a single moment.
It wasn’t immediate, but watching it with Coach started a process for me where I could come to terms with what happened. I am notoriously hard on myself. I get depressed after failures and tend to blow things way out of proportion. Watching the fight and seeing that I didn’t look like a fucking idiot out there … I needed that.
I got on the plane in Phoenix, not crying as much anymore, but still moderately miserable, extremely exhausted, and feeling like a loser. I was embarrassed about my black eye and about not getting the win.
I flew all night, then drove to the hotel where the Air Force put up Joe and his unit for their two week tour.
A Crowne Plaza Hotel. Nice.
A room with a balcony looking at the ocean. Nice. (I’m sitting on it, as I write this).
Flowers waiting in the room that Joe bought for me before he left for work. Nice.
I took a three and a half hour nap. I needed that.
Joe was going to a dinner/BBQ the hotel threw for all the military guys the night I got there. I didn’t want to go. I had a black eye. I didn’t want to answer questions. I didn’t want to explain that I lost. I didn’t want the looks or the stares or the conversation at all. I didn’t want to hear the same old jokes about Joe abusing me or, “What did the other girl look like?” (Pretty good, actually).
Joe really wanted me to go but I refused. I told him to text me if it wasn’t too bad down there, and prepared to order myself some room service.
He texted a few minutes later. The party was outside and I could just wear my sunglasses. He asked if I would please come down.
I put on my cheap sunglasses and my best fake smile (I’m terrible at faking anything) and met Joe in the lobby.
And you know what happened? I had a great time. And I haven’t stopped having a great time since.
We ate deliciously bad-for-you hot wings dipped in loads of ranch dressing. I met Joe’s co-workers, most of whom had not seen the fight. Nor did they care. They had their own lives to worry about. One guy did approach us and said, “I watched your fight!! MAN, that was close! If you had gotten the takedown in the third, you would have won! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time! Great fight!”
He didn’t say, “I thought you were better! Didn’t that girl come up a weight class from 125? Isn’t she new to the UFC? I thought you were going to do better than that. I thought you were good.”
He had the biggest smile on his face, like a little kid.
It was so kind. And unexpected. What I had expected was to feel ashamed, but it never happened. A little regret maybe that I wasn’t celebrating a win, but not shame.
The next day we got up early and walked the beach, watching the sun rise and looking for baby sea turtles. We found one and cheered him on as he was making his way toward the ocean. The little guy was pulling himself along as fast as he could, trying to get to the surf before the crabs could get him. As I watched the tide wash him away, I thought about how that turtle could give a fuck about the UFC or anyone in it.
It was oddly comforting, seeing a process much bigger than myself in action. It reminded me how small and faceless we really are in the universe. Of 7 billion people, I’m just one. And that’s just the humans.
As we watched the sun come up over the ocean, I was reminded of a quote that I love, by Kevin Smith:
“In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least trying to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life.”
Eighty years. That’s about all we get, if we’re lucky, healthy, and able, to live life as much as we can. Maybe. Of those, how much time is spent just trying to figure out your ass from a hole in the ground? How much is spent sleeping, watching TV, sitting in waiting rooms, driving to and from a shitty job where you don’t want to be anyway? The time really starts ticking down quickly when you budget out minute after minute, day after day, to things you need but don’t necessarily love.
And how blessed am I to be able to do compete like I do? How many people out there would love to fight just once in the UFC, to step in the cage, or even train like I do, but were never afforded the chance? For some, their bodies physically don’t allow it. For others, circumstances around them prevent them from it. For some, life passed them by before they knew what they were missing. I was almost one of those. How self-centered am I to be ungrateful for a second?
I considered our story.
Me, a 26-year-old drug addict with ZERO athletic experience, and Joe, a high school wrestler from Michigan, with no high-level coaching experience, and in four short years, (with the help of a few really good coaches) we went 8-0 together: From the AFC in Anchorage, Alaska, to the first televised female fight in Legacy, to Invicta and their championship, to the UFC. We’ve experienced a whole range of outcomes, the best one certainly being a Fight of the Night that had the crowd cheering like crazy and netted my opponent and I each $50,000 for a night's worth of work.
We’ve competed against women who have been athletes for over two decades, against women who were bigger, against women who had skill sets they had been practicing since they were teenagers. We did alright and fought hard in all of them, no matter who was across from us. We made mistakes and we weren’t perfect, but who is? It was an adventure we took on together that started as “just one or two fights,” nothing serious. We got so much more than we bargained for, this completely unlikely pair in a completely unlikely scenario. If, six years ago when I started this journey, I had been able to plan my own future in the fight game, and draw out a road map of my goals and achievements along the way, I would have sold myself completely short. I never would have asked for or planned for any of this. That it was even a possibility never entered my mind.
In my mind, so far in the UFC we are 2-2 (We never count the Carmouche fight as a loss, to be honest. You’ll never hear us say that was a fight we lost). One of those actual losses was a split decision to an Olympic wrestler that could have gone either way, and one was a decision loss to a really well-trained woman with an effective game plan. That’s the fight game. No one wins them all. We fought hard, did our best, and came up short — it’s tough to be ashamed of that.
I’ve spent the last few days being really good to myself.
I got my hair and nails done, ate and slept too much, drank mochas from Starbucks, tanned on the beach and relaxed in the hot tub.
It’s impossible to be sad in this place. Joe and I scored a free dinner from the hotel restaurant one night and we sat on the patio, drinking tea and eating steaks. A few of his co-workers came over and talked about the fight. They had watched it at the local bar when it was replayed over the weekend. They were all excited and happy for us.
Not a single person gave me advice or had anything negative to say. They thought it was SO COOL to see Joe on TV. One guy said he thought I should have won because I came forward and was aggressive. I smiled and thanked him. I didn’t bother to correct him, even though I don’t agree. I just told them there was a lot to be learned and we’ll get the next one, and how glad I was that they enjoyed the fights.
After they left, Joe and I sat and talked.
We laughed a lot, like we always do, and talked about where we’ve been and where we want to go. Joe leaned back in his chair and I leaned forward in mine, each of our postures reflecting our personalities. Me, intense and excited about the conversation, him relaxed and enjoying the evening.
We want to live in Thailand for a while. My son graduates high school in three years and hopefully will go to college. We want to pack up our belongings and go live on a beach. It would be wonderful, to me, to be nameless and faceless in a place far from home for a while. Not that I’m overly popular here in the states, but complete anonymity would be a welcome change and good for my soul.
Joe will be done with school in a few years and hopefully have a black belt and a teaching degree. He’s a gifted coach and teacher, he’ll be able to find work teaching english or jiu-jitsu anywhere.
I want to finish nursing school. Once, a million years ago, I was in a nursing program in college, only a few months removed from getting a bachelor’s degree. I have a dream of traveling as a nurse, taking contracts all over the world and providing service to others. I would love to work for an organization like Doctors Without Borders, or a company that serves people in need in third-world countries. Someday, I will do something like that and my life as a fighter will be a fond memory. I’ll fall somewhere in the forgettable category of “not the best, but not the worst, either,” but to me, it will always be so much more than that.
I am quite sure that with some hard work and a little luck we’ll have another life beyond our wildest dreams.
Or, who knows, maybe things will end up completely differently than I am imagining. Maybe they’ll end up better, and one more time, my plans and ideas are far short of what is possible.
Whatever we do, we’re going to do it 100%. Coach says that as long as we’re at the game, standing at the plate, we might as well swing the bat with everything we’ve got. I love that analogy.
For now, we’ll go back to Glendale, Arizona and focus on the task at hand: getting better.
I hope to fight in the UFC again. I believe I’m an aggressive and elite fighter and I hope they think so too. I have learned in my time there how important it is to say “fuck it” and fight hard. It won’t always be possible to win but it is possible to not get booed, to make the fans want to see you, to go in there and give it your all. There are plenty of great fighters who have lost, some even two or three times in a row. The fans still love them. It doesn’t take away from them being good.