It’s been several months now since my last fight was cancelled, and I’ve had some time to let the dust settle and think things over. People keep asking me “what’s next?” or “do you have another fight coming up?”, so I’ll try and answer that question as well as I can at this point. This has taken a while, as it hasn’t been an easy post to write.
Not getting that fight was tough for me. It was a title fight that would have determined the number 1 ranked flyweight in the world. Since my previous match back at the beginning of June, it’s pretty much all I’d thought about for four months. I had a lot invested in it, both in terms of training time but also financially. After that, I considered looking for another fight, but decided against it for a couple of reasons.
First, there’s the issue of performance enhancing drugs. Steroids have always been an issue in MMA, as the women’s side of the sport grows and becomes more mainstream, it was perhaps inevitable that this would become an issue. So far, two women have tested positive – Carina Damm back in 2008 and more recently Cris Cyborg. That’s just the tip of a much larger iceberg. The testing that’s currently in place in MMA is, frankly, inadequate. Between two women of comparable skill level, if one fighter is using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) it can give an enormous advantage and increase the risk of serious injury to her opponent. I’m not interested in using PEDs myself, and I’m no longer prepared to compete on an uneven playing field.
For the fight against Sheila Gaff, I’d contacted VADA – the voluntary anti-doping association. Based in the US, VADA offers fighters the option of signing up for an enhanced drug testing program. From 8 weeks prior to the fight, fighters are subject to random, unannounced blood and urine testing. As this was such an important issue to me, I’d made it a condition of accepting the fight that both myself and my opponent successfully complete the VADA program beforehand. Unfortunately, it came with a price tag of $6000. Drug testing is an expensive enterprise, and (although this was actually very good value for money considering what was involved) it meant this was only ever going to be a one time deal. I wasn’t going to get another shot at it. I raised some of the money in donations from friends and fans – for which I’m extremely grateful. The rest I paid by credit card. When Sheila pulled out (citing illness as the reason), her camp stated that they would like the fight to be rearranged in three months time. This time, everyone knew, there was no money available for another cycle of drug testing. I’d be crazy to agree to fight under those circumstances.
There’s a bit more to my decision than the drugs though.
In order to compete at the top level, against the best women in the world, I have to put the rest of my life on hold for 8 weeks while I prepare for a fight. I know what world class preparation looks like, and that’s not something I’m prepared to compromise on.
Over the last ten years, MMA has cost me considerably more than I’ve earned from it. There’s a limit to how long it’s possible to do that for. Right now, I have a seven year old son. In ten years time, I want to be in a position where I can pay for him to go to university – and I’m not going to get there by fighting. The reality is that right now MMA isn’t, financially speaking, a viable career choice for most women. With a lot of support from a lot of people (and a bunch of credit cards) I’ve got by up to this point. I had my heart set on winning that Cagewarriors title, and with it the #1 spot in my weight class, but that’s not to be. In the real world, we don’t always get the fairytale ending we’re after. It’s time to let that go. My responsibility at this point is to my family and the people around me who have supported me through all of this, and I need to do what’s right for them.
It’s hard to say all this without sounding a little bitter, but the truth is that I’m not. I hope that in future, women’s MMA will progress to the point where the next generation of fighters will have more options. It’s developing all the time and with promotions like Invicta and the introduction of a women’s division into the UFC, I think we’re making big steps in the right direction.
For me, though, it’s never been about the money or even the recognition from others (though don’t get me wrong, both are nice to have!). I had no expectation when I started in this sport that I’d become a professional athlete, and the world certainly doesn’t owe it to me to allow me to do that. I had something that I wanted to achieve for myself, and that’s taken me further than I dreamed. I’m fortunate to have had that opportunity, and the experiences I’ve had over the last ten years are things money can’t buy. Although titles, rankings and reputations fade over time, the important things – what I’ve learned in the process – will stay with me.
I’m excited about the future. I’m looking forward to working with the next generation of female fighters coming through. I also love my job as an osteopath. And there are some very interesting projects in the works for 2013.
I’m not done with competition yet, either. I think I still have a few years left while I’m in my physical prime, and I’d like to focus more on my grappling and jiu jitsu. I know that I can still improve a lot in those areas. And while as sports they’re not completely clean either, the risk of serious injury when coming up against an opponent using performance enhancing drugs is rather lower.
I’m not ruling out another MMA fight in the future. It’s possible that something might come along that makes sense, in the light of all this. But if it doesn’t, then right now I’m happy with what I’ve achieved and it’s time to move on.