On Friday, I fought Valerie Coolbaugh in the Bellator season finale. I was originally scheduled to fight Jessica Aguilar, but unfortunately that was called off due to injury just as we were due to fly out. Bellator committed themselves to finding a replacement opponent, and on landing in Florida in the early hours of Tuesday morning, we were told that Coolbaugh had agreed to take the fight. She had a deceptive pro record of 2-1 but a lot of amateur experience (10-2) and was coming off a win against Felice Herrig.
There was some confusion over the weight. Coolbaugh agreed to fight at 125; we were told the fight was still at the original weight (120 lbs). By the time we found out about the switch, I’d already done the work and was virtually on weight at 120. A pretty big irritation, but it seemed to be down to an honest mistake and we didn’t see it affecting the outcome of the fight. Some negotiation by my management later, we agreed to take it at the new weight of 125.
Those who know me know that this hasn’t been the easiest build up to a fight. The last few weeks have been tough, and often I’ve wondered why I’m putting myself through this. But there on Friday night, I realized how incredibly privileged I am to have the opportunity to do what I do and to be part of this great sport.
When I was growing up, being a professional athlete was the last thing I imagined for my future. It was something too far out of the realms of possibility to even dream of. Even now, there is something amazingly surreal for me about the whole experience of being part of a big show like that. Thinking back, I remember the whole thing as almost a series of snapshots, individual moments that stand out against the adrenaline-induced pre-fight trance.
Trying out the cage before the show starts, moving around, feeling at home there and knowing I’m the fittest and strongest I ever have in my life, confident that my body knows how to deal with whatever is coming next. Meeting up with fighters, trainers and officials I’ve got to know before at other events and feeling part of the community.
Having the FSAC official watch as Karl wraps my hands, knowing that he’s no doubt done the same at the biggest shows for some legendary fighters. Some UK fighters find it hard to adjust to having all the rules, regulations and procedures that go along with the US athletic commissions. I quite like it – it makes it clear to everyone this is a professional, well-regulated sport.
Standing in the entrance to the arena in front of 4000 people, waiting to walk out amongst all the TV cameras and flashes going off and feeling the buzz of the crowd. Listening to my music play, remembering the last time I heard it at Cagewarriors Night of Champions. Focused, excited, soaking in the atmosphere and feeling that it’s all been worth it, just to be here in this moment.
Flashes of the fight itself, the feeling of flow, being totally absorbed in what’s I’m doing so that the crowd and everything outside the cage fades to a blur
Having my hand raised in victory. People congratulating me on a good fight, having fans come up to me asking for photos and autographs. Standing outside the venue in the warm evening, eating the chocolate ice cream Tony bought me and soaking up the atmosphere. Seeing clips of my fight replayed on the big screen. Being invited to sit on the table at the press conference and hearing myself referred to as one of the best female fighters on the planet.
Getting to talk to my opponent after the show and get to know her a little. I love being around other female fighters – there’s something special about them. We talked about our children a little, and Valerie had bought me a present – a book of bedtime stories for Luis. She’s a lovely person, and I’ll definitely be rooting for her in the future.
Going for a swim at the hotel early the next morning before catching the flight. The cool water with the sunlight reflecting off it. Washing away the stress of everything that’s gone on over the last few weeks, leaving everything about the world seeming a little brighter.
There are many, many people I need to thank for getting me where I needed to be in the shape (mental and physical) that I needed to be in. Although I’m the one in the cage
– Karl Tanswell. An amazing MMA coach, IMO one of the best in the world, despite our differences.
– All my team mates and friends at SBG Manchester who have been there for me, encouraged me, inspired me, pushed me, punched me in the face, and been there when I needed someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on.
– I need to add a special thanks to Anna Mayne. She’s probably the best kept secret in female MMA right now, and undoubtedly one of the best 125 lbs fighters in the world. She’s been there every step of the way, beats me up on a regular basis, keeps me on my toes and forces me to keep raising my game. She also keeps me sane!
– Jon Bond, my conditioning coach. He’s done some great work with me and got me into amazing shape for this fight. I’m smaller but stronger than I’ve ever been.
– James Barraclough, my sports psychologist who’s done great things for my performance and my ability to handle the pressure of the big shows.
– Paul McVeigh and his amazing girlfriend Maeve for (respectively) beating me up, looking after Luis and being great friends.
– Cagewarriors fighter management. Tony Mac and Ian Dean have worked really hard on this fight and been there all along to deal with all the difficulties that came up and take care of everything I needed. They’re great to work with, as they both genuinely care about their fighters.
– My sponsors. Dethrone, Tapout and Bet on Fighting.
– Phd nutrition. I’ve been working with these guys for a couple of years now and their support has been invaluable. I really believe they have some of the best nutrition products around right now. I use Recovery 2:1 formula after training, spent the week I was weight cutting living on Phd Pharma Blend, and then put it back on with Waxy-Vol. And for pre-training and competition, you just can’t beat Wired.
– Everyone who’s sent messages of support. Knowing there are so many people who care about me and want me to do well makes all the difference when things get tough. Thank you :)