On August 23rd when I left Colorado to go to Thailand, I did not know what to expect from my trip. I had a strong suspicion that I was not ready to walk away from the sport after all, but I tried to leave with no expectations other than just finding my passion again. When I retired on the first of the year I THOUGHT it was a sound decision, but I realized a few months later that it was simply an emotionally charged decision based on the unique high stress situation I found myself in at the time. As the months crawled on I found myself missing the fight more and more, but I was still struggling with untangling the strings of some previous negative experiences from the strings that were tied to my passion for my career. The sole purpose for my trip was to make peace with some of those past experiences while reconnecting with my passion for the martial arts.
I have to admit, during my first week back training at Phuket Top Team I remember going through the motions of my bag work thinking how absolutely miserable I was. It was so much harder than I remembered with none of the passion that used to get me through it present in my heart to keep me pushing forward. The thought, "yeah, forget this" temporarily crossed my mind, and I left training that day thinking my trip was in fact my farewell to the sport and not my reintroduction to it. I gave no consideration for the fact that I had spent the previous nine months barely training as I was submersed in alternating states of depression and anxiety; I only compared my current state of physical fitness and mental passion with what I remembered it being the last time I was in Thailand... which happened to be immediately following a fight camp when I was in peak physical condition and very hungry to compete as soon as possible.
Fortunately, muscle memory kicked in to save me from myself, and my body began to remember what I was expecting of it and complied, albeit a little begrudgingly at first. I began smiling and laughing in training again and remembering why I loved it so much to begin with. However, I was still unsure of whether or not I would end up fighting again and made the decision in my second week to not chase it or force any decision one way or the other. I decided I would just focus on training and smiling and if one of my krus felt I was ready to fight, the offer would be made.
It was at the beginning of my third week that the fight offer was made, and I was almost surprised at how quickly I said yes. There was no excitement in my response per say, only a very natural feeling in my heart that said of course, why wouldn't I? It was then that I knew I was back. However, I did not announce anything about the upcoming fight to anyone other than my children and two of my closest friends. While the fight was officially renouncing my retirement, it did not feel like a fight that was a part of my professional career to be shared with the world, but rather an event that was occurring in my personal journey and one I needed to experience privately.
The morning of the fight though, I realized how much fighting for my fans has always driven me. My entire career to date has been spent sharing my struggles and coinciding successes or failures with my followers and it did not feel right to not share my most personal struggle yet, and so I posted a video of the fight poster blowing in the wind with the following caption:
So, there's this thing I'm doing tonight..
It's been a year and a half since I've competed, and the ring has been calling to me for quite some time now. It's time I heed the call. Retirement will just have to wait. I'm back.
I had never experienced nerves before a fight in my entire career, but something about renouncing my retirement added some weight to my shoulders that I was not familiar with, not to mention it had been well over a year since I had last competed and this fight would be completely different from anything I was used to in the past which made it almost feel like my first fight all over again. In Thailand you do not warm up before a fight and instead simply receive a thai linament massage from the trainers. I was used to the mentality that you work up a good sweat and open up your lungs before your fight so when you enter the ring you are doing so with your second wind ready to go. I was also a little nervous about not ramping my punches and kicks up before entering the ring as well. The stadium I was fighting at was one where you do not know your opponent beforehand either. You just show up and fight whoever they tell you to fight. And then of course there was all the ritual and tradition entering the ring that I was not accustomed to in my previous experiences. All of these changes had me a bit in my own head and unable to really decipher how I felt about it all.
However, as soon as we arrived at the stadium, all questions left my mind as I entered into that calm and focused state of mind I love so much about the fight. I admit I had to look to Kru Athit more often for direction than I would have looked at my coaches in the past for the simple fact I needed to be guided through the specific rituals, but otherwise the second the gloves were on I felt home again. Stepping into the ring felt just as familiar and natural as any other fight, if not more so because I was finally returning to where I belonged. As soon as the ref signaled the start of the fight, it was all calm instinct.
Analyzing the fight myself, there was a lot I wish I would have done differently, one being I wish I would have played the muay thai "game" a bit more and drug the fight out into a few more rounds, but as soon as I started finding success in throwing my hands it triggered more of the MMA mentality of finishing the fight as soon as possible. However, I do not think there will ever be a single fight that I walk away from not wishing I would have done things differently. After all, we are our own worst critic and a person interested in improving in life will always be looking for those ways to improve on what they have accomplished so far. I won the fight forty seconds into round two via TKO though, and, more importantly, that night I won my own fight against depression and anxiety. That fight was like a rebirth into the life I knew and loved, and I am happy to announce that since coming home my passion has not dwindled in the slightest and I am actively seeking my next opportunity to get back in the ring.
My immense gratitude goes out to my entire team at Phuket Top Team for taking me from a couch ridden depression to a round two TKO in four weeks. I believe in their training, and I believe in their structure, but more importantly it is the atmosphere they have built that allowed me the space I needed to make such leaps and bounds in my personal journey at the same time as I made improvements in my professional journey.
For better or for worse, I have always been a creature of habit. Sometimes it has helped me to succeed in my pursuits, and other times it has held me back in my pursuits... and yet I've always worn it proudly. I believed that somehow it was part of what made me who I am. However, despite how useful developing a habit can be at times, we cannot transform and evolve in this lifetime without stepping outside of the box and breaking routine.
Over the years of my fight career I have noticed an unintended theme in my fight outfits and logo. They all have wings and the most common color scheme is red and black, the colors of smoke and fire. The original wing concept came from a team nickname with my original training partners Michelle Blalock and Shannon Sinn. In a media day photo shoot the three of us stood in the Charlie's Angels pose joking around and were then tagged as the Sambo Angels for a while.
Later the Russian double headed eagle made an appearance on my fight clothes as a sort of crest to represent the Sambo gym I was training at and to tie in the Sambo Angels theme as well.
The wings continued to appear in some fashion or another in almost everything I had designed, including the eventual development of my logo.
Upon noticing the theme sometime last year, it dawned on me that I have always been drawn to the Phoenix, as well as to butterflies and the stars because of the way they all represent not only transformation, but the rise from what appeared to be life's greatest defeat: death. A star is born from the collapse of a gaseous nebula. A butterfly must first go into darkness and shed its old self before it can fly. And the strong and beautiful Phoenix rises from the ashes of its own death. Through the development of my What's YOUR Possible message, the wings of the Phoenix were always present encouraging others to never give up on their dreams, even in the face of apparent defeat.
As I reflect on my time here in Thailand and my upcoming return to the ring tonight, I have been thinking about habits and transformation. While I didn't know what shape it would take, this trip from the very beginning was about transforming and rising above the things that I was allowing to anchor me in the past, and in order to transform we must break the habits that keep us rooted in place. This fight couldn't be a better expression of breaking old habits. My entire preparation for this fight has been different from my old routine. I'm training differently. I'm fighting at a different weight. I don't know who my opponent it. There was no big announcement or media attention distracting me from just focusing on my training. Since I didn't do an obnoxious weight cut I have been able to train hard and eat appropriately right up until the fight. When I arrive at the stadium tonight, there will be no warm up (in Thailand the fighters just receive a massage with thai oil in place of a warm up); there will be no walk out song; I won't have my parents, my kids, or any of my friends and family back home that I am accustomed to being at my fights there to cheer me on. No one here knows Baby Face. In fact, on the fight poster my name is "Maria". I am just a girl, shedding her old habits and her old self to rise and try again.. and I am in love with it all.
Sometimes we find ourselves sitting around in the ashes of our destruction because of circumstances outside of our control, but other times it is because the habits we clung to were not serving our goals. While failure can feel a bit harsh, sometimes it is only after complete destruction that we can look back and realize we had fallen off our path and were no longer taking the appropriate actions to live as our true selves and so, the mask we had begun wearing instead had to be burned way so we could begin again. At some point in our lives we all find ourselves sitting in the ashes. When that day comes for you, I urge you to not give up, but instead look around and with the honesty that comes in silent reflection, decide if you have been clinging to old habits that are no longer serving you and cut the strings to those anchors so you can spread your wings and rise again.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me over the last nine months leading up to this point. My coaches at Easton Training Center and House of Pain for seeing where I was at mentally and stepping back to allow me the space I needed to heal, my good friend and teammate Terrence Moore for giving me the little timely shoves I needed to make this trip happen, my family at Easton Martial Arts Academy both co-workers and students alike for supporting my trip, my sponsor NuCalm for the help managing my anxiety and the stresses of jet lag, my kids for always believing in me, my parents for always supporting my dreams, and Phuket Top Team for providing me the space to open my wings again. A special thank you to Kru Athit Praditphon for your patience and willingness to teach me your style, to Krus Pariwat Wisripat and Yai Chanai for your extra help on the training floor, and to all my teammates who have pushed me through countless rounds of sparring to knock off all this rust.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.