On Saturday March 11, 2017, after a roller coaster journey, I made my Pro MMA debut ending with a victory at the end of the second round.
To give you all a little background…
MMA is not something that I just decided to do. I wanted to fight MMA before I had even begun my Muay Thai career. Back when the UFC was host to fighters like Rich Franklin and Forest Griffin.
When I fell in love with Muay Thai, everything else took a back seat. I figured I would get to it somehow but it just never happened.
Back in Australia, I wasn’t good enough to get decent Muay Thai fights and my ground game was non existent. There was no hybrid style of training back then and I really struggled to find focus and commitment in my grappling. My gym at the time was just starting out and we only had 1 wrestling session a week which I loved but it was obviously not enough to get me to a level where I could begin to look at getting in MMA.
My move to Thailand solidified my love for Muay Thai and I had accepted that this may just be the sport for me.
After some trying times during my first year at AKA, I pulled out my Gi to get a little mental break from Muay Thai. I still remember clear as day, the look on my professors face when I walked into the room. After we went through some basic drills he looks at me and says (with his thick Brazilian accent) “Gemma! Why you no tell me you have jiu jitsu!”. I just laughed and told him I didn’t and that was the end of that.
Not long after this, I decided to see if MMA could be a reality for me and went and spent 6 months working with James McSweeney with the view to book an MMA fight.
After lengthy discussions, there was a lot of back and forth about whether or not I should fight amateur MMA but unfortunately, with a dense Muay Thai record, it was not looking possible. I had no choice but to train and try to go pro.
My time with McSweeney was some of the most difficult in my years in Thailand. There were a lot of promises made and broken, our gym was shut down, and eventually he left Thailand without saying a word. I had no gym, no coach, and no clue as to what I was going to do.
During this time I was completely lost and all my trust and faith had been shattered. I almost packed up and went home.
I was healing a broken finger at the time so my conditioning was not good and I had gained some weight. I decided to go to a small local Muay Thai gym just to work on my kicks and fitness and give myself some relaxed time to reflect and make a decision.
AKA came back to me with an offer for full sponsorship under their MMA program which I was initially reluctant to take, but it ended up being the right choice at the time.
Unfortunately I was running low on money and was eager to start earning again. A 6 month layoff less than ideal, but recoverable when living in an economy like Thailand. I resorted to taking Muay Thai fights in between to make ends meet.
There was a lot of going back and forth between MMA training and Muay Thai fights. I was cut and concussed in fights and training and no MMA fight had materialised. Even though I had a whole team telling me I was ready, there were just no fights. Thailand simply wasn’t the right place for me to try to start an MMA career.
Fast forward a few more months here in Berlin and matches did not come any easier. We had numerous offers for fights from match makers but no one wanted to fight the unknown girl with nearly 30 Muay Thai fights.
Eventually my team came forward and told me we had a fight offer. She had 5 MMA fights under her belt already but she could only come down to 74kg with a weigh in on the same day. With only 3 weeks to fight day, and no other offers in sight, we took it.
I won’t lie. I was not excited for this fight. After years of trying to make this happen, this is what it had come down to. It felt anticlimactic.
I took a few days to straighten out my mind and continued to train and prepare.
It’s been a long time since I have felt so frustrated and emotional as I did during those 3 weeks and my poor coaches and team had quite the shock after a few rounds of tears. I had lost all my confidence. I felt like my ground game had disappeared, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be fit enough for 5 minute rounds.
After many chats with my manager, it all boiled down to one thing. Trust. I had to trust my new team and surrendering that last shred of control was of the most challenging things I had to face.
We sat down and made a plan and I spent those 3 weeks being pushed and submitted and crying many tears of frustration. But it felt right. It finally felt like everything was going the way that it should.
Come weigh in day (and fight day) I was sitting in my hotel room, eating and drinking and stuffing my face to try to bring my weight up. Fully clothed, fed and watered, I jumped on the scales almost 2kg under.
There was no sign of my opponent but my manager pulled me aside and said that he suspected she was having trouble making weight. In my mind, all I could think was – how bad could it be? I had prepared for her to be at least 1 kg over.
A few hours had passed and there was still no sign of my opponent. After some fast translation from my friend Stef, I was told they were on a road stuck in traffic due to a major car accident on the highway.
Stef and I proceeded to our ‘medical checks’ which was possibly one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. We went into our locker room, of which a man quickly vacates and closes the door. No blood pressure monitor, no device to take your temperature. Just a lady, my teammate Stef and myself. The lady asks if I have any nipple piercings to which I say no. Regardless, she tells me I have to show her my boobs. Yep. Full frontal boob flash followed by the question ‘do you feel good today?’ and THAT WAS IT! I left the room laughing. It had to be the most random ‘medical check’ ever. #onlyinGermany?
With only an hour to spare, my opponent shows up and my team is off to investigate. Not minutes later they all return with a bleak look on their faces. It had to be bad.
My manager sits down and informs me that my opponent is 5kg over. I was FLOORED. After a bit of ranting on my end, I left it with my team. They suggested we give her an hour to cut 2kg and take 20% of her purse.
We all knew it was unlikely that she would cut 2kg in an hour but we wanted her to try.
Sure enough, an hour later, she comes back 400 grams lighter with her coach holding her ponytail as she stood on the scales.
We had a choice to say no to fighting her, but I felt like my back was against the wall. With so many refusals, I was concerned that we might have troubles getting another timely match up. I expressed my concerns to my team but they made it clear that they believed I was strong enough to take her on, even at a weight disadvantage, and not wanting to throw away the past few weeks of hard work we went forward.
As we made the walk to the cage, the crowd seemed to disappear. I was so focused and still a little angry about the missed weight.
The referee was kind enough to give us our instructions in English and moments later the bell rang.
The main goal was to maintain control of the cage and not let her rush me. Naturally all the new things I had learnt went completely out the window so I fell to rely on what I know how to do. Low kicks and teeps.
I had a really difficult time finding my range with my punches. She was also watching carefully for this and was not as eager to come forward after a few hard low kicks to both legs.
My front kick came in handy to keep control and I had enough power behind it to almost kick her over.
The fight went to the cage where my wrestling was strong. She was unable to hold me against the cage and I ended up in a dominant position, landing heavy knees.
In the final 30 seconds, she attempts a trip which I am able to reverse and land in side control where I was able to finish out the round with some strong ground and pound.
As the second round starts, I try to use my jab to keep control of the fight. As she attempts to rush me she immediately stops after walking into a straight right. I front kick her into the cage where I proceed to clinch with her and try to land more heavy knees.
It is clear she wants to get me to the ground at this point. In her previous fights she had won by TKO (GNP) in full mount so we were prepared.
After some time on the cage, she moves us away and hip throws me to the ground. She landed in such a tight crossface I had to take a moment to refocus and not panic about the position I was in.
As I try to follow my corners instructions, she moves to full mount and I proceed to bridge and buck my way to the cage. She is throwing shots but nothing significant is landing until we get nearer to the cage. She moves into high mount and starts throwing a higher volume of punches.
I was trying to work all the things we had trained for this. Unfortunately due to the size difference, and the high mount position she was in, I was unable to execute any of the escapes we had trained.
I eventually make it to my size and grab hold of her left arm to attempt to control her. I prop myself onto my knees as we attempt to make a back door escape. As I try to stand up, she attempts a triangle but she does not have good control here. I managed to work my way out to her back and go straight to side control.
She is blocking me from getting into full mount so I begin to drop knees and elbows to her body as hard as I can.
With one minute left my corner is screaming at me to not stop, to just keep going. I was so tired from trying to escape but I knew if I kept going I could really wear her down before coming out for the final round.
I finally get into a knee ride position and go straight to full mount. With only 30 seconds to go I threw as many punches as I could. Her defense was not good and I was able to throw punches from different angles, making it clean past her defense. By the end of the round she had her eyes completely shut and was bleeding from one eyebrow.
As I sat with my corner, everyone seemed happy. I felt fully recovered by the time our minute was up, however the referee came over and informed us they were trying to stop the bleeding on my opponents cut before starting the final round.
I was on my feet ready to go when my striking coach Puyan looks at me with a big smile and says, “that’s it”.
It took me a few seconds to register what was happening. She wasn’t coming back out for a third round.
My first instinct was to jump up and down, dance around and hug my team. Which I did. But as I walked over for the official decision my brain had caught up. I was about to have my hand raised.
In that moment I burst into tears and I couldn’t stop. I had done it. I had actually done it.
When you have wanted something for so long, and really worked hard for it, the sense of self achievement is beyond anything I can describe to you. I even feel emotional writing this, when I think about hugging my manager once the cage door was reopened. Or thinking about how genuinely happy my coaches were for me. I can remember the smiles on their faces and it may give me goosebumps for a long time to come.
I am finally on my way and I could not be more excited for the year ahead.
A huge shout out to my sponsors – Spitfire Gym Berlin, Black Sheep Athletics, GRRRL Clothing, Ketoline, and Manage My Media. Your support and faith in me is always unwavering and I would not be here without you.
Next stop – A Class Muay Thai – back to my roots with a K1 twist. Stay tuned!