Over the last few years Mixed Martial Arts has become more integrated into mainstream culture, growing at an exponential rate. Women’s MMA is also on the rise; the featherweight and strawweight divisions have been introduced in the UFC, and new rising talent has been welcomed to fill the ranks.
Within Australia though, there has been a mixed reception with an up-hill journey to be seen as a legitimate competitive sport with the likes of boxing and wrestling instead of just unskilled thuggery.
Ahead of her appearance at Brace 47 on Saturday, March 18, we caught up with Claire Todd, to discuss the changing MMA scene, the pitfalls of weight-cuts and the rise of women’s MMA.
The Neversphere: I know you’re trained a various martial arts, how did you get into MMA and what has your martial arts journey been like so far?
Claire: I started many years ago, and just as fitness. I went to Polletts [gym] and I did the kickboxing class twice a week. And then, you know…you float in, you float out. I did that for a while. Then I got seriously into training. I got sick for a while, so I decided to get fit and healthy and then the opportunity came up for my first fight. I had two weeks’ notice, and I’m like “yeah, I’ll do that”…then I’m like, “oh my god, what have I done?”
I saw the doctor out the back. He so “oh dear”, he said “I don’t like you fighting”, and I’m like “I don’t either. I’m not gonna do this again, I don’t know if I can cope with the nerves”.
The Neversphere: That was your first Muay Thai fight?
Claire: That was. Funnily enough, about my fourth fight the same doctor was out the back and he said “it’s you again”. I said, “I appear to have lied to you, I’m sorry…I’m back again”.
The Neversphere: You’ve had at least 11 Muay Thai fights, then you transitioned into MMA with two amateur, and one pro fight. You’re going into your second pro-fight in the next week for Brace 47, how are you feeling?
Claire: I’m excited! Usually I don’t get too excited, I get nervous and ‘oh, what if I fail,’ and all that kind of stuff but this time I am excited because it’s like the ultimate test. So yeah…not long now.
The Neversphere:As a female fighter within MMA, what has your take been on the rise of women’s MMA. Of course, we’ve had stars like Ronda Rousey around for a while but now there’s this new generation of fighters coming up. How do you feel about the scene of women’s MMA now?
Claire: I think when Ronda Rousey was coming through it she did the hard yards. She put girls on the map and made them famous; she made them recognised. That’s a fantastic thing because she opened the gate. It allowed more female in but also it encouraged more females to say, “Here’s a lady on the world stage”, Olympics and in a sport of its own…
So you look at Ronda and you’re like I could try and get my foot in the door, I can keep working towards obtaining a goal like she did and that is what I think is happening, there are just more and more girls saying “You know what, I wanna do that too, why can’t I play with the boys?”
The more girls come in, the more ranks open up so it becomes a flow on effect. It just keeps building and building, but it takes time to just train and to get to that level. In the next ten years it’ll be huge.
The Neversphere: MMA is everywhere in mainstream media at the moment. You know, people who aren’t hardcore fans know fighters’ names, which they didn’t a fair few years ago.
Claire: I had a conversation the other day, they said “I saw this MMA guy speak, and he was speaking about the fights and about the topics and the world in general. He was eloquent and he was intelligent, he spoke very well and he was a pleasure to listen to.”
Fighters are dressed extremely well and they take pride in everything, and they speak well. It gives a whole new light to the type of people that are participating. It’s moving away from the idea of “Oh, its just a blood sport, thuggery game.” It’s not, its intelligent people expressing their skills and participating in a sport that they enjoy.
The Neversphere: Previously you had a bad weight cut. Do you mind telling us a bit about that?
Claire: Oh yes, the bad weight cut. Well, it was going very well, it was nothing out of the ordinary, I was a little heavier than I had expected to be and it was a lighter weight, we knew that and I had to cut weight the first time and I made that; it wasn’t a drama. But the second time, we were like yep, got our plan, this is what we’re going to do…
I came in a little bit heavier at the start of the day, and something just went wrong in the middle. I don’t know what it was, and it turned out very badly for everyone around me. It was awful and I really regret that, but I can’t change it so I just moved up a weight division.
The Neversphere: We’re seeing weight cutting issues in MMA on a regular basis. It’s interesting to see how organisations are trying to handle these situations…
Claire: That is true, weight cutting its difficult. For anyone in any sport that has to make a weight, it is just simply hard. You have to fine-tune so many things; your water intake, your macro nutrients, your micro nutrients, your protein, your fats, carbs, your salt levels….It’s a difficult thing and there are a lot of fighters that are struggling with it. At the end of the day I was too heavy, and I knew it a week before but I only then had a week to try and bring myself back to the point where we wanted to be at.
The boys have it a bit easier, their weight divisions are a lot closer and girls’ are 52kg and 61kg. It’s not like you have a couple kilos in the middle. You’re training to be the fittest you can be and you’re training to be the strongest you can be but you’ve got to limit your muscle growth and you’ve got to maintain a healthy fat range and it just can be really difficult. It doesn’t take much to upset that fine line that you’re walking of discipline.
The Neversphere: Taking Ronda Rousey as an example, as she’s so prevalent within the media, you see photos of her after a fight having put on a little bit of weight and people are judging her for that…but not really understanding the process of a weight cut and what kind of tolls it can have on you and your body.
Claire: You must replenish and you must rest. And as soon as you do that, the body will go “well you’ve just stressed me, I’m going to compensate,” and that’s a normal reaction to what we do to our bodies. I don’t think its specific to MMA either, I think the same type of problems are evident in gymnastics, in ballet; anything that requires a strict weight or body image. I think it’s there in every sport, it’s just perhaps more obvious in MMA because it’s there all the time. You have these very public weigh-ins.
The Neversphere: You’re no longer competing in amateur fights, fighting in the pro division of Brace. What do you think the next steps in your career are?
Claire: I’m going to jump right out there and say I wanna fight for a title on the Brace card. I wanted to do that last time but I kinda stuffed that up. So that’s my goal for Brace. Then perhaps if everything is going well and I can keep getting better every fight, perhaps go international and maybe get onto a card overseas with a bigger promotion and see where that takes me.
The Neversphere: You have your fight coming up against Mel Zeman on March 18th on Brace 47. Can you tell us anything about your game plan going in, and how you’re feeling ahead of your fight?
Claire: I’m feeling good, I think our training is on track. We’re starting to get towards the end of the prep so we’ll shift focus a little bit, but I guess I need to hone my skills and I need to practice the techniques I believe are going to work for me. Every fight you have to evolve, and that’s what I’ve been working on.
I’ve been working on my ground game a lot, my strikes, just working on everything so that I can just step up another level, because that’s the ultimate goal to every time. So that I know I’ve gotten better this time, I’ve done this right, I’ve done that right. It’s just a preparation, an evolution every time I go in, that’s my aim. Just to evolve every time I go in.
The Neversphere: I love that ethos: just constantly improving, constantly striving for the next thing. I love that about MMA, everyone seems to be on a bit of a journey.
Claire: Yeah, it is a journey. Every time you get a win, you step up to better competitors that have been there before, and competitors that have done just as much and more. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To keep testing yourself and just keep climbing the ranks. It’s a great sport to be in, you can just keep climbing the ranks.
The Neversphere: What would say to a woman who was thinking about getting into training mixed martial arts?
Claire: Give it a go! What have you go to lose? If you don’t like it, you can change. Set yourself a goal and train in it a couple of months. At the end of those couple of months when the soreness finally subsides and you learn your throws and your strikes begin getting better, and you learn your counters.You’ll either love it or you hate it.
If you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. But it’s not a boys club. You would know yourself, you roll with the boys, you train with the boys and it’s just a group of people doing jiu Jitsu or doing MMA or doing their striking. It’s just a group of people having a great time, and throwing around ideas and pulling off a move that they’ve been practicing for weeks.
It’s a lot of fun and there’s nothing about it that should make you feel bad, or should make you feel like you’re out of place, that you’re violent or that you’re not violent enough. Just get in and give it a go.
Don’t let anyone else dictate how it is, go in and find out for yourself.