As one of the top female fighters in the world, Amanda Buckner has competed among the best since her debut in mixed martial arts in 2002. Now focused on joining the Strikeforce roster, she talks with MMARising.com about her future plans.
Having already been ranked as highly as #2 in the world, Buckner is no stranger to competing at the highest levels against the toughest challengers. She has held titles in both Ring of Fire and SmackGIRL and was seconds away from defeating Tara LaRosa in an incredible 2006 battle. Much like many other talented female fighters of today, however, Buckner has been left without a promotion to compete for after the demise of BodogFIGHT and SmackGIRL.
Recently receiving her Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and motivated by the upcoming Strikeforce women's 135-pound tournament, Buckner knows that she can be a force in the division and eagerly awaits all Strikeforce challengers.
MMARising.com: Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Amanda. To begin, can you tell us a bit about what first sparked your interest in competing as a mixed martial artist?
Amanda Buckner: Well, I had been an athlete pretty much my whole life, and after graduating from college, I definitely felt the void of training for something as well as competing. After moving to Boulder, Colorado in 1999, I met Jay Jack, who was training and teaching at Easton Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I would stop by the school to hang out with Jay, and BJJ sparked my interest as something that I could compete in. I had never even heard of MMA before I started training in BJJ. Jay was fighting at the time, and the first time I watched him train for and compete in an MMA fight, I knew right away that MMA was a challenge that I had to take on.
MMARising.com: You and your husband, Jay, own and manage the Academy of Mixed Martial Arts in Portland, Maine. What is a typical day like for you at the gym?
Amanda: Jay is definitely the heart and soul of the gym. He's an amazing teacher and coach. I don't teach the group classes, but I have more involvement in the fighting/competition side. My main role in the gym is all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into running a business. It's definitely not the most glamorous part of owning a gym, but it has to be done and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
MMARising.com: When you are competing, how much of an added level of support is it to have your husband shouting encouragement from your corner?
Amanda: It's definitely a great comfort to have him in my corner. To be honest, the reason why I'd never fight without him is not because I'm married to him but because he's such a good coach. I always say that he's one of the best-kept coaching secrets in the sport. I have complete trust in what he's yelling from the corner. I know that he's 100% honest with me and that he has a tremendous ability to see things that I may not be seeing. I really feel that you need a great coach/corner if you're going to reach your true potential and I feel lucky to have found that.
MMARising.com: Newer fans to the sport may not yet be familiar with you, but you are one of the true pioneers of women's MMA in North America and have been ranked as highly as #2 in the world. What are your thoughts on the current state of the women's division?
Amanda: Women's fighting is strange, in the sense that it seems to ride waves. I remember when I first started fighting, it was around the time of the first all-women's HOOKnSHOOT event and it really seemed like things were about to take off, but then nothing really happened. Then there was a period a few years back, during the whole Bodog time, when things really seemed to be happening. I know that a bunch of people will disagree with this, but up until very recently, we seemed to be back to nothing happening again.
All that I have been hearing about is how amazing Gina Carano has been for women's fighting, but the reality of it is that, outside of Gina's career, nothing has really been happening. A lot of the best female fighters out there have been largely inactive due to a lack of opportunities. With rumors of Strikeforce heading towards putting more work into their 135-pound division, I feel like there is at least hope on the horizon.
MMARising.com: At 11-5-1, you have already competed against many of the best 125- and 135-pound fighters in the world and have a number of huge victories on your résumé. Which fight would you say has been your toughest thus far?
Amanda: I'd say that my last fight, against Takayo Hashi, was the toughest. It was far from the toughest physically, but it was emotionally tough. I can handle losing a hard-fought battle, but I was completely absent mentally during that fight and it has remained a really irritating thing for me. That was the fight where I learned that, even though it's tempting, when you have some really rough stuff going on in your life, taking a fight doesn't make it any easier. It just makes you suck during your fight.
MMARising.com: Among your most impressive victories are wins over Shayna Baszler (twice), Julie Kedzie and Hitomi Akano, and you are one of only two women to have ever submitted Shayna (and the only to have defeated her with an actual submission hold). Which of these accomplishments are you most proud of and which was the most memorable?
Amanda: For me, all of the fights are such memorable experiences because they are all so different and each one is a great teacher in its own way. My first fight with Shayna was a big one for me because I got over some competition problems that had plagued me in the beginning of my career. Plus, Shayna and I don't seem to be able to get into a ring together without putting on a pretty damn good fight. The whole experience of fighting Hitomi was a great one. I felt so great warming up for that fight and executed a very specific game plan for her that kept me from getting thrown on my head. The fight with Julie was great because I felt horrible warming up for that one, but I was still able to go out and perform pretty well. So, there is a very long non-answer to your question. : )
MMARising.com: You are no stranger to championship gold, as you have competed for titles on three occasions and emerged victorious twice. As a former Ring of Fire Women's Lightweight Champion (a title which you never lost) and SmackGIRL Open-Weight Champion, which of the championships meant the most to you and what were your thoughts when you first held title gold?
Amanda: Winning a belt is not something that motivates me very much. I'm not really sure why that is, but I've just never gotten that fired up about it. For some reason, though, once I have one, I definitely feel motivated to not have it taken away by anybody.
MMARising.com: For those who have not yet seen the fight, you were a part of an incredible battle with top-ranked female star Tara LaRosa in 2006. In most people's minds, you were winning that fight, but LaRosa managed to secure a fight-ending rear naked choke with just 29 seconds remaining in the final round. Had you been victorious that night, how much of an impact do you feel that it would have had on your career?
Amanda: Well, Tara and I are both sitting around right now with nowhere to fight, so I'm not sure that we've ended up in much different places.
MMARising.com: While it was tough to watch at the time, with you seemingly coming so close to victory and having it snatched away at the last moment, you chose to focus on the positives from the fight and used it as added motivation for the future. What was the main lesson that you learned from that fight and how has it impacted your career since then?
Amanda: Well, there were some technical things that I took from it. The big one being the importance of remaining focused on making good decisions. I went for a takedown that bounced us right off the ropes and ended up with me on the bottom. It was a poor technique choice. The other big thing that I took from the fight was that there does exist a time in a fight when it's okay and even smart to just run out the clock. With so little time on the clock, and the fight (in my opinion) going my way, I should have just clinched or kept distance. That's just so opposite from my instincts that it's a tough thing from me to do.
MMARising.com: After the fight with LaRosa, you picked up back-to-back wins over Julie Kedzie and Hitomi Akano in BodogFIGHT before the promotion folded. What was your initial reaction when you became aware of BodogFIGHT's demise?
Amanda: It was really sad for me. I had a good activity level with them and the whole experience was awesome. They made exciting matchups, treated the fighters well and had made a great place for women in their promotion. I was not surprised when they folded, but it was really depressing.
MMARising.com: Just months after BodogFIGHT ceased operations, long-time women's MMA leader SmackGIRL also shut down in Japan. As both promotions prominently featured female fighters, their closures were significant blows to the women's division. How much of an effect do you feel that this had on women's MMA overall?
Amanda: I feel that that stuff has been huge. It basically left one organization (Elite XC, and now Strikeforce) which, up until now, has pretty much had an interest in only one female athlete. That is obviously not a good thing for the women's scene as a whole.
MMARising.com: Of the promotions that have begun to showcase women's MMA in the past two years – most notably Strikeforce, Bellator Fighting Championships and Palace Fighting Championship in North America, and Jewels, Valkyrie, DEEP and Shooto in Japan – which do you feel has done the most to advance the sport?
Amanda: Strikeforce, for sure. They have had the most high-profile fighters, and the mere fact that the cards are televised advances the sport way more than any other show. You can have the best show in the world, but if nobody sees it, it won't have much impact on the sport overall.
MMARising.com: As you mentioned before, you last competed on April 3, 2008 at Fatal Femmes Fighting 4 and dropped a Unanimous Decision to rising Japanese star Takayo Hashi. Looking back, what would you have done differently that night?
Amanda: I will just restate that what I would do differently is not take that fight. It's very hard to turn down a fight when there are so few opportunities out there, but I would rather have turned that down than have the experience that I did.
MMARising.com: Since the battle with Hashi, you have been one of a number of talented female fighters who has not received another opportunity to fight. Given that you have competed among the best – and are still ranked among the best – what do you feel that you need to do in order to attract attention from promoters of larger MMA shows today?
Amanda: That's a good question and, unfortunately, I'm not really sure what the answer is. Without being able to fight, it's difficult to attract attention. Outside of posting photos of myself on the Internet wearing nothing but MMA gloves, which is obviously not going to happen, I'm not really sure where to go from here. I've been growing my hair out for a while now, which should at least help. The short hair was always an issue regarding marketability. I didn't grow it out because of that, but it won't hurt. I guess that I'd ask any fans out there that would like to see me fight again to contact Strikeforce and voice this to them.
MMARising.com: Fans and fighters seem to be split fairly evenly as to whether Gina Carano's presence in MMA is good or bad for the women's division. On the one hand, she brings added exposure to the division, but questions have arisen as to whether this really benefits any other fighters besides her. Gina herself has repeatedly stated that she wishes that the spotlight was shone on the entire division, rather than just her alone. What is your take on this and do you feel that she helps or hurts the women's division as a whole?
Amanda: That's a really tough one. From everything that I've ever seen of Gina, she seems like a great person and I think that she's a very talented fighter. I guess my litmus test for her effect on the women's division is how many women are fighting and being promoted. As of right now, this is probably the time period when I've seen the most inactivity among the upper-level female fighters since I started in MMA. That is not her fault, but at the same time, I'm not sure how you could say that there's been this great leap forward for women's MMA. Cyborg made a nice payday and that was due to Gina, and Gina made more for one fight than pretty much all other women have ever made combined, so that was good for her but I haven't seen much trickle down.
I think that a lot of this comes back to the promoters. Gina is really a special case, and I'm not sure when there will be another combination of beauty, skill, sex appeal and the willingness to exploit these attributes. However, there are a lot of girls that have more skill than Gina, have great personalities and are attractive, but until the promoters put forth the effort to get these girls some exposure, nobody will really know or care who they are. There could be a lot of stars in the female divisions, but the promoters have to do their part.
MMARising.com: If you were given a rematch with any opponent who had previously defeated you – especially Tara LaRosa – do you feel that you would come out on top in each fight?
Amanda: Absolutely, without a doubt. The only one that I would leave off of that list is Jen Howe because she's my friend and I don't think about fighting her like that anymore.
MMARising.com: Who are some top female fighters today that you would most like to compete against?
Amanda: Roxanne Modafferi, Sarah Kaufman, Kaitlin Young, Tara LaRosa, Takayo Hashi, Rosi Sexton, Tonya Evinger, Vanessa Porto and Miesha Tate, just to name a few. I'd love to fight Megumi Fujii, but I'd have to cut off a limb to do that.
MMARising.com: Besides simply getting a fight, what are your main goals for the coming year and which promotion would you most like to compete for next?
Amanda: I'm set on Strikeforce because that's where the best fighters are. Unless other promotions pop up or the WEC starts having women fight, Strikeforce is pretty much the only show in town. When it's been so hard to get a fight, it's tough to set goals outside of actually getting back in the ring. There are skills that I'm trying to get better at, so I'm staying focused on that because it's something that I can actually control. I had the goal of getting my Black Belt in BJJ and that happened in July. That has been at least one high point during this period of inactivity.
MMARising.com: How many wins do you feel that you would need to attain before you would be ranked among the top three female fighters in the world once more? Would a major title belt, such as one in Strikeforce, be the key to reaching the top again?
Amanda: Rankings are hard to get worked up about because they can really be all over the board, and there is no "official" ranking, so each one that you look at will be different. In rankings that I was looking at recently, there were two people ranked above me that I have beaten and it's not like either of them have had any significant wins to explain this. So, you can't really take those things too seriously. As it stands right now, I'll just continue to drop down rankings for no other reason than I can't get in the ring. If I can just get in there and fight, I think that that would change.
MMARising.com: What would you most like fans to know about Amanda Buckner?
Amanda: The only thing that fans really need to know about me is that, 99% of the time, my fight will be one of the best of the night and will be a display of technical skill. Fans really just want to be entertained and that's definitely something that I can accommodate.
MMARising.com: Do you have any final comments or shout-outs to fans, family or sponsors?
Amanda: I always have to thank my coach and partner, Jay Jack, as he's just the best. Thanks also to my other teachers, Amal Easton and Soneca. We have great students and I have tremendous gratitude that we are able to do what we do every day. Thanks to Sprawl, Hell on Earth and Freeport Chiropractic, who have all been with me forever and are awesome. And, of course, I have to thank my family. Not many people come around to the idea of their daughter getting punched in the face, but now my mom even knows what a flying knee is, so we've come a long way.
MMARising.com: Thank you very much for your time for this interview and we look forward to seeing you compete again in the near future.
Amanda: Thanks for taking the time, Robert. I really appreciate it.
MMARising.com extends its thanks to Amanda for her time for this interview. We definitely hope to see her as a part of the Strikeforce women's division in the coming months.