As one of the fastest rising prospects in mixed martial arts, former WIBA and IFBA Women's Flyweight Boxing Champion Elena "Babydoll" Reid is seen by many as the future of the sport. She talks with MMARising.com about her career to date.
There are very few mixed martial artists who are touted as the future of an entire division after just two fights. Reid is one of those few. Following her 53-second televised destruction of Stephanie Palmer in October of 2008, Reid was hailed by many within the MMA media as a future star. Already a two-time world champion in boxing, and one of the best female boxers in the world, there are few if any challengers in MMA who can compete with Reid's striking.
Now 3-0-0 and having already engaged in one of the most action-packed women's bouts of 2009 when she defeated Michelle "The Karate Hottie" Waterson in April, Reid will look to add MMA gold to her collection when she meets Japanese veteran Masako Yoshida in a title fight at an Extreme Beatdown event on October 24th.
MMARising.com: Hi, Elena. Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview. To begin, can you talk a bit about how you first got involved in martial arts and which disciplines you initially trained in?
Elena Reid: I have always played sports, but I started karate at the age of 11. I started kickboxing at 15 and fell in love with it. I was always playing at least 2 sports at a time; even cheerleading, lol. I was very much an athlete, but nothing kept my attention the way that kickboxing did. Then boxing was introduced to me at age 17 and it was love at first try. "Finally the sport that fit me, like a glove." (NO pun intended!)
MMARising.com: It was clear from the start that you were a natural striker, and you even won a kickboxing title in your native Arizona at just 17 years of age. How did your friends and family react to your involvement (and success) in combat sports?
Elena: At first, it was just another sport that I did and wasn't a big deal. My mother had to drive my brother and I every day after school for 45 minutes there and back to the gym. My father was excited for my brother but not happy with me fighting. My family is all very supportive now and has followed me around the world to watch my fights. My Mom is always there. She does my hair. My uncle has helped with management. My family is very close and they mean the world to me.
MMARising.com: In 2000, you made your professional debut in boxing and have since become one of the best female boxers in history. When you first began your career, did you ever envision yourself attaining the success that you have?
Elena: I knew that I wanted to be the best and I just worked super hard. It's been such a long time, but it has gone by so fast.
MMARising.com: Throughout your extensive career in boxing, which you still compete in today, you've compiled an impressive record of 19-5-6 and are a former WIBA and IFBA Women's Flyweight Champion. When you first held championship gold, what did that mean to you?
Elena: I waited some time before fighting for a title. I wanted it to mean something and it did. When I got the title, I wanted to honestly not just have a belt but really be the best in the world. I was known for always fighting the toughest opponents and built a respectable career that way. It was a tough road and I didn't have anything handed to me. My first title win received an award for Fight of the Year. Mary Ortega and I went toe to toe for 10 rounds. I have a lot of respect for her and all of my opponents.
MMARising.com: During your boxing career, you competed in a pair of controversial bouts in Germany against German native Regina Halmich. The judges ruled the fights as a Draw and a win for Halmich, respectively, but most observers felt that you had won one or both of the fights and had been robbed in the scoring. How disappointing were the outcomes of those fights and how did they shape your career?
Elena: It was heart wrenching and a true time to grow. I gained the fans in Germany that night, which was almost even more impressive than the fight. I just hope that people always remember me as an honest fighter who really did earn all that I gained. There is still a piece of my heart missing. The first fight was bad, but the second was really tough. I learned that there are just things in this world that you can't control. "As long as you give it your all and are honest, you can have peace."
MMARising.com: Anyone who has seen any of your fights knows that you are one of the most technically sound strikers to ever compete in boxing and your footwork is second to none. How important is technique in a fight and when does sheer power take over?
Elena: I'm always concerned with technique and, thankfully, power comes with technique. I spend hours in the gym doing things over and over for muscle memory. When the fight happens, my body knows what to do. So, hopefully, the two go hand-in-hand, or at least that's what I strive for.
MMARising.com: On December 28th, 2007, you made your debut in mixed martial arts and picked up a second-round TKO victory over a solid challenger in Tammie Schneider. What were your thoughts going into the fight and how did the switch to MMA (and smaller gloves) affect how you performed?
Elena: I was fine and had great training...then the ref came back and went over all of the rules. He was talking about eye gouging and all sorts of stuff. I was like, "what have I gotten myself into?" LOL. I had a great corner who told me to stay composed and they really gave me great information on how and what to do. It's crazy that they let you hit people with those gloves. It takes some getting used to.
MMARising.com: You became much more well-known among MMA fans in your next fight, at the HDNet-broadcasted SuperFights MMA: "A Night of Combat 2," during which you stopped Stephanie Palmer with a left hook to the liver just 53 seconds into the fight. After competing on that card, which featured a number of talented Xtreme Couture fighters, what was your reaction to the attention from MMA fans and media that followed?
Elena: It really means a lot. The support from people is huge. I have been doing this for a long time and have always been thankful for the support.
MMARising.com: Within weeks of your fight with Stephanie, some within the MMA community were already labelling you as one of the top female prospects in the sport. Were you aware that, despite having just two MMA fights, people were already seeing you as the future of the division?
Elena: Yes and no. I've heard it, but I know that I have a long way to go. I know what it takes to be a champion. I have never had an easy road and I don't ever expect one.
MMARising.com: A few months later, you returned to boxing and competed in a fight in Germany, which you lost by Unanimous Decision. You have since stated that your training camp for the fight was terrible – and that your trainer actually bailed on you shortly before you left for Germany – and that you weren't yourself at all. Can you talk a bit about the events that surrounded that fight and how much of an effect it had on your career and your life?
Elena: Without getting into too much detail, I learned many lessons through that experience. I always feel like I can get through anything and I have such a huge sense of obligation. I never want to complain or think that I am too good for anything. I was very sad, but I focused on the task at hand. I learned that it's okay to remove yourself from bad situations and to cut your losses. Sometimes, you've got to do what's best for yourself. I will never again stand for a bad situation. I have come too far. It's terrible fighting with that kind of weight on your shoulders. It's not impossible, but it sucks not fighting like yourself.
MMARising.com: Rather than taking any time off, you immediately began training for your biggest MMA fight to date against fellow rising star Michelle Waterson. Despite having a much better training camp, you fell ill the night before the fight and spent most of the evening in bed on an IV to treat dehydration. What was going through your head at the time and how crucial was your mother in getting you through that night?
Elena: It had to have been some kind of bug. I only lost about two pounds of water for that fight. I was honestly just praying to God to let me be okay. It was crazy because my body was in such shock and I was just trying to not pass out, lol. I was thinking to myself that there was no way that I'd be able to fight, but just please, please let me get through this. I'm not a drama queen, so the whole thing makes me laugh.
My Mom is amazing and she's always there to save the day. She was very calm. I was sprawled out on the couch and, out of the corner of my eye, saw her sewing the final part of my fight shorts. That is the moment when I knew that I would be fighting. I fell asleep with an IV and woke up feeling like a new person. I was not sure how I would hold up for the fight, but I knew that I had to give it my all.
MMARising.com: One night later, you showed no signs of illness when you put on one of the most impressive displays in women's MMA history. While Michelle is a very tough competitor and showed a huge heart in the fight, you dropped her numerous times and finished the fight in the second round. Your striking was about as close to flawless as possible. How excited were you to not only win the fight with Michelle but to win in such dominant fashion?
Elena: Just a couple of weeks earlier, I was in the fight where I was not myself. I was healthy and realized that this was my time to give it my all and just have fun. Michelle's talent and aggressiveness brought out the best in me. A great fight is thanks to both fighters and I will never forget Michelle. My boyfriend had an impressive victory the same night. It was a pretty spectacular night to spend with family, friends and fans.
MMARising.com: Perhaps the only unfortunate thing about the fight was that it received little press and flew almost entirely under the radar, despite being one of the most exciting women's MMA bouts to take place in North America in years. Would you have liked to have fought Michelle in a larger promotion or are you content to develop your career in Extreme Beatdown?
Elena: It would have been great. Not only for us, but for all women in fighting. I would have loved to have had more attention around the fight. I am not under any contracts at this point.
MMARising.com: Your next MMA fight is set for October 24th in New Town, North Dakota for the Extreme Beatdown promotion. Your opponent for the fight, which will be contested for a promotional title, will be Japanese gatekeeper Masako Yoshida, who has picked up some big wins in her career but has been inconsistent as of late. What are your thoughts on this fight and what areas of training have you focused on most?
Elena: I always focus on keeping my boxing sharp and I'm always learning more in Muay Thai, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Before the fight, it's a lot of training in takedown defence. Strength conditioning and running are always key.
MMARising.com: At present, there are few (if any) challengers in the 115-pound division who can compete with you on the feet, but skilled wrestlers or submission fighters will no doubt look to take you down to avoid your precision strikes and power. How has your wrestling and jiu-jitsu training progressed so far and what things do you feel that you still need to work on?
Elena: I started training in Vegas at Cobra Kai about four years ago and I really learned the basics. Scott Berri, Ulli, Simogh, Sunny and Lamon are amazing instructors. I started wrestling about two and a half years ago at Xtreme Couture. There were always top wrestlers and jiu-jitsu guys there who helped me, including Randy himself. I moved back to Arizona and now fight out of Arizona Combat Sports. We have Gustavo and a whole pro team of top wrestlers.
I have to give a lot of thanks to Pat Runez, who fights at 125. He was a top wrestler in college and is also very accomplished in jiu-jitsu. He has really been a tremendous help. I have been very lucky with surrounding myself with a great team. I mostly practice defence, but I have learned to really appreciate wrestling and jiu-jitsu.
MMARising.com: You compete in boxing and MMA under the nickname "Babydoll." When did people first call you by the name and where did it originate?
Elena: My first boxing trainers said that I was the softest but toughest person that they have ever met and they thought that it went with my personality. People said that I was like the wind up Baby dolls; once they put me in the ring, it's like I became a different person.
MMARising.com: Should fans expect you to walk out to the sounds of "Baby Doll" by all-girl group Girlicious at your next fight? :)
Elena: It could happen, lol. I always let my sister pick my music. I like just thinking about the actual fight. She is really good at that stuff.
MMARising.com: In your fights, you often sport ring attire that prominently features pink, and you have also been a part of photo shoots that showcase you as more of a "girly girl." Is it important for you to maintain a feminine image in the sport, even when your job is to punch others in the face for a living?
Elena: Important or not, it's just who I am. I think that honesty is important. I love playing rough, but I love dressing up and being pampered, too.
MMARising.com: You were also working towards a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, but you've now moved back to Arizona. Are you still enrolled in classes from UNLV or have you had to put that on hold while fighting?
Elena: I am a lifetime student, lol. I am actually going for a second degree.
MMARising.com: How important is it to have that education to fall back on for when you are no longer competing in combat sports?
Elena: It's huge. School is not the only way to be educated, but education should always be #1. Knowledge is power! I love this sport, but being a female is rough. It's like, no matter how much you accomplish, it's impossible to make a living. When we say that we do it for the love of the sport, we mean it.
I love what I do, but it almost feels irresponsible sometimes. I've worked so hard and even been able to accomplish quite a bit, but have nothing to show for it. I have to almost support my hobby. It can be quite difficult. I just hope that I'm helping to create more opportunities for future women in the sport.
MMARising.com: At present, you have one of the brightest futures of any woman in mixed martial arts. If you stick with MMA for the long-term, you could easily become one of the best female fighters to ever compete in the sport. Do you see yourself involved in MMA (and boxing) for many years to come or are you aiming for a change of pace in the future?
Elena: I would be more than honoured to stick with the sport.
MMARising.com: If given the opportunity, would you like to compete in front of a large (television) audience for a promotion such as Strikeforce?
Elena: Yes, Yes and Yes!!!!
MMARising.com: For those who may not yet be familiar with you or your career, what would you most like fans to know about Elena Reid?
Elena: I love both sports and I have always done by best to respect them. I've always tried to put on exciting fights.
MMARising.com: Looking forward to the next 12 months, what are your goals for your MMA career and where do you see yourself one year from now?
Elena: I would love to fight abroad and have as many titles as possible. I see myself fighting a lot more in MMA.
MMARising.com: If you could set up a dream MMA fight between yourself and an opponent of your choosing, who would it be and why?
Elena: I would like to fight everyone because that's what you should do.
MMARising.com: What are some words to live by that you feel that everyone should follow?
Elena: "To live life out of respect for yesterday, for right now and in hopes of a great tomorrow." You always have the right to choose, so make your choices wisely. All we have is our truth and, with that, you can hold your head up high. Live to love and love to live...life is about living.
MMARising.com: Do you have any final comments or shout-outs to fans, family or sponsors?
Elena: God must always be #1. Thank you to my mother for always supporting and loving me. Thanks to my whole family - my Uncle Kevin, Donna, Kyle, Vic, Sarah and all of them. To Ray, my boyfriend, for showing me what it is to be fearless and what loving the sport really is. Thanks to Xtreme Couture and Arizona Combat Sports, and to all of the fans. Your support means the world to me.
MMARising.com would like to sincerely thank Elena for taking the time for this interview. We are big supporters of her career and look forward to seeing her continue to rise up the mixed martial arts ranks.
An additional thank you to Darrick Patrick for his assistance with setting up this interview.