|photo courtesy of A-List Photography|
This week I interviewed amateur MMA fighter Courtney Belcher, who fights out of Martinsville Fight Club in Virginia. In addition to having a charming Southern accent, which makes me feel at home, Courtney is funny, smart and genuinely earnest in her love for MMA.
If you will, start out by giving everyone a brief introduction to who you are.
I am twenty-eight years old, I'm married with two kids and my husband is my training partner. We got started when he was in the Army. I am also in school for nursing and I am an EMT/CMA.
Dang! You have a lot of stuff going on.
You said you got started when your husband was in the Army. Did you start out with just boxing or were you training straight MMA from the beginning?
We were training boxing. The Army does MACP (Modern Army Combatives Program) and as he was going through that he would come home and teach it to me. And then we decided to make our garage into our own little gym. So I started out with boxing.
So when did you make the transition into learning the rest of the techniques that you really need to be a MMA fighter?
We started kind of playing around with it then but there just wasn't enough room. When we moved here, back here to Virginia, we decided that we wanted to find a gym and that's when I decided to make the transition to training for MMA.
How long did you train before you began competing?
One year? Wow! Tell us about your first fight.
It was pretty cool. It wasn't very long; [laughs] we ended it in the first round. You know, you get hit in the gym and you are kind of like, 'Oh, that's not so bad.'
[Laughs] Yes I do
Well, now the guys don't take it easy on me because I can hit pretty hard. But that first hit kind of woke me up and said 'Yeah...she's not playing.' [Laughs]. She had some good shots. I learned that I was dropping my left hand way too much, I was taking way too many shots. I kept noticing that she would back her head up a certain way, so I slipped her jab and hit her with an overhand right. I just remember her eyes got really wide. So I pushed; I kept pushing. I think I hit her with a couple more overhand rights and got her to the cage. Then I used a couple of uppercuts and the ref stepped in because she turned away from me, she didn't want to fight anymore.
Amazing. I love the overhand right. Now what is your weight-class?
I'm a heavyweight. I fight in promotions between 185 and 230. I generally weigh in at about 225 and then probably go in ring at 230.
And how tall are you?
Oh I'm short; I'm about 5'6.
Do most of your opponents end up being taller than you?
|Courtney with her coach, Master Ferguson, her husband Eric Belcher and her training partner Jeremy Boardwine in front|
Do you have to change your tactics for dealing with a taller opponent?
No. My husband is almost 6'0 and one of my other training partners was 5'10 and I trained mostly with them. When I knew I was going to have a tall fighter, I trained mostly with them to get used to the height difference. There are a couple of guys now who are my height and I'm having a bit a trouble switching to fighting somebody taller to fighting someone lower. I have a problem getting my distance down for that.
Do you like to stand up or do you like to go to the ground?
When I first started I liked the ground better. As my boxing has improved, I kind of like standing up. I love Muay Thai and kickboxing, I love those. So I am transitioning more towards standing, but I want to still be able to use my ground game. I'm going to try to start hitting some grappling tournaments.
I was just about to ask you about that. Will it be your first grappling tournament?
Yes. I went straight in to MMA.
I think that is really intense to go straight into MMA. I think we'll see that more in the future, but in the past most people have competed in just stand-up or ground, then have to make that transition in to doing both. So that is pretty cool that you started with competing in MMA. Do you work your wrestling, your take-downs, a lot?
Yes, we do. That is one of the things we do a lot of so I can get used to working it with people of different heights. I'm getting better at it. I have found what makes me comfortable in getting me to the take-down and that's what I am working on right now. I prefer to do it from a clench if I can; that just makes me more comfortable. The way that I am built, I am really good at defending take-downs, so I've learned to use that, when someone is trying to take me down.
You mentioned earlier than you primarily train with your husband and several other guys who are currently training at your gym. What is your gym like? What is the class set up? What about sparring?
Well Mondays and Tuesdays are the days that we drill. Some days it may be an hour of kickboxing, an hour of Muay Thai or an hour of straight boxing. And then grappling; we might dedicate a whole class to just grappling. Wednesdays and Thursdays are our spar nights and that's 8:30 to 10:30 or 11:00pm, just straight rounds of sparring. Sometimes we get in 15 rounds. I remember a couple of weeks there was only four of us and we were averaging about twenty rounds.
Well that will get you ready.
Are you the only female at your gym?
I am the only female at my gym.
Have you ever had the opportunity to train with other women?
We had a girl that was coming in; I think she was there for three months. It just wasn't her thing.
Do you think working with only male training partners makes you more aggressive in the ring?
Yes, I think it definitely does. You know, I am always at a disadvantage with them, so I always have to push a little more and a little harder just to get to their level. If I want to be better than them, I have to push myself that much harder. And I honestly think I would have had a harder time with both my fights if I hadn't trained with the guys.
Your current record is 1-1. Do you have anything planned for the future?
We're trying to get something set up for December 2nd. In the last six months I've seen a lot more heavyweight fighters come out, but is is very hard. There were two other girls who were fighting, but it looks like they both quit. All of the sudden, I am the lone heavyweight.
Looks like it. Wait, I take that back. I talked to someone who said there is a girl who trains Judo who is looking to make the transition into MMA, but I haven't talked to her. I am not saying there aren't any other girls in Virginia, but right now, there aren't any heavyweight girls who are interested in fighting.
I know it is hard for girls in the smaller weight brackets, like super light weights or heavy weights, to find competitors and many end up turning professional sooner than they hoped. Is that something that you have considered?
Whether I stay here or go pro, it is going to be the same thing. I have a friend who is a pro heavy weight out in Cali and she's been waiting for a year. All the girls I have come across who are heavyweight are amateurs and they are running across the same problem I am: not being able to get the fights to get experience. And I don't want to turn pro without developing what I think I need to develop.
When you go into fight-training mode, how does that differ from your typical training regiment?
Our cardio goes through the roof. We dedicate the first hour to nothing but cardio. We have nights where we'll do what we call "the puke drill," and normally you are puking when you are done. We do Bas Rutten, a lot of his stuff and man, he'll kill you [laughs]. Then we start focusing on the type of fighter we have. If there are videos, we'll look at those and then start tailoring down to what specific things we need to work on for that fight. We work on grappling, on set-ups for different submissions we might use. Then we start working on combos, looking for our favorite combinations and thinking about how we would set those up.
How do you get yourself mentally prepared to fight?
I don't think I really change too much. I was an athlete in high school and college, so I honestly don't do anything different than my everyday. I have some nerves during that last week before a fight. I get those out of the way. When I get into the ring, I don't have nerves; I've dealt with that. That is one of the things that I try to deal with during that week, to deal with the nerves, and to get plenty of rest. But I really don't change too much.
What about the day of a fight? What is it like to wait to get into the ring?
Depends on where I am on the card [laughs]. My last fight I was third from last and we were in the middle school gym with no air conditioning. That was not fun; I think it was about 100 degrees in there by the time I got into the ring. I slept a good portion of the day and I helped warm up some of the other guys, but that is pretty much it. I watched a couple of the fights, but I kind of stay to myself depending on whether or not my husband is fighting.
So he fights as well?
If he is not fighting at the same event as you, is he usually in your corner?
And what is that interaction like?
It's pretty good but it is harder on him. We definitely have a groove going; he knows how to push me, he knows what he needs to say to get me to do something and he knows that I might not hear my coach's voice, but I am going to hear him. Sometimes he relays what my coach says if I don't hear him. But, it's nice to have him there at ringside, it really is.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Courtney, where we will talk about being married to your training partner, making time for the fam, cross-training and the future of WMMA!