Friday, November 18, 2011

Interview: MMA fighter Heather Bassett

This week I had the pleasure of talking with MMA fighter Heather Bassett from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  Heather is currently 2-0 and is already gaining the reputation of being the next up-and-coming fighter at 125.  This girl is DEDICATED to the sport of MMA and has an incredibly upbeat outlook on her career and the future of WMMA. 

How did you get into training and competing in MMA?
My whole life I have been a runner and a cross-country skier but I did not do any martial arts growing up.  After my first year in college I watched one of my best friends, who had been training martial arts, do a cage fight.  After that point, I didn't admit it at the time, but I knew at some point I would end up doing it [laughs].  I started training BJJ and it progressed from there.

So you trained BJJ first and then got into the striking?
At first I was said I was just going to do BJJ; that was what I was interested in.  I started off with just that and I was convinced along the way to start doing more and more of it.

What ended up being the push that got you into the ring?
I don't know if there was a push because it was something that I wanted to do all along.  Once I started BJJ it made me more interested in learning the stand-up aspect and the wrestling parts of it.  The jiu-jitsu is awesome; that is definitely my favorite part of it, but I was definitely interested in the rest right away.

How long was it before you got in the ring?
I did jiu-jitsu for a year, then once I started at my gym here I did stand-up for about six months before I did my first kickboxing match.

You competed in other combative venues before your first MMA fight?
Yes.  I did one BJJ tournament and once I started doing stand-up, my first three fights were just kickboxing.  Not necessarily because I wanted them to be just kickboxing but because they were the first opportunites that came along.  I did three kickboxing matches first, then my two recent MMA fights.

When is your next fight?
That is a good question [laughs].  We're hoping for middle of December.  It's been tricky this past month to get something set up that actually goes through.  You know, things fall  through or someone gets a different's crazy. 

I'm sure.  And you fight at 125lbs?
Yes.  My first MMA fight was at 135 and this last one was at 125.  I think I am probably going to be sticking to 125.

Will you please describe your gym? Are there primarily classes or do you do more individualized training?
It's mostly class; some of the morning classes are a lot smaller where only one or two people will show up.  So there is a lot of one-on-one training.  But the jiu-jitsu and the Muay Thai are in a class setting.

Are there a lot of women in your gym?
No [laughs].  I am pretty much the only one.  There are two girls who come and go but right now I am the only one there on a regular basis.

Does most of your interaction with other female fighters take place in the ring?
She is so stinking cute
For the most part, yes, in the ring or any other type of competition.  When I first came to the gym where I train now, I was lucky enough to have another female fighter, Christina Domke, who has since retired from fighting.  But she was an awesome pro fighter.  So I was really really lucky to start while she was still training.  She is still really involved in my fighting career; she's a huge moral support, someone I can go to to ask questions.  It's really nice to have that person to talk to about [MMA] even though she isn't really in the gym anymore.

Do you think training primarily with men helps when you get into the ring?
Yeah, I think it helps, but it is hard to's really rare to find a woman who only trains with other women so I think we're all in the same boat.  I can't really say that is an advantage over other female fighters, but as far as my personal development goes, it's huge.  You are training with people who are faster and stronger than you so you constantly have to evolve to keep up with that.

What is a typical training week for you?
There are a bunch of different classes, so we do two gi classes a week and several kickboxing and wrestling classes.  For me, I also do a little bit of cross-training and running on my own.  I do combat conditioning, which is all cardio and explosive lifting.  So I probably train eight to ten hours a week right now, depending on my work schedule.

Does your training plan change when you have a fight scheduled?
Yes and no.  You have that switch in your mind where as soon as you have that fight scheduled your focus changes immediately to constantly thinking about that fight.  As far as training, your intensity goes up a little bit and you change depending on who you are fighting and what your game plan is.  But for the most part, you are still going through all the same motions, trying to be more consistent.

What about sparring?
We usually spar about twice a week, MMA and kickboxing.  We definitely spar more when you are prepping for a fight then just regular training.

And you are primarily sparring with your male training partners?
Yep [Laughs].

Well you and I are about the same size, so I know it is very difficult to find a sparring partner close to your own weight, especially when you only train with guys.
Yeah.  For this last fight my smallest partner at the training camp was walking around at 160lb.

Exactly.  So what happens when you get in the ring and are finally fighting someone your own size?
I think everything gets a little easier.  When I spar with someone at the gym, I am still working on the same things I will do once I get into the ring.  So even though I am sparring someone bigger, I am still working the same take-downs I want to do in the fight, the same game plan but on a bigger person.

Why do you fight?
Because I love it.  Once I got into it, I can't stop.  Pretty much everything has shifted in my life to concentrating solely on MMA.  Actually, I live in the gym now [laughs]; my apartment is upstairs.


Okay...I thought you were joking.  You literally live at the gym.
[Laughs].  I'll be graduating from college in December.  I am taking my last class now online so I didn't necessarily have to be on campus.  I go to UW Osh-Kosh which is about a half an hour away from Fond du Lac, where my gym is.  When I was still on campus I was driving to Fond du Lac about six times a week which definitely added up.  So this semester, since I didn't have to be on campus, I thought I could move home or I could move to the gym.  So I moved to the gym and it has been so awesome.

Do you see yourself continuing to compete in MMA in the future?
Yes, absolutely.

Do you want to go pro?

Switching gears...what are you studying for your degree?
My degree will be in environmental studies and women's studies. 

What do you plan on doing once you complete your degree?
I would like to keep training as much as possible.  I haven't decided what I am going to do come December; currently I am working two different jobs just waiting tables and paying the bills, so I'll have to see what happens and what jobs are available to me in the area.  For now, I plan on staying here, living in the apartment and continuing training.  If I find a job here, great.  If not, I'll probably hold off on finding a job until my fighting career has ended.  I would really like to focus on my fighting as much as possible.

I think that is really great.  To go back to your fight prep...what happens the week before a fight.  Do you get nervous?
Yes!  I don't get terribly nervous, but I think everyone is a little nervous.  I always go into the cage with the assumption that the other person has put in the same amount of effort and time into training.  And for me that can be a little scary.  I think about how much effort and time I've put into my training and to think of someone else doing that, it makes you respect them.

Do you have to make weight or do you walk at 125?
This last time I had to cut a couple of pounds, so yeah, I've experienced the weight cutting.  I didn't need to cut for 135, but for 125 it is more of a cut.

What is it like to wait to get into the cage on the day of a fight?
I try not to think about it; I try to distract myself.  There is usually a lot going on, there are a lot of other fighters.  I have a good crew with me: there's my coach and a couple of my training partners.  I try to relax during the day, you know, watch a movie to take your mind off of things.  But as the the day gets closer...  One of my old ski coaches used the imagery of a camera.  As you get closer and closer to the fight, the camera lens starts to focus in further and will block out other things.  And you don't want to do that too soon because you are spending too much of your mental imagery focusing on the fight.  So you treat it like a normal day and as it gets closer, start focusing more and more on the fight.

I like that a lot!  So what happens once you start walking out.  Are you still nervous?
I've got mixed emotions at that point.  I'm really excited but still a little nervous.  But by the time you walk out, you've worked through a lot of those nerves by warming up.  For me, the turning point is when I actually start warming up, hitting pads and going through take-downs.  That is when I start to relax a lot.  When you warm up you realize that you are ready, this is what you prepared for.  Getting focused, getting rid of the jitters, that is the turning point for me.

You've won both of your fights.  What is your typical way to celebrate post-fight?
Usually I eat an entire pack of Oreos [laughs]! That has become a tradition after winning:  we all dig into the Oreos.  We usually spend time at the fight.  Once you win you want to hang out with everyone and celebrate.  That is kind of it.  Definitely the Oreos!

Do you usually take a week or two off after a fight or are you right back in the gym?
I usually take about a week depending on how my body feels.  More than that if I feel like I'm beat up but if not, I may come in and roll easy one or two days.  It depends on what I need to recover from.

What is your favorite part about training?
My favorite part is the jiu-jitsu.  That is the one thing that I feel in love with in the first place, so it is the thing I enjoy the most.  I love all of it, I enjoy the stand-up, but the jiu-jitsu is my favorite.

You do both no-gi and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
We do both.  A group of us just tested for our blue belts so we were doing a lot of gi to prepare for that.  But we also do a lot of no-gi.

What do you think the future of of Women's MMA will be?
I think it is going to keep growing.  I think women will reach out to other women and there will be more women in the gym.  It is going to be a slow process.  Martial arts in general is an intimidating setting for men and women.  There are a lot of men who come into the gym and decide maybe it is not what they want to do.  But I think it is going to continue down the right path.  More women are becoming more technical in the sport and that is one of the main things.

Very smart.  Is there anyone you want to recognize?
The main thing is my gym.  I train at Unified Martial Arts in Fond du Lac.  My main coach is Mike Bittle.  I see him pretty much everyday since I live in the gym.  He is a big part of my life.  Also Coach Messer is our wrestling coach and he is awesome.  He knows so much about wrestling, so he can pinpoint anything you need to work on.  He is really great.  Also Christina Domke, she has helped me out a lot.  She's great; she has been such a huge part of this.  Also Eric "Red" Schafer from Milwaukee is our black belt.  I just got my blue belt under him.  And then my one sponsor, which I am really excited about, is Benessare Salon in Fond du Lac.

Support Heather and other female fighters!

Heather Bassett
Unified Martial Arts, Fond du Lac WI
Twitter: @heatherbassett
Phone contact: 920-579-0358 (coaches number)

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