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12 months ago, the Unit 27 Group (best know for the Unit 27 strength and conditioning centre in Chalong) announced that they were in the process of building a fight facility.  It was no surprise to me that this would happen given that they already owned a gym (Primal Fitness), a health food restaurant (Muscle Bar) and have the only CrossFit certified box in Thailand (CrossFit Phuket).  It seemed that the martial arts route was the next logical step.

I decided to watch and see what was to happen with this new facility as coaches and location were yet to be announced.

As the year progressed, it was announced to the public that James McSweeney was set to come and run the facility.  Not only would he be fighting out of the Fight Factory, but he would also be the head coach.

I was having a difficult time at AKA and after months of back and forth, I made the decision to risk it and go train under James.

James has an extremely impressive resume, boasting world titles in Muay Thai, K1 and MMA.  He was one of the first successful TUF contenders after Dana White pulled him from the K1 circuit to go into one of the earlier seasons.  Not only is James a world class fighter, he is considered, by many, to be one of the greatest coaches in the world.

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When I went and joined James, UTFF hadn’t been completed so we worked out of Unit 27 as we, the UTFF Fight Team, helped finish the inside touches on the building before the soft launch.

We spent days building wall panels and laying floor, and creating space for the 32 foot cage that was on it’s way from Chang Mai.  The interior of the building was white and the floor was a custom fit, 1 piece of material, that had been cut to the exact specifications of the building.  This was to avoid bacteria forming in the cracks of the matting below and making it facility easier to clean.  Staph is a common issue in MMA gyms, and James was hell bent on avoiding it.

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Classes started slowly, firstly with Dutch Muay Thai, as we waited for new coaches to be flown in and work permits to be issued.  It was a process.  But classes grew quickly.  James had a solid reputation for coaching and people wanted to learn from him.  The difficulties most people faced was the intense nature of the classes.  James has a very old school approach to coaching and he coaches people in the exact same manner, whether they are a beginner or a professional athlete, it makes no difference to him.

People struggled not being able to take water breaks freely, because despite being in a climate controlled environment, it still gets hot and people get thirsty – fact.

I think many people particularly enjoyed the drilling aspects and the unortodox, yet effective combinations we were taught.

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As the boxing and BJJ programs took off, more people flowed through the doors, but again, some people struggled with the old school mentality.

For me as a fighter, it was not something that bothered me.  Training my mind to control my body was one of the most valuable things I will take away from my experience at UTFF.

Unfortunately as the new year rolled in, some internal politics began to create issues and James stepped down as the head coach and removed the “Sledgehammer Striking” class from the timetable.  Unfortunately this was the most regular class on the schedule and the most popular.  Numbers quickly dwindled, as did the overall vibe within the fight team.

The boxing program was strong, but unfortunately the one class a day was not enough to keep customers interested and the BJJ program was so new to a street already with strong ground programs that it was unsustainable.

As James left for Poland to fight for the KSW Heavyweight title, the decision was made.  On March 8, UTFF closed their doors for good and shortly after announced that it would be used as a new facility for CrossFit Phuket.

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I won’t ever forget the way I felt when I went to collect my things.  The cage was gone, the floor ripped up and the process of removing the wall panels had begun.  Before this I had felt indifferent about things, confident that I had options should James not return.  But in that moment, thinking back to the literal blood and sweat that went into that building, to seeing it all destroyed, it was gut wrenching.  I was just so sad at the abrupt way things had ended – I still am.  I am fortunate that doors opened for me that I had never expected and am able to move forward.

Fortunately, Unit 27 agreed to continue my sponsorship under their umbrella as an athlete and they still provide me with excellent S&C training to supplement my other training.  My official announcement of where to next is coming.  Stay tuned!

It’s been a frustrating few months being out of the ring, losing fitness and gaining weight!  Especially given my first two years you couldn’t get me out of the ring!

Unfortunately at the end of my time at AKA, I had done significant damage to my left knee.  Surprisingly no stress fractures in my ankles from all the running, but something was seriously wrong.

When I went to UTFF, we originally agreed to stick with the Muay Thai and expand my horizons.  We were looking at fights, mostly in Europe, and the offers were a plenty.  While we knew this was the path we were going to take for the immediate future, we were still training my grappling game in preparation for my transition to MMA in the new year.

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The change from Thai style to Dutch style was significant.  Dutch style was more suited for MMA and for fights in western countries.  It completely opened my eyes to the way I look at Muay Thai and fighting.  It was so great learning different things every day as most of our classes were spent drilling with a partner.  A nice change from the same routine that I had been in for the past 2 years.  The aggressive Dutch style suits me, but there is still a lot about the traditional style that I will always love and I really hope moving forward, I can try to merge the two styles together a little.

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As my training load increased, so did the pain in my knee.  I was training though a ridiculous amount of pain and was beginning to have issues in everyday movements such as sitting, and walking.

We booked a fight locally for me, just to test out how the Dutch style was working for me and what was in my “DNA” (as my coach liked to say).  As we got closer to the fight date, I was still awaiting information and then eventually my coach tells me he has pulled me from my fight.  He didn’t want me fighting injured and the pain in my knee was affecting my basic movement in training.

In that moment I had a mini meltdown.  I was so frustrated, and homesick – my best friend had just visited and her return home sparked an insanely emotional response.

I was due to go home for Christmas anyway and he tells me to take a break, don’t train while I’m at home, just rest my mind and my body and come back ready to work.  I agreed that it was the best thing for me.

I had scheduled an appointment with a sports doctor for my first week home.  I wanted to try some PRP treatments in my shoulder and my knee to alleviate some of the pain.

After a round of MRI’s and other sporadic testing, we discovered the problem with my knee was worse than I had expected.

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Immediately the doctor advises that I need surgery.  To repair the meniscus (a common injury in athletes) and to shave off the back part of the knee cap to create more space for me knee to move, to prevent the knee cap grinding against the meniscus.  On top of that I had a crack in the left side of the knee, what he described as the “shock absorber” most likely damaged from all the running I had been doing that year.  PRP was an appropriate, but temporary remedy.

My shoulder, as I have been told a few times before, needs a reconstruction, but more notably, there was  cyst sitting near a nerve which was affecting my range of movement.  A very intimate gathering with a very long needle (to aspirate the cyst) followed by two shots of cortisone, saw me a week later lifting my arms above my head and having both my biceps touch my shoulders.  Magic!

After some much needed R&R, time with my family and friends, a few extra kgs from Christmas, and a renewed sense of motivation, I was ready to come back to Thailand.

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We hit the ground running and agreed it was best that I take an MMA fight at this stage.  We were set to go to Sydney, March 12, to make my debut.  I was nervous, but ready for the change.

As we pushed the pace in training, I fell victim to my first injury for the year.

In a round of touch sparring (exactly as it sounds, because no one is wearing any protective gear, not even gloves) I threw my ‘jab’ out only to be kicked in the hand. A sharp pain ran up my hand and I looked down at my hand.  My little finger was bent back behind my other fingers at a 90 degree angle.  I won’t lie. I screamed.  I clutched my hand and I screamed as I dropped to my knees.  My coach ran to me and everyone was at a loss as to what to do.  Neither of my coaches wanted to touch it, but leaving it at such an extreme angle while we waited for an ambulance could have made it worse.  Along comes one of our students; a Danish man, and also a coach.  He is confident he can put the digit back into place and I’m not arguing.

I will never forget the sensation of my finger, popping back into its socket.  It was such a bizarre feeling, yet oddly enough, not extremely painful.

As we went to ice my hand, I could help but cry.  “What about my fight!?!?!”  Confident that my finger would heal itself, my coach tells me not to worry and that I will still be able to fight.

A week later my finger is still extremely swollen and blue.  I head off to have some x-rays and the damage was more extensive than we had anticipated.  I was requested to wait to see the Orthopedic Surgeon.

I turns out that I had broken off the top part of the base bone and fractured the middle bone.  I was being told I could potentially need surgery.  I know what you’re thinking… it’s just a pinky… wouldn’t it be easier if we just cut it off?  (My thoughts exactly!)

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8 weeks of not using my hand.  Fortnightly x-rays and visits with the surgeon along with a sexy white plaster to boot.  Great.

I kept training to the best of my ability but staying motivated was difficult. I gave myself specific goals to work on that didn’t require the use of the left hand.  I worked on my south paw stance, and I worked on my head movement.  Both of which have improved significantly over the past two months, but it has been a frustrating time.

I’m finally back training at full capacity.  I’m getting my cross training in at Unit 27 and am thoroughly enjoying CrossFit (I don’t know how it took me so long to get into it!) and I am kicking pads at Dragon Muay Thai.

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I’m finally scheduled to fight again, April 12 and it could not come any sooner.

I’m a little nervous about returning to the ring.  My conditioning and fitness is not great so we are pushing as hard as we can.

Nevertheless I’m excited.  To get back to what I came here for.  These past 6 months have been a bit of a detour for me, but like always, I have no regrets.

MMA is not off the cards for me, but for right now I just need to be fighting again.

Bring on April 12!

For those of you reading my blog last year, you will remember my post about being single in Thailand.  I thought I had left that piece a little unfinished so here is the follow up.  Why do I chose to remain single.

A hot topic of conversation when I chat to friends at home is whether or not I have met anyone special out here.  I would be lying if I said that I haven’t.  There have been the odd guy that has come and gone that I have clicked with, or had chemistry with. Even coming back this year I had allowed myself to be led down the garden path and fooled myself into believing that I had met someone special.

So what’s the biggest challenges they ask?  The problem is that they all eventually go home, they are inappropriate to date, or they are “working on themselves”.  A combination of some or all of the above is not uncommon.

When you live in a holiday destination, unless it’s another expat, the people you meet are only here for a short while.  It’s difficult enough saying goodbye to the good friends you make that leave, but I couldn’t imagine really falling for someone who had a return ticket home.  Expiration dating – it’s not really for me.

Expats out here are also a different breed of people.  Phuket seems to attract fighters, health nuts, retirees and a few crazies.  Once you live here for a while, your reality and perceptions skew a little too, so even dating an expat can have extreme difficulties.  I deliberately go home once a year to remind myself of what the world is like outside the little village of Rawai.  I sometimes go to my friends at home for their opinions on certain situations because I question my own judgement sometimes.  Am I being a rational human being here or is my own perception skewed?

So what is the alternative situation?  Someone who comes out here and stays for 3 months; 6 months; a year even.  Why not date someone like that?  I believe the words once said to me about a 3 monther was “he could be really good for you!”  It’s undeniable that there might have been some truth in that, but again, to me, it’s still expiration dating.

If we remove all of these factors, the biggest thing that comes into play is my career.  Finding someone who understands the demands of the work I have to put in.  Someone who will understand that when I am cutting weight LOOK OUT!  Someone who understands that I don’t want to party every weekend.  That I watch what I eat.  That I want to just go home most nights and crawl into bed early.  These are usually pretty off putting – and I don’t blame anyone for that.  I can’t imagine dating a fighter and not fully understanding some, or all of these things.

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So the obvious go to is – why not date a fighter?

Most of the fighters I meet I train with – this can be tricky for a number of reasons – but what a lot of people don’t realise is that when you start training with guys, you become one of the guys.  You’re no longer a girl, but a training partner.  Someone you kick and punch and choke and it’s totally acceptable.  You move into the “dude” zone quickly, eliminating the possibilities of a dating situation.

Given that the gym becomes your dating pool, it leaves you in an awkward situation where, you’re one of the guys, who has no real free time for legitimate dating, so if you’re like me, you give up and submit to the daily grind that you love so much instead.

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On the flip side of this, being the female in the situation, makes it even more difficult.  No matter where you are in the world, unless you have a fully established a committed relationship, dating within your gym looks dodgy for females.  I never wanted to be that girl.  Dating a trainer can make things even worse.  They can abuse their position should things go wrong and no matter which way you swing it, I will always be the the one that comes out with mud on my face.  (This is not to say that it NEVER works, I know many successful couples – this is just my personal opinion).

Living in Thailand has significant periods of loneliness when you are single.  Fortunately, I have enough wonderful friends to fill the void, along with a grueling training schedule.  I don’t really think about dating too much.

When I wrote the first draft of this, I thought that I wasn’t opposed to the thought of dating – and should the right person come along then that’s a bridge I will cross.  Unfortunately, after breaking most of my rules recently, I have realised, I still feel the same way about dating in Thailand.  It’s just impossible.

I love my life – and my feminist side screams that I don’t need a man to fulfill myself – and I don’t.  But to all of those wondering why I have actively chosen to remain single – this is why:)

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I am so stoked to announce my new official sponsor – GRRRL!!!!

“GRRRL is a brand new type of clothing company.  We make real clothes for real grrrls who simply don’t care about what anybody else thinks.  We celebrate everything female. For every woman.  Recognising that all real grrrls come in all kinds of different shapes and packages.  At our heart, we exist to bring all grrrls together to claim not just equality but our rightful sisterhood.”

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When I heard about this new line of clothing brand it was instantly something that I wanted to jump on board with.  I was more than happy to buy some of their clothes but they have brought me on as one of their sponsored athletes which I think is just incredible.

GRRRL really lines up with the way I feel about women in the media and in society in general.  There are a lot of pictures and advertisements that tell women what they should look like. Being based in Thailand, I have been subject to fat shaming because I am not a skinny little Asian woman like they think I should be.

I am a proud athlete, who – yes – sometimes struggles with the way I look – but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me.  My body works.  I am grateful for that.  I am achieving things in my life that are not possible for some, for a variety of reasons.  And yes, I am not a skinny size 8, but I can dead lift 125kg no problem!

Beauty comes from within.  It comes from a smile, or a nice gesture.  It comes with respecting others.  It comes with believing in yourself.  We all do come in different packages, and I love that GRRRL is all about embracing that.

So!  Not only are GRRRL helping me out on their journey, they are going to help all of you too!  They are in the process of creating a discount code, which everyone can use to receive a 10% discount on their already modestly priced products.  Please see my Facebook page to keep updated for when this code is released.

If you want to know more about GRRRL and to check out their clothing line, head over to their website – http://grrrl.com/.  While you’re online, check out the GRRRL Facebook page too and give them a like!

Check out their launch campaign below, featuring one of the most bad ass females in the world.  I won’t tell you who – you’ll just have to watch and see!