- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

D’IBERVILLE, Miss. (AP) - The cage feels like home, and when she’s inside it, she feels invincible. Before her fights, she doesn’t listen to music or meditate to prepare. The sound of the crowd is enough to get her adrenaline pumping. Of the eight times Monica Medina has stepped into the cage to face a competitor, she’s come out on top all but once.

“Ever since the first fight I’ve never been nervous,” Medina, a 30-year-old Biloxi resident, said during a practice at the Alan Belcher MMA Club in D’Iberville. “I don’t mind getting hit. It doesn’t hurt until after.”

Medina’s mixed martial arts matches have earned her two titles in her weight class. Inside the cage, almost anything goes. She has punched, kicked, grappled and kneed her way to the top. She once grappled with a woman more than twice her size and won.

“You can’t knee them in the head or kick them in the head when you’re on the ground,” Medina said of her sport. “Cage fighting . good stuff.”

She’s been participating in amateur MMA fights for a year and a half, but her journey at the club began almost four years ago.

Medina brought her children to a Brazilian jujitsu class there, and sat on the sidelines to watch them practice. She weighed about 190 pounds. When a friend told her she should start taking classes as well, she said she wouldn’t because she was fat and lazy.

After pressure from trainers she finally agreed to take a class, then she kept going back. In one year, she was down to 150 pounds.

One day, she said, a man at the gym threw her in the cage and got physical with her.

“He started punching me in the face, and I actually liked it. I started punching him back,” she said.

She had found her niche. She began training for her first fight. She competes in the 125-pound weight division.

She trains with striking coach Lamart Logan three days a week and practices Brazilian jujitsu three days a week. She also teaches fitness classes and women’s jujitsu at the club. She gets to work about 8 a.m. and leaves about 7 p.m.

“Between teaching, training and working, I’m here,” she said.

Her first title belt was the Fight Force International Women’s 125 belt. She will defend her title June 27 at the Coast Coliseum, which will be her final bout as an amateur fighter. She plans to go pro in August. The most exciting thing about the opportunity, she said, is to be able to travel further, get sponsorships and get paid for winning fights.

On May 30, she won the Atlas Fights flyweight female 125 belt after her bout at the Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi. The win was extremely special because she invited her partner, Vanessa Liles, into the cage after the fight.

Liles, who thought she was just taking photos after Medina’s victory, was surprised to see her girlfriend drop to one knee with a ring in her hand. The crowd was cheering so loudly when Medina asked her to marry her, a video recorded by a friend plays nothing but screeches. Medina’s entire family was there for the occasion, and Liles said it was a special moment for the couple.

“It was a pretty cool experience. It was very romantic,” Liles said. “The public engagement was kind of cool because we both just came out in November. So it was kind of a big thing. When we got together it was such a shock.”

Liles and Medina met at the club three years ago and became friends through a jujitsu class. Their relationship sparked from there.

“It’s really cool to have somebody that you have that commonality with,” Liles said. “We try to stay active as a couple. If she needs to go run, I go run with her.”

Medina said there are 12 female MMA fighters in Mississippi, and she is ranked No. 1. She said the number is small compared with the hundreds of men who compete in the state, but she hopes there’ll soon be more women. MMA, she said, has helped her gain confidence.

“Learning everything I’ve learned, I don’t care if it’s the biggest guy out there, it doesn’t intimidate me at all,” she said. “I feel like all women should feel that way, feel confident walking around and know that you can protect yourself.”

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Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com


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