This is the second piece by Underground Blogger DeLeon DeMicoli, whose column is insipred by NPR's "This American Life " and covers in long essay form (that would be a FRAT on the UG :-) fighters and those that train.
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DeLeon DeMicoli writes and trains in San Francisco, CA. He is currently writing a novel on Mixed Martial Arts.
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This Fighting Life: A Punch by Any Hand Hurts All the Same
When protagonist Ron Burgundy in the movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” went on a drunken rant about losing his lead anchor job to a “she-devil” that was better than him, the bartender responded by saying, “You know times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now. You’re gonna have to learn how to deal with that.”
On June 10, 2006 Gina Carano and Leiticia Pestova competed in the first sanctioned women’s MMA fight in Nevada. Fast forward to 2010. Although there was a lack of mainstream interest in WMMA (Women’s Mixed Martial Arts) due to the absence of its star Gina Carano (who made the transition to movies, most notably in Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire”) the division has thus seen a viewership renaissance due to the recent success of the all female MMA promotion Invicta Fighting Championships and Strikeforce fighter Rhonda Rousey.
Some pundits have argued there is no place for women to be fighting professionally. Others view it as the evolution of any sport that has at one time or another been afflicted with discrimination. One thing is for certain as long as there is man excelling at any one thing be it sports or business there will always be a woman standing right beside him having to prove her worth even though a punch by any hand hurts all the same.
This story isn’t just about female fighters. It’s more than that as you come to meet Diorelle Ramos and Brooke Tibbetts.
On Saturday, June 25, 2011 Diorelle and Brooke woke up with only one thing on their mind – to win gold in their division at the “Best of the Best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Pro Ams” in Omaha, Nebraska. Before the eight AM weigh-ins both ladies sat in a hotel restaurant eating a light continental breakfast. Brooke was quieter than usual due to nerves getting the best of her. Diorelle wasn’t accustomed to pre-fight jitters as she chatted it up with her teammates. Once the tournament got well under way Brooke took bronze in the White/Blue belt 163 lbs. and under division while Diorelle took gold in the White/Blue Belt 118 lbs. and under division.
Then came part two of their challenge – fighting in the absolute division.
“I mean we both knew were gonna do absolute. The tournament organizers asked us if we wanted to do it when we were there. But we already had it in our minds we were gonna do it,” said Brooke.
After Diorelle submitted her first opponent via arm bar, the second match she drew was none other than her partner Brooke.
“I knew there would be a time we would have to fight each other and I looked at it as another day in the gym,” said Brooke.
Both fighters stepped on the mat ready and determined to give it their all. They never considered holding anything back... But wait, before we get into their match here’s how the two fighters met.
Diorelle refers to herself as “fun-size,” a reference to the mini fun-size candy bars. At five-feet tall the four-ounce pink Title gloves Diorelle trains in look like she’s wearing Hulk Smash Hands.
“I was out when I was in the fifth grade. That’s when I had my first girlfriend.”
Growing up in the Philippines it wasn’t hard for Diorelle to hide the fact that she was attracted to women.
“People seemed to be more used to seeing gay guys around (in the Philippines) because they’re normally hairdressers or artists that helped out a lot in the community. So they’re used to that.”
After graduating from college with a degree in computer science and dating a few men to appease her mother, Diorelle and her family immigrated to the States in 2004 when she was twenty-one years old.
In 2007 after settling in Stockton, CA she got a job in web development and moved in with a girlfriend. Like most tech nerds (and some MMA fighters on their time off from training) she was hooked on playing “Call of Duty 3” on Xbox online.
“One night I just got a random invite from this girl that said ‘Hey do you have a clan?’ I said no, what’s that?”
In the gaming community “clans” are competitive gaming groups that compete against each other. Diorelle was invited to join an all-girl clan. Once the virtual female gunslingers were off to war against an all-male clan, some guy over the headset asked the ladies, “So are you girls lesbians or something?”
The girl that invited Diorelle to the group responded by saying, “No, not all of us. But I know ‘NODV777’ (Brooke’s game-namer tag) is lesbian.” Diorelle butted in and said, “I’m lesbian too.”
After the game ended Brooke sent Diorelle a private message asking if she was really lesbian or was she just goading those dudes online. Diorelle typed back that she was for real. That’s when Brooke asked if they could be friends on Myspace.
With a stocky build and short blonde hair, Brooke has Midwestern charm you don’t see much anymore. Growing up in a conservative household she wasn’t able to experience the same openness as Diorelle when it came to her sexuality. Her father didn’t approve and she didn’t have many lesbian friends she could relate to.
“It was really hard. I dated guys and stuff because that was the norm. I struggled a lot with it up until I met D (Diorelle). She helped me embrace who I was.”
After checking out each other’s profile on Myspace they began exchanging weekly emails.
“Then she gave me her phone number after a few months of writing to each other,” said Diorelle.
A month after their first telephone conversation Brooke invited Diorelle to Minnesota. Diorelle accepted and was greeted at the airport with flowers. The two hit it off over the course of that short weekend. Once Diorelle returned to California they began a long-distance relationship. But it was difficult being apart. That was when Brooke made the decision to move to the West Coast so they could be together.
Brooke had always been a fan of MMA ever since the Pride days. Studying for a career in law enforcement she believed the techniques in the ring (or cage) could be just as useful when it came time to disarming a perp. Diorelle on the other hand didn’t share Brooke’s sentiment and believed the sport was too bloody. However Diorelle’s sister was a MMA enthusiast and when family got together the sisters would wrestle. Diorelle always found herself on the losing end tapping to an arm bar or choke. That was when Diorelle and Brooke decided to purchase the “UFC Undisputed” game for Xbox.
“There were snippets of actual fights you could watch on the game. After Diorelle and I finished playing we would practice some of the moves we watched on each other,” said Brooke.
After sparring with her partner in the comfort of their living room Diorelle took more of an interest in the sport. Then while working on web development for a cosmetic company in San Francisco, she was introduced to a colleague that actually trained in no-gi grappling.
“When I met Carrianne at work we would talk a lot about MMA at the office and then she asked if I wanted to come train with her and her husband,” said Diorelle.
That led to both ladies taking their first grappling class in a small studio in Berkeley. After that they were hooked. Training turned into a necessity to learn how Georges St. Pierre submitted his opponent with an arm bar or how B.J. Penn transitioned from mount to the back and choked his opponent out. They also began watching PPV events and attending live events whenever they came to Northern California. Life was good, but one thing was missing from Brooke’s life – her family. When an opportunity presented itself for her to move back to Minnesota, she took it. But this time she brought Diorelle with her.
Training was put on the back burner as the ladies made the 1800-mile trek cross-country with a U-haul trailer strapped to the back of their car. Once they landed in the “Twin-Cities” Brooke took a gig with a security firm while Diorelle worked as a consultant doing web and software development.
“I was surfing Craig’s List for other freelance gigs when I came across a gym looking for help with their website,” Diorelle said. “That’s how I found Crystal Fight Club.”
Diorelle traded her expertise for building and maintaining the gym’s website in exchange for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, no-gi grappling, and wrestling training with local MMA pros Damion “The Wolverine” Hill (155 lbs.), Stephen “Da Killa” Watt (145 lbs.), and heavyweight Bret “The K.O. Kid” Murphy.
For her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training she trained at Crystal’s affiliate school AMA, or Association of Martial Arts under second-degree black belt Junior Brazil.
After only a few months of training Diorelle was offered a fight.
“When I was asked to compete I remember a fight I got into when I was in high school. The girl was bigger than me and I beat her up. I thought let’s see if I can do it again.”
Diorelle realized the opportunity to fight in an amateur MMA fight was based on luck and timing rather than experience. She was in the right place at the right time. A lack of talent in WMMA in the Midwest made weight classes null and void in their area.
“The girl I accepted to fight was gonna weigh 140 lbs. I was gonna weigh 122 lbs.”
Training in a gym full of men that never once considered taking it easy on Diorelle and Brooke made the weight difference a non-issue. Diorelle was looking to test herself, nothing more, nothing less.
“The game plan was to take it to the ground, that was where I felt most comfortable. I didn’t train much for stand-up since the gym being less than a year old at that time didn’t have a boxing coach until a couple of weeks before my fight.”
Diorelle had an entire year to train for her bout. A few days before the event Diorelle’s opponent wouldn’t return any of the promoter’s phone calls and they had to scrap the fight. But all of her training wasn’t for nothing when the promoter called back the next day with good news.
“When Brooke (not to be confused with her partner) accepted the fight I was somewhat relieved because she was closer to my weight,” said Diorelle.
Brooke Possehl (record: 1-3) and Diorelle met at Brutaal Genesis in Austin, Minnesota inside a Holiday Inn on June 10, 2011. Standing toe-to-toe you could see a considerable size difference.
At the opening bell Possehl came out swinging for the fences hoping to end Diorelle’s night early. Diorelle swung back with wild haymakers but was no match for Possehl’s superior striking. Possehl got mount. Diorelle was able to hip out and reverse her opponent. Then she ground n pounded Possehl. The remainder of the round was a back and forth battle with Diorelle almost ending the fight with an arm bar.
Round two was more of the same with Possehl throwing heavy bombs. Diorelle shot in and took the fight to the ground where she proved dominance and attempted one submission after the other.
At the opening of the third round both fighters looked exhausted as they traded leather up against the cage in the clinch. Diorelle looked to secure a standing guillotine choke while Possehl softened up her ribcage with hooks to the body. Once Diorelle pulled guard to sink in the choke, Possehl was able to pull her head out and finish the fight with a barrage of rights and lefts until the referee stepped in.
“That first loss made me realize how s----y my conditioning was. It made me understand that fighting inside the cage is no joke, and that people that boo don’t know what the heck it takes to be in there. But most of all I learned I can’t go in there with a bad mental game. I want to go in there with confidence but at the same time not be cocky which can be hard to distinguish.”
In the parlance of our times where hyping a fight can be as important as the fight itself, Diorelle set the verbal quips aside and let her hands and technique do the talking.
“I’m not one of those people who likes to trash talk so I worry about whether I’m being an ass or not. And that was the problem – I worry too much. I worried about hurting my opponent. I know it sounds dumb. It’s a fight. I had to make myself understand that my opponent signed up for it so I shouldn’t have the slightest hesitation of doing what I needed to do to get the win.”
For being a small package Diorelle realized she could take just as much as she dished out. She never once considered hanging up her gloves and calling it quits just because she lost the fight. Actually it was the complete opposite. She embraced her loss, put more time in the gym and now has three possible fights lined up in August, September, and October.
“For a second it looked like I would never get another fight. But then out of nowhere my coach started getting phone calls from other trainers saying they have a girl looking for a fight and if I was interested.”
As WMMA becomes more competitive and the pool of talent increases Diorelle may have a bright future as a fighter. Although her journey was a long one to find the sport, she’s grabbing the opportunity by the horns and rolling with it.
Now let’s get back to that Saturday in June 2011 when she and Brooke had to fight each other for gold in the “absolute” division.
“We were already giggling at one another when the fight started,” said Diorelle.
Brooke immediately latched onto Diorelle’s kimono and swept the leg. She fell into Diorelle’s guard. There was a back and forth battle of breaking Brooke’s posture and opening Diorelle’s guard. Once Brooke was able to pass to side control she went for a kimura.
“I was upset the whole time. Besides the huge weight difference she knew how to counter every move. At one point I was like oh my God she is gonna kimura me because she always gets me in a kimura at the gym. But I was watching for it this time. I guess when she figured I was guarding the kimura she took my back,” said Diorelle.
Brooke was mere seconds away from securing a rear-naked choke before Diorelle was saved by the bell. That day Brooke took home the gold, but Diorelle looks forward to a rematch.
“After the match we were smiling at each other and hugged,” said Brooke.
“I was exhausted,” a laughing Diorelle expressed on the couch seated next to her partner.
“I remember I kissed her on the neck, but nobody probably saw it,” said a smiling Brooke.
I guess it goes to show you love holds no grudges.
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