The locker room is full. Fighters and their corners are busy preparing for, or winding down from, their respective fights. Earphones are commonplace as fighters sit and listen to music to either calm them down or psyche them up for their impending bouts. Often, it’s a bit of both. Adrenaline and nervous energy fill the air. If you’ve been there, then you know the drill.

You’ve got this…

Not long now…

That was a bullshit decision…

Those phrases are bellowed out as fighters do their best to focus on prospective fights that could make or break their career.

Clothes, banners riddled with sponsor logos and other paraphernalia are scattered throughout the locker room. Most fighters show up with their essentials and not much else. A straitjacket and a Hannibal Lecter-inspired mask, though?

That’s Kenani “Madhouse” Mangakahia. And watching her make her way to the cage wearing the jacket and the mask is a sight that fans in the packed Nerang Police Citizens Youth Club will always remember.

“[The straitjacket walkout] was a bit of a last-minute thing,” Mangakahia told The MMA Corner. “I’d always said that if I was a fighter I would love to come out to that song [“Madhouse” by Rihanna] and after one of my fights, a little kid wanted my autograph and he didn’t know my name and just asked for the ‘Madhouse lady,’ and that’s when I was like, ‘Heck yes! That’s what I’m gonna be called.’”

Mangakahia calls Shindo New Breed MMA home, and the relationship that she has with her coaches and training partners is second to none and enables her to continue the day-to-day grind that comes with a career as a professional athlete.

“It comes down to the fact that I am very fortunate to have such a good home away from home,” she admitted. “We have developed a really strong bond. It’s like you’ve always got someone there that’s pushing you, and when you’re on chicken and broccoli for a fight camp, then someone else will start it, just to help you through it.

“We’ve got a very respectful and close-knit team. Yes, MMA is an individual sport, but having that support is also important. It’s good to have someone that will hold your hand when you’re in the friggin’ hot bath sweating it out, when you know that if you don’t wanna get out of bed early for an early session that people will be there to go through the same thing with you. If I had a crap team, I wouldn’t go through the pain that I go through. When it’s early in the morning and we don’t feel like training, getting a text from your coach is that extra motivational push we need. Couldn’t ask for anything more. We are all very lucky to have such a great team where everyone looks out for each other. It really is like a family.”

Some up-and-coming fighters aren’t so lucky. They travel their path alone. Mangakahia, meanwhile, is fortunate enough to have more than just a supportive camp. She also has someone very dear to her that wants to see her succeed.

“My beautiful partner, Teleah Lindenberg, supports me a lot,” Mangakahia explained. “She is my drill sergeant who holds pads for me before class. She’s my chef, making sure my nutrition is on point. She makes sure I never miss a training session. She is my nurse when I’m injured or sick, and [she] is there holding my hand when I’m cutting weight. She really goes above and beyond.”

The depth of opponents in women’s mixed martial arts isn’t that vast. Fighters are often left searching for months to find potential opponents, and if a disaster strikes, like a last-minute injury, a fight can be canceled just as quickly as it is signed. Lucky for Mangakahia, she can compete in multiple weight divisions and is more than willing to step up or down in weight if needed.

“I’ll fight at pretty much any weight that I can get a fight,” Mangakahia revealed. “If there’s a flyweight title, I’m gonna drop to flyweight. If it’s bantam, I’ll fight at bantam, and if it’s featherweight, I’ll put on a bit of weight to compete there. I just want to fight as much as possible, and I would love to be fighting overseas.”

After competing three times in 2013, Mangakahia has her first bout of 2014 locked in. She will appear on the Fight World Cup 17 card, which takes place on April 12 in Nerang, Queensland, Australia. Mangakahia is slated to face Arlene Blencowe. She promises to put on yet another fight to remember in front of an eager hometown crowd.

“I was born and raised in Nerang. It’s great to be able to fight and have family and friends all there cheering me on. I’m one of those fighters that if I can hear the crowd cheering for me, then it’s going to pump me up. It’s gonna be the most epic fight ever,” Mangakahia exclaimed. “I know that when I have a nice strong opponent, it brings the best out of me. She is a world-champion boxer and she is very well-known around the country for her MMA as well, so it’s a great fight and a good step up for me.

“The stand-up in this fight is going to be off the hook. I respect her so much as a fighter, though I really don’t wanna go out and box against a world-champion boxer. I prefer the stand-up, so I know it’s not gonna be easy. I know we are going to battle it out and it’s gonna be a really fun fight to watch.”

An entertaining walk to the cage is one thing, but being entertaining and successful once a fighter gets to the cage is an entirely different ballgame. Lucky for Mangakahia, win or lose, she is able to put on a fight that the fans will remember. Once that straitjacket is taken off, the “Madhouse” is unleashed.

Kenani would like to thank her sponsors: Paris Nightclub, Return 2 Raw, Phresh Ink and Punch Equipment. She would also like to extend a huge thanks to her partner, Teleah Lindenberg. Follow Mangakahia on Facebook.

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.