Moms. Wow. Moms give us life. They care for us when we are just tiny bodies with huge needs, and they never stop loving us. Dads are awesome and do so much for us in different ways, but there is something special and unique about a mother’s love.

Moms, whether they are the stay-at-home type or the work-a-full-day type, give so much of themselves to us. A mom is also a chef, operations manager, logistics specialist, chauffeur, nurse, sanitation engineer, therapist and teacher. And that’s just what happens before noon. Let’s not discuss laundry, eh?

Being a fighter is a demanding profession. It requires the fighter to be in the best fitness, it requires hours of practice to hone one’s skills, and it requires a mental toughness and determination beyond most ordinary careers. Being a mom and a fighter seems near impossible and it certainly appears to be incongruent. And yet, some of the best fighters are also mothers.

We wanted to pay tribute to all the mothers who are fighters—or people who happen to have offspring and also participate in combat sports, or however you’d like us to refer to you. We asked a few mums a few questions about the unique challenges they face and what they’ve learned over the years.

Rawlings with sons Enson and Zake (Facebook)

Rawlings with sons Enson and Zake (Facebook)

There is the simple matter of semantics. When asked how they saw themselves, the majority of the ladies interviewed said they were “moms who fight.” But Invicta FC’s atomweight fighter “Sassy” Cassie Rodish laughed and said, “I am a fighter who is also a mom—I mean, I am very competitive.” But Invicta FC’s bantamweight champ Lauren Murphy preferred to defy categorization. She prefers to keep her son separate from her fight life. And “Rowdy” Bec Rawlings, one of the UFC’s first strawweights, said, “I’m both. I’m very dedicated to both. In order to be a good mum and provide for my family, I need to train hard and win fights to make money. There is a healthy balance of training/fighting and also spending quality time with my boys and raising them to be the best they can be.”

Juggling motherly duties during a fight camp while making time for pressers and pesky interviewers is a lot! FCFF’s strawweight champ Glena “Heartless” Avila started fighting while in her mid-thirties as a single mom with two kids and she stresses priorities, “Sometimes I have to let things go that I’d really want to be a part of. It always seems like there’s not enough time in the day, but I get through it. The documentary, Glena, really shows just how hard this balancing act can be and how I managed to keep it going.”

Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson, Invicta FC’s current atomweight champ, echoed Avila, “Sometimes you just have to realize the house isn’t going to be clean all the time. Understanding and being able to live life on the fly really helps as well.” But for Rodish, a sense of humor seems to be important. “I fail miserably, a lot,” Rodish said, but she then went on to give huge props to her husband of 13 years, her kids and her teammates who help keep them “from doing anything naughty” while she trains. “It takes a lot of people to raise my kids,” she said.

Recently signed Invicta FC straweight Ashley “Dollface” Greenway added, “Luckily, we own our gym, so my two boys have grown up in it. We spend more time at the gym than our own home. It helps out with both of them in school during the day so I have time to focus on my training, PR and house chores, which I can’t take credit for all of that because my husband is a mom himself—he cleans more than I do. I try to teach my kids to take care of themselves both physically and mentally in the gym and outside. It’s so funny, the little things my kids do—check their weight constantly for their grappling competitions and they always talk about running the gym when they get older.”

Invicta FC straweight Jessica “Lightning” Philippus said, “My kids are really flexible, so I’ve been really fortunate in that regard. Like, today, the baby came with me today to go train, actually to lift, and she sits there in the stroller while I work. I’ve just sort of molded them to be really flexible little beings so…I mean, if I had little asshole kids, I think it would be a different story. But like, right now, I’ve got one picking up his shoes and I’ve got one waking up from a nap, and I’m getting dressed and we’re still making everything happen and I’ve got dinner in the oven.”

There was one theme that every fighter agreed on: planning. Waterson said, “Wake up in the morning with an intention and goals, you know. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, so if you keep moving you don’t realize how tired you are. It’s when you sit down; you’ve got to keep moving.” She also added, “Being a mom has changed my motivation and my time management. When I am in the gym training, I know that I still have to go home and do the laundry and take care of the little one, so it gives me more focus and I train with a purpose. She gives me more motivation.”

Rawlings agreed, “A strict routine is key. Once I know my training schedule, I then plan out everything around that. I’m very busy, especially with a toddler to run around after, but that also keeps me from boredom eating [laughs].” Rodish said, “If you have to get up super early to work out so that you can take your kids to the park, you do it. Those are just the kinds of sacrifices moms make.” And Philippus has lists for her lists to keep her on point.

Murphy remembers when her son was younger, “I used to take him to the gym with me, and some days that was really hard for him. In that sense, fighting can be a really selfish sport because a six-, seven- or eight-year-old doesn’t want to sit there on the mat and watch others tumble around and hit the bags and stuff. He wanted to be doing what he wanted to do, and a kid doesn’t have the capacity to put other peoples’ needs first and shouldn’t have to, and so it’s hard to look back on that and think he really had to sit through some long practices and hang out with people he didn’t really know.”

Each of these ladies has demonstrated a passion for the sport of MMA and they know how much dedication is required to make a career out of it. So, the variety of answers we got when we asked them if they wanted their children to be fighters was not surprising. Avila noted, “Both of my children are lovers of art more than anything.” But if they wanted to fight? “If that’s ever what they want to do, then sure, but really I support them in finding their life passion, whether it’s different or the same as mine. It makes no difference at all to me as long as they are happy and leading a fulfilling life.”

Rawlings agreed, “It wouldn’t bother me if they were fighters; they could be ballerinas for all I care, as long as they are following their dreams and are enjoying life.” Waterson has a three-year-old daughter and worries about trying to force any sport or hobby on her. She thinks they may start with gymnastics and go from there. But if her daughter wanted to be a fighter, her advice would be, “It’s nothing to take lightly. If you want to do it, you have to do it 100 percent, otherwise it would be dangerous.”

Rodish already has her children involved in martial arts, but would prefer them not to fight. “I do want them to be able to defend themselves. I like the respect level that they get learning combat sports. When things get serious, I want to feel, you know, that they’re not helpless. But if they never got into a cage, I would not be mad at all,” she said.

But Philippus would love it if her kids followed in her footsteps. “My nine-year-old son just started wrestling this year, and he’s been around it since he was a baby. I think that he sort of resented it at times, because he was at my college wrestling practices and it was boring and he would have to sit there and behave. Everywhere we’ve lived, we don’t have family there, so I can’t just drop them off at grandma’s house. So for a while, I think he hated wrestling, but recently he said he wanted to try. I told him not to do it for me, but he said, ‘No, I want to try,’ and this kid is good! He could be a wrestling superstar, but he is just a loving little thing. He is very technical, but has a hard time hurting his friends. He asks really detailed questions and seems to have inherent knowledge or has soaked it in. He doesn’t like to hit and he doesn’t like to get hit. He is sweeter than his mom,” she laughed. “But my little one, she is going to be wrestling early. She’ll go grab a single leg on her brother or cousins or other kids, and then put her little fists up. She knows what to do, like, ‘Alright, let’s go,’ and if you don’t put yours up, she will punch you right in the eye and her fists are so little they go right in your eye socket. We’ve never taught either of them, but she comes to practice and soaks it all in and knows that this is what mommy does.”

Murphy thinks that if her son ever showed interest in combat sports he would be really good at it, but he just doesn’t have the patience for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu right now. She put into words what every parent dreams for their kids, “What I hope my son takes from me doing this, hopefully he sees me as being successful. I just want him to have an example that he can be anything he wants to be if you work really hard and do your best and really go for it. If he wanted to be a doctor, fine, just work hard and go for it. I hope that he sees me in the cage and thinks, ‘Well, if my mom can do that, I can do anything.’”

“Definitely the most important thing I have learned is the older they get the harder being a parent gets,” stated Greenway. “Kids are smarter than you think; well, I think they make you think they are. Watching them go from babies to little boys is such an awesome thing to see. I think when they turn into little men I may cry though,” she laughed. “I would not trade them for the world. I had my first boy when I was only 18, and I know that’s young and I would beat either one of them if they had a kid that early, but the thought of me getting to spend my younger years with them both and being there to watch them grow up and have families of their own one day, I wouldn’t have it any different.”

Avila is shocked, actually, at the depth of her feelings, “It’s amazing how much you are actually capable of loving someone.  I used to hear people say, ‘I would die for this person,’ but I never believed that statement could possibly be true until I became a mother.” Rawlings added, “It has taught me that there is no other love or bond like the one you have for your children. I didn’t think it was possible to love someone or something as much as I love my boys. I love them so much I just wanna squish their little faces and eat them [giggles].”

Waterson said there are so many lessons that motherhood has taught her that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one, “But the first one that comes to mind is that it’s not that serious. Whatever you are doing in your life, if it’s a struggle, it’s just not that serious as long as you’ve got your family and can enjoy them, then the other stuff doesn’t matter as much.”

Philippus and family (Twitter)

Philippus and family (Twitter)

Philippus stressed selflessness, “Always and forever, you will put somebody ahead of you. Like, I can’t even go do my hair without thinking, ‘Okay, where is she, what is she going to possibly get into?’ Going to the grocery store, you have to gather shoes and jackets, and it’s thinking about other people first. It’s complete selflessness. That is why being a mom in MMA… I think it’s so complicated. Because MMA, in itself, is a really selfish sport. It’s an individual sport; it’s all about you and your nutrition and your conditioning, and it’s really time-consuming. I really struggled with it with my last fight. I felt like, with a brand new baby, I was not being the mom I should be. It was a real struggle, and I think that’s why I struggled.”

“It’s all about the love and compassion,” said Rodish. “People who are not moms might not understand what it takes, what you give of yourself to be a mom. Until you have kids, you’ll say you’ll love your kids more than anything. But when you really do have kids, you really love them more than anything, and all you ever want is for them to be happy and safe, and you always try to be the best that you can be as a mother.”

“The most important lesson that being a mom has taught me is that you never get your time back,” said Murphy. “You only have every moment as it goes by, and if you’re not making the best of it, you’re wasting it. My son is 12, and now I see people with younger children, three- and four-year-olds, two-year-olds, whatever, but they’re just really enjoying their kids’ childhood, and sometimes I wish I could go back and enjoy my son’s childhood more. I wish I hadn’t taken those moments for granted. You really only do live once; you only get every minute when you get it.”

We also asked each fighter to share the most surprising lesson that being a fighter has taught them, and Rawlings shared one that we hope would resonate with every woman who is in an unhealthy relationship. “It has taught me a huge amount of respect for myself and others around me,” she stated. “It’s also changed the outlook I had on life, and that’s surprising to some people, as they see us as violent barbaric cage fighters that are hungry for blood.”

Greenway shared, “The most important lesson I have learned about being a fighter is you have to train every day, every minute, every second to compete with the other females out there. It is the toughest sport to me. It’s only you. You have to prepare yourself more than the other person. You have to want it more, and I live for this sport. I want to make not only myself happy in the end, but my husband, who has been there for me and showed me everything and wants to see me make it all the way. I do it for him, my kids and myself.”

When asked to share one lesson learned from her fight career, Philippus said, “I don’t know another word for it besides heart. I knew I had heart from my wrestling career, but you don’t know… I mean, I’d never gotten punched in the face before fighting. You don’t know how much your little spirit can withstand until you’re getting beaten down in the cage with no way out. In my first fight, I was like, “Can I tap in the air? How does this work? I want out of here [laughs]. But somehow I made it out of the first round and into round two, went purple from a triangle and then into an armbar and then I’m being punched in the face, but I found… it was weird, because in that moment I found this sort of… peace. I thought, ‘I’m fine. I can breathe. My arm is not going to get ripped off, my head isn’t going to get ripped off, and these punches don’t really hurt. I’m fine.’ I don’t know, it was zen-like. I can’t really put it into other words but that I think that is the addicting quality of fighting. It’s almost spiritual when you’re in there. It’s really hard to describe.” As she spoke, her the babble of her youngest could be heard in the background.

Murphy began her statement with a familiar refrain—“hard work pays off”—and then defined it as, “You really can go much farther in life than you think you can. It just takes hard work and perseverance.”

“Being a fighter is all about dedication,” stated Rodish. “Getting knocked down and getting back up and having that dedication. I mean, it’s not an easy sport and you lose just as much as you win. Whether it’s just in the gym, you really can’t have an ego, otherwise you’re never going to be able to push yourself. You just constantly have to stay in that grind even when you’re feeling your worst or even if you’re not succeeding. You’ve got to push through it, and that is a tough lesson to learn. A lot of people want to give up quickly, and you give up in this sport and you’re nothing.”

Many folks outside the sport might see motherhood and combat as dichotomous. But the lessons, the love and the passion transcend any stereotypes and fuel the fire for these and so many other ladies out there. To them, to all the women fighting the fight, to all the mothers learning to give so selflessly and love unconditionally, we send our respect, our admiration and our thanks.

Please follow all of these fighters on Twitter: @cassierodish, @GreenwayAshley, @jessphilippus, @karatehottiemma, @LaurenMurphyMMA, @MMAHeartless, @rowdybec

The writer and editors would like to take this opportunity to thank all the fighters for taking time out of their incredibly busy schedules to chat, email or tweet with us. This piece was a joy to write and it may have even brought a tear to the eye. The writer would especially like to give a shout out to her mom and thank her for always being there, and even though you may not have strapped on boxing gloves until you were 50, thanks for fighting the good fight for us kids. We appreciate you and love you. The writer would also like to thank her girlfriend for allowing her to be step-mom to the raddest eight-year-old on the planet.

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.