It was crazy awesome news last fall when the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) announced that their 20th season would be the first with all female fighters, and that the winner of the TUF 20 tournament would be crowned the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Inaugural Women’s 125lb Strawweight Champion.
There are only a few spots left on the cast, and confirmed fighters gunning for those spots were just announced last week. Among the contenders is Jenny Liou who is, as far as I have found, the only Asian American female contestant. If Liou makes it on TUF, she will be the first [female] American of Asian descent on the show, and if she signs with UFC, she will be the first female Asian American UFC fighter. Trailblaze much?
Liou just made her pro-debut this year and has won both of her pro MMA fights so far. She is also a Ph.D., a college literature professor, and an a poet on top of being a professional MMA fighter. We look forward to great things from this real life woman warrior. Check out Liou’s journey to the cage in 8Questions.
1. Why did you choose to be a pro-MMA fighter?
Being a pro athlete has been one of my long-time dreams. I was a really competitive collegiate runner when I was younger, and graduated with UC Irvine’s school record, and the big west conference championship in the steeplechase, but I wasn’t running quite fast enough to pursue running at a professional level. I was really disappointed about that and did lots of other sports. Mostly climbing. Some mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. I liked it, but I never fell in love with any of those sports.
Then I started grappling and felt immediately at home. Or I should say, returned to grappling. My dad grew up doing kung fu and had me in martial arts since I was a kid. I first started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in elementary school, but gave it up for more conventional sports later on. I immediately started winning tournaments in my division, then open tournaments, then even a handful of men’s events. MMA never occurred to me until my BJJ coach brought me to an MMA gym to train with a girl getting ready to fight Michelle Waterson. I borrowed some MMA gloves, got in the cage for a sparring session, and was able to tap the girl several times. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a pro fighter, but it took some time.
An interesting or aggravating side story–my pro debut was slated to be many years ago against Rhonda Rousey, but I don’t know if there was a misunderstanding or what, because the organization told us 125, and then a couple weeks before the match, said the weight would have to be at least 20 lbs higher, and since I walk at 125, that wasn’t really an option for me, so I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for a chance.
I had a hard time finding amateur fights, largely I think because of my success on the BJJ circuit, and, errrr, because I broke numerous arms in grapping matches. When I started getting fights, they were against very skilled opponents, girls about to go pro, when I was relatively brand new and had very little striking experience. Then this past winter (Dec 2013), I beat that girl Ariel Beck out in Montana–she was an amateur MMA fighter. SO when the call came to make my pro debut in Hawaii, I didn’t hesitate, even though my opponent was the undefeated Rachael Ostovich, and I won.
The TUF house is the fast track to the UFC! Also, people keep saying I won’t be able to handle the house. I mean, I’m a nerdy college professor who likes my solitude. And I have an aversion to traveling anywhere without about a hundred books, a typewriter, and a banjo. But what they don’t know is that I’ve been through all this before. When I ran track, I lived with all runners for years. I lived in an all NCAA runners’ house in Newport Beach, and those people were totally crazy. I shared a room with a very fast steeplechaser, and when I started steeplechasing, and started beating her she resorted to petty sabatoge all the time. She stole my training clothes and gave the other girls on our team so I’d be unable to find, say, a favorite sports bra. Then I’d go to practice and see someone else wearing it, and have to, you know, request the shirt right of their back. The nights before big races, she’d set this stupid Homer Simpson alarm for like 2:30 a.m. in the morning, then go sleep at her boyfriend’s place, so I’d get woken up in the middle of the night and be off my stride for the races. Besides making me venomously angry, those things don’t throw my athleticism for a loop at all. I know how to be calm in the midst of that kind of calamity, and even take my light-hearted revenge when the opportunity presents itself. I think the TUF house will be fun!
You need be a pro fighter with a winning record. That’s it, besides being willing to shell out the bucks to get down there. Luckily, I have a sponsor helping me out with that. Robert Lindhurst Haley, a doctor in NJ who’s also an avid MMA fan. My agent put us in touch.
4. What will the tryouts entail? Is it a tournament?
No the 28th [of April] is not a tournament. I wish! I’d feel totally confident then. The 28th is a weird “audition” of sorts. After a 5 minute grappling match, some people are cut. The rest do 5 mins of mitts with a coach, and then some people are cut. The remaining competitors are then interviewed, and then some are cut, so you have to at least be a good fighter, but that’s not enough all by itself. Apparently in the past, people have lost their grappling matches and advanced or, more dishearteningly, won their matches and been cut. Craziness!
I’ve never really understood the concept of a fight camp. For the most part, my sentiment is that I’ve been involved with martial arts for most of my life, and what, really, can I add to all that experience in the last few weeks? I have been doing a few things though.
Hitting lots of mitts with my coach, Frank Arnett, to make my striking more effective, and also more aesthetically pleasing. Despite thinking of myself as a grappler, I’ve won my last two fights with strikes, but my instinct is to be a counter-puncher. I tend to cover up, move around, and wait for my moment to land one big punch. It’s not very pretty. I’ve spent a lot of time since my last fight learning how to set the pace and control the cage in the stand up.
I love BJJ so I’ve been doing that all the time. I think the guard is very underutilized in MMA, so I’ve been poring over Marcelo Garcia’s X-guard lessons and Ryan Hall’s stuff on the inverted guard. I’ll always be a jiu jitsu player at heart, and I’m trying to keep my game fresh and exciting. Eddie Bravo’s match at Metamoris 3 made me very, very happy.
Then I’ve been running lots and lots of hills to keep my weight down and my cardio up. (I hate hills more than just about anything, so this involves a major mental commitment). A little while back, I spent a very long day in the sauna just to see how the cut to 115 would feel. I think it’ll be no problem. One of my best friends has a sweat lodge up on the mountain outside of our town. We stoked up a fire so hot the stove started glowing translucently, and then we sat in it for about three hours straight, just trading stories, having a blast, enjoying an evening on the mountain.
6. Are you also trying out for an Invicta FC contract? If so, what does that entail?
I’m not really sure what’s going on with Invicta. I’m definitely interested in fighting for them, but that’s in my agent’s hands. In the meantime, I’m fighting with King of the Cage, and I’m quite happy with them. They’re a fantastic organization, and they treat their fighters very well.
7. What’s your favorite part about fighting?
The actual fighting. I love it when the gate to the cage closes, the world narrows, and the fight begins.
8. What’s your favorite Asian comfort food?
Definitely hua gua (Chinese hot pot, in case I’m spelling that stupidly). My parents like to put together extravagant arrays of meats and vegetables, then on cold winter weekends, we find a time to gather our whole family and many of our friends. A lot of my favorite memories involve those gatherings, and it’s that meal I’m dreaming of while I’m cutting weight. While I’m cutting weight, green tea is pretty much my comfort food. My aunt is obsessed with sending everyone in the family all sorts of gourmet Chinese teas, so it’s great to have something delicious to look forward to during the times when I can’t have much to eat.