This is an extended interview from the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to The Mag today!
Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
MT: I want to show that you can be a cage fighter and still be feminine. I hate the stereotype that women who fight are “butch” or “wannabe men.” It’s nice to be able to embrace being a beautiful, strong woman.
Weight: 135 pounds
How did you get started fighting?
MT: My freshman year of high school, I started wrestling, and I ended up loving it more than anything I’d ever done. When I went to college, I came across MMA. My first reaction was, “No, I don’t want to fight. I just want to learn jujitsu.” I didn’t know what UFC was; in my mind it was this violent, ugly sport. But when I watched my first amateur fight, I fell in love with the sport and thought it was beautiful. Plus, I’m such a competitive person that it immediately sparked my interest: “If they can do it, I can too.” At the end of that fight, the referees announced an all-women’s fight card. Three weeks later, I was fighting.
What was it like wrestling on an all-boys team in high school?
MT: It was a win-win situation. When I beat a boy, it was an extra victory, but if I gave a valiant effort and lost — especially if I didn’t get pinned — it was, “Ok, yes!” They were stronger, faster, supposedly better, and I went out there as a freshman not knowing anything. My first day on the mat, my coaches and teammates figured I was there for the wrong reasons and wouldn’t last, so they made it incredibly tough. They put me in with the best and smoked me so bad. I knew you were supposed to stay off your back, but that’s all, and I was getting thrown and pinned. I was so embarrassed, but at the same time I thought, “Well, it can’t get any worse, so from here on out, I’m going to get better.” And that was motivating to me. I always went out there and did my best, and by the end of my senior year, the turnaround was amazing. I wrestled varsity senior year and won the Washington Women’s State Championship.
When I’m fighting, I don’t really feel pain. It’s not necessary. If you’re not going to kill me, nothing you do is going to hurt me — that’s how I win. I can take damage and keep going.`
What do you like about your body?
MT: I like that I’m in shape but still look like a woman. I don’t feel like I’ve had to give up my femininity to be an athlete. I feel good about my body because I work hard every day, and I still look and carry myself as a woman — a strong woman. But because of the size of my legs and butt, pants are always too big in the waist. And anything with sleeves — forget it. I can barely find a jacket that fits my shoulders and biceps and won’t rip if I reach for something.
What is your favorite thing to do to train?
MT: I absolutely love jujitsu. I get to choke people and practice submission holds, and it’s like a physical game of chess. You’re always trying to trick or bait someone, and it’s never-ending. Every day I learn something new, and I love that. It’s always challenging.
What is your biggest body challenge?
MT: I hardly sweat. When I started wrestling, all the boys would be drenched like they just came out of a pool, and I would just barely be sweating after running the same sprints. It’s a problem, because you make weight by losing water weight. My teammates and I go in the sauna at the same time, same heat, and they’ll lose two pounds and I’ll lose half a pound. I end up fighting girls bigger than me because they can drop weight. I don’t know many girls who want to sweat more, but I’m one of them. I get jealous when a see a girl who sweats easily: “Dang, you’re so lucky. I wish I could sweat like that!”
Are you ever self-conscious?
MT: I never used to have an issue with it, but people have brought to my attention that I have an ugly nose. It’s been broken twice. The first time was in my first amateur fight, and then five weeks ago. Actually, I did the photo shoot just three weeks after it was broken. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it or would like to change it, but I have to overcome that and embrace it. “Hey, it’s my nose, it’s who I am and what makes me different.” It’s just one of those things — no one is perfect.
What would you define as your edge?
MT: I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t quit. Whether I come up short or win, I want to walk away knowing I gave my all. If I lose, my opponent was the better woman that night, but I gave everything. That’s what it’s about.
I don’t know many girls who want to sweat more, but I’m one of them. It’s a problem, because you make weight by losing water weight; I end up fighting girls bigger than me.`
What’s the worst thing you’ve been through mentally?
MT: Losing my world championship — being at the top of the top, then losing it. That was tough. Emotionally, I was fragile and devastated. They say it’s hard to get to the top but it’s even harder to stay there, and it’s so hard when it’s ripped out of your hands.
What’s the worst thing your body has been through?
MT: My broken ankle. I was wrestling a guy 20 pounds bigger than me, and he shot in for a double leg, and my shoe stuck to the mat, and he spun around in a circle, and my foot twisted. It was one of the most excruciating pains I’ve ever felt, and there was nothing I could do about it. What stung even worse was that it was two weeks before the first-ever women’s state wrestling championship, and I was going to be part of it. Instead, I broke my ankle. But I came back and won it the next year.
How do you view pain?
MT: When I’m fighting, I don’t really feel pain. Maybe it’s adrenaline. When I know I’m getting ready for battle, that part of me shuts off. Because it’s not necessary. If you’re not going to kill me, nothing you do is going to hurt me — that’s how I win. I can take damage and keep going.
Do you think there’s anything unhealthy about how you treat your body?
MT: I’m absolutely going to have problems down the line from injuries. I’m in my 20s, so they don’t really bother me now, but I know former athletes who have problems as they age. I don’t expect to be above that, but it’s worth it.