My One Championship contract date was up soon, electrified by this sense of urgency and with the green light from my family; nothing was stopping me from returning to New Mexico (NM).
I had been living in Sydney and working at an ethical, family run business. It was a great job on paper and a remnant of my past domestic life. I was nervous to leave my friends and home comforts but (there's always a but, when you're stuck in a rut). Life isn't hypothetical and I couldn't shake the feeling, I had unfinished business in NM and this was somewhere I had to be. I left in July.
An avid traveler and curious martial artist, I extended my stopover in Los Angeles to check out The Yard. I rented an Airbnb close to the gym and got some work in with Lee who helped me with my boxing. I'm a big Shilling fan so I was pretty happy to meet his trainer Mark Komuro, who gave me some insight and let me spar some of his guys. I met Joe during one of my visits but was too shy to strike up much of a conversation and just paid the gym fees before scuttling off to training.
I met up with a wrestler from Jacksons and we did a mini gym tour of California, I checked out Costa Mesa 10th planet which I loved and spent some downtime in Huntington beach and at a cabin in Big Bear Lake.
Then it was back to the 505 and working with my head coach Joey Villasenor. The second time around, I knew who my people were and had established a good group to work with. Coach Bart Luhon is an eccentric and tough New MexiCAN, who is known for his grueling wrestling and conditioning workouts. I'm old-school so I will always opt for the disciplinarian, even if it sucks. He took me on runs to ‘Champion/Pussy Hill' and followed behind me in the car. This was for my safety. Apparently, just in case, I couldn't make it back and definitely not because he didn't want to do the run himself #coachlife.
There are a handful of legendary coaches and pad men who are the backbone of Jacksons. Joey n Frank hardly ever leave, their pad hours are ridiculous. Frank was the social Big Bro' of the gym, organising conditioning at the local Dam and photo shoots with Elrev Gomez, on top of his rammed schedule.
Harry St Leger is well respected for good reason with a wealth of grappling knowledge as a Judo champion and Gracie black belt. I did a session with him and my friend Lanch as a partner but I couldn't afford regular privates with everyone so I would come to his classes on the timetable and soak up as much as I could.
Everyone has their team within a team and so I got the best of different internal camps, helping others with fights.
My friend Nikki was in camp so I worked with her coach Lenny for wrestling out of Sandia High and did my strength and conditioning at the Power Plant with Xavier and Lee. A local to the 505, Nikki showed me her favourite spots. We also went to Sante Fe and some Native American run events, an art exhibition and a fashion show. I tried Bison for the first time which is a local game food, it was delicious and tasted very different from gamey Kangaroo back In Australia that you can't overcook. Nikki is Creek, Seminole and Chickasaw and I was grateful for the insight into her code and way of life.
Yana Kunitskaya was a big inspiration for me, during her title fight preparation. After morning sparring, we went for runs in the midday heat, up to the Hill of Tears which is in the Sandia mountain range. I wanted to be pushed and to see how she did things. The Jackson crew streamed her Invicta title fight against Raquel Pa'aluhi live and we watched it together in dorms. I'll never forget how she smiled during the final rounds and screamed at the bell; you could tell she was in her element and loved being in there.
I sought out the toughest coaches and followed the top fighters as part of my effort to get back on the winning track. I wanted to do everything right and left no stone unturned.
I hired a nutritionist to make sure my diet fuelled my workouts and aided my recovery. The last visit, I was very injury prone. I had been undereating and actually doubled my food intake without gaining weight. For One Championship, we fought hydrated so I could compete at my walk around weight which made for a healthy training camp and a more even division (compared to other promotions), against others at their natural disposition.
I went to the Elite-OSM, in house treatment centre daily and used their compression boots or prehab tools. This trip, I was really lucky to be sponsored by Alicia Martinez who became my fairy godmother, keeping me in good shape and ready to fight.
In addition to my work with mind coach Vinny Shoreman, I practised Yin Yoga weekly to balance out my aggressive or Go! Energy. I even tried my hand at transcendental meditation to improve my composure.
The girl's team had grown since my last visit, a lot of sponsored athletes from China were in town. Combined with seasoned fighters, the likes of Jodie Esquibel, Michelle Waterson, Celine Haga and Claudia Gadellah.
I had access to invaluable fight simulation with different partners and quality sparring rounds. When I was knocked out from a head kick in sparring. I took from the incident, the lesson; you have to be able to hang with the best to be the best. Despite my whiplash, I was thankful to have such skilled teammates and drilling partners.
Living in dorms this visit, wasn't as bad in terms of crowding. The new girl's block was on the ground floor and separate from the boys upstairs. The benefits we gained in space, did not compensate for the deafening noise or lack of privacy. As not cut off from the gym – you could hear people lifting weights at midnight or blasting music during nocturnal training sessions. Also, the backdoor was always left open, due to people smoking or having lost their keys. Anyone could wander in from the street so this wasn't the most secure, especially in downtown.
Communal living is always a challenge in terms of managing personal boundaries, cleanliness and preventing sickness, which spread like wildfire. However, the best aspect of cohabitation was group trips. As the resident ‘Mama Bear', I would suggest outings to prevent cabin fever. The girls were more organised and would round up the dorm boys and plan trips to local destinations e.g. Jemez Springs, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. Everyone was away from home so we called this ‘family time'.
In August, the newest addition to Team Wild Pony, Kerry Hughes, flew in for her fight camp. Kerry is one of my favourite people in the world so we managed not to kill each other, despite sharing a studio apartment meant for one and sleeping on the floor. We weren't staying long so didn't buy furniture and had to haggle for an extra mattress that we stole from a bunk in the girl's dorms. At this stage, I still had no fight news and decided to drive to Vegas for a long weekend.
Vegas turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life. I saw my favourite DJ, Steve Aoki at Vegas's Hakkasan (largest night club in the world) and he brought his insane energy to the stage for an incredible performance. I fought my way to the front and stayed there for the whole set!
The next day we hung out with Kerry' friends, she had trained in Vegas before so we caught up with WMMA veteran Roxanne Modafferi for lunch and went to lake Las Vegas with Tony Diaz.
We went from Vegas debauchery to farmstead bliss in Edgewood, dog sitting for the Borg's. Amanda was a teammate and friend, accompanying her husband Ray for his UFC fight against Demetrius Johnson AKA Mighty Mouse. They have 5 beautiful dogs and a pig called Pumba that I loved taking care of during fight week with gym wifey (Kerry).
In true American fashion we took up shooting, hanging out with our nutritionist Anita Del Prete and her husband Scott who took us to their local range Caliber's and let us shoot their personal guns; a Beretta, snub nose Glock and shotgun. We also rented a semi-automatic rifle for good measure. It was a lot of fun. I had only fired a couple rounds off a Glock, once before in the Philippines so was not an experienced shooter or a natural. In fact, I may have alarmed staff at the range and shot the roof. Oopsy Daisy.
When Kerry left in September, I had planned to go back to dorms but following an outing to the lake with Cowboy and the ranch guys, I decided to stay at the mid-construction BMF Ranch.
Part 2 – Ranch life.