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The life of a fighter is not an easy one. Mixed martial arts fighters spend months carefully regulating every aspect of their lives to make sure they’ll make weight. They put themselves through rigorous training sessions to maintain their stamina and train their mind so that once they get in the octagon instinct will take over. After all this work, even the most talented fighter still ends up getting pummeled on their way to victory. To a layperson, it sounds quite painful. Yet, for Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight contender Megan Anderson, that pain is nothing compared to going under the needle.

“Getting tattooed is way worse. One hundred percent,” Anderson says with a laugh. “The only thing I’ve had in my fights is a broken nose and I’ve broken my hand, but I didn’t realize they were broken until after the fight. Even then it wasn’t too bad. It is, for sure, way worse getting tattooed than any fight that I’ve ever been in.”

It probably helps that, more often than not, at the end of the fight the referee is holding Anderson’s arm in the air. Before coming to the UFC in June 2018, she was the Invicta FC Undisputed Featherweight Champion. Anderson has compiled a professional record of 11-4 with nine of those victories coming via knockout or submission.

The Gold Coast, Australia, native didn’t grow up dreaming about having a career in mixed martial arts. In fact, she barely knew that such a thing would even be possible. Megan wasn’t even the most athletic Anderson child at the time. “I was really unathletic growing up,” she says. “I played the piano and cello from 4 until 15. My brother was the athletic one, he played rugby growing up. It’s kind of funny how now our roles have reversed and I’m the athletic one in the family.”

It wasn’t until her 20s that Anderson started training for the sport after a chance meeting while taking in the fights. “I would always watch boxing fights, so I went and picked up tickets to a local MMA show,” Anderson explains. “I got to talking to this guy and he was a coach. He asked, ‘Oh, do you train? Come in and have a try, see if you like it.’ So I did and that’s pretty much it.”

Prior to starting training, Anderson knew she was a competitive person, but once she got in the gym that side of her personality flourished. As she first got a couple of fights under her belt, Anderson kept working full time in admin and data entry jobs. It wasn’t until she got a call from Invicta Fighting Championships that she started to consider the prospect of a career in MMA.

Changing careers often means changing locations, and for Anderson it meant the culture shock that comes from leaving the Gold Coast for Kansas City, Missouri. “I went from the beaches of Gold Coast to the middle of the Midwest. Not the most logical move,” Anderson laughs. “It was because my management at the time also managed my coach, James Krause, who also fights in the UFC. That’s how I got connected to my gym and came to Kansas City.”

Anderson’s Invicta career got off to an inauspicious start, as she lost her first fight by submission. It would serve to be a learning experience, as she then rattled off four straight victories, eventually claiming the Featherweight Championship. It was at this point that she made the move to the UFC, which provided a whole new set of challenges. It was here that she worked on not only training her body, but also her mind.

Photo by Bo Flores

Photo by Bo Flores

“When you get to the UFC level, everyone is good at everything,”Anderson says, “Everyone has great cardio, everyone is really good at striking. Everyone has really good wrestling. Everyone has really good jujitsu."

"It really comes down to the mentality,” Anderson continues. “I think that’s what sets people apart, being mentally prepared and being able to rise to the occasion. If you fight somebody who has a willingness to win and the drive to win and their mentality to be the best is stronger than yours, nine times out of 10, they’re going to win.”

Anderson credits a specific part of her training for developing her mental game—fighting against three different types of opponents. By training against opponents that are less skilled, a fighter can work on implementing what they’ve learned in a live session and gain confidence while knowing they’re going to win. Training against an equally matched opponent allows a fighter to feel what it’s like to really grind to obtain victory. Lastly, training against a better opponent lets a fighter know what it’s like to have their ass kicked, while teaching them how to rise through it.

“You need to have the balance of being able to win in the gym,” Anderson explains. “But you also need the balance of not being the better fighter when you’re trying to improve and trying to get better. That’s a really big part of it.”

Keenly aware that eventually the physical and mental stresses that come along with MMA training will take their toll, Anderson has been setting herself up for a career outside of the octagon. She has a popular YouTube channel where she breaks down fights, showing that she has the potential to become an analyst.

“I’m realistic in knowing that you can’t fight forever, and I don’t want to be fighting forever,” Anderson says. “In May, it will be seven years. Which is still relatively young in terms of the sport, but it’s not just about the years. It’s about the miles on your body. [Fighting] is very physically demanding on the body. I don’t want to get to a point, like some other fighters have, where people are calling on me to retire. I want to leave on my own terms.”

When she’s not honing her skills for a second career, and despite the pain it causes her, Anderson spends a lot of time adding to her tattoo collection. Ever since she first started getting tattooed, she’s been attracted to black-and-grey, and with the exception of a tiny speck of blue behind her ear, her entire collection is devoid of color.

At first, Anderson is uncertain if there are any stories behind her tattoos. Then, as she opens up while discussing them, it becomes clear that there might not be one one story behind an individual piece, but when taken as a whole, her collection reveals a lot about her personality and beliefs.

“On my right arm, I have the Gates of Heaven and I believe—this is going to get real deep here,” Anderson pauses before continuing. “I believe that people are inherently good when we’re born, but circumstances make us defer from that, so we fall from Heaven. On my other sleeve I have the Gates of Hell, with Hell hounds and a warrior that’s guarding the gates. I believe that we also have the ability to be good again. So I have an archangel on my bicep that is fighting to get the demons back into Hell.”

One can’t help but see a parallel here between Anderson’s revelatory tattoo and her ethos toward her sport. Even when you’ve been beat down, even when circumstances are against you, an iron will combined with mental toughness are the key tools you’ll need to succeed. This outlook has carried her from doing data entry to the top ranks of the UFC. Wait to see where it takes her next.

Photo by Bo Flores

Photo by Bo Flores