Members of the UFC roster are finding out there are good and bad aspects to competing in the Octagon during the COVID-19 pandemic. The good is obvious – they get to fight. The bad? Well, they lose that energy of the crowd that can give a boost in a tough battle.
Ashley Yoder, who is about to fight for the first time in the “new normal” when she meets Brazil’s Livinha Souza on this Saturday’s UFC 252 card in Las Vegas, is taking the positive approach.
“I was on TUF,” said the Ultimate Fighter 23 competitor. “So we experienced a similar situation with the fact of not having fans, and two, I don't have to hear all the Brazilians chant that I should die. (Laughs) That's probably the better part of this. They can chant it from home, I guess.”
Not hearing “Uh vai morrer,” the now iconic greeting given to all fighters battling one of Brazil’s own, is certainly a good thing for Yoder, who can just concentrate on what happens in the Octagon for 15 minutes or less. And with Indiana’s “SpiderMonkey,” it’s been 15 minutes throughout her UFC career, as all six of her bouts have gone the distance. The result has been a 2-4 slate, one that’s frustrating because a couple of those decisions could have gone her way.
But she’s not holding any grudges against the judges.
“No hard feelings,” Yoder said. “I always know the biggest thing you gotta learn as a fighter is fix your mistakes and try to finish fights. So that's what we've been training to do and focus on.”
In her most recent bout last October, it was another one of those nights when Yoder lost a split decision to perennial tough out Randa Markos. One of the judges saw it Yoder’s way, as did many fans, but the bottom line that in the Octagon, the surest way to get a victory is to finish your opponent and leave the judges out of the equation. And Yoder, who finished four of her first five wins before getting to the UFC, knows this. But it’s easier said than done at this level.
“We're in the UFC,” she said. “Before I got in the UFC, I was finishing a lot of fights, and that's all great and well, but everyone in the UFC is not an easy opponent. We're all here for a reason. So one of the biggest things is that we're just a higher level and you have to just figure out ways to improve your game to get those finishes. It's gonna happen, it's not gonna happen, you're gonna have bad judges, you're gonna have great judges, so we just have to roll with the punches. It's very unpredictable and you have to try to adapt as we go. It's frustrating but, at the same time, it just helps me want to learn more and want to get better. It's fuel to the fire at this point.”
And the nearly ten-month break since her last bout hasn’t been a break at all after she healed up from an injury and got back to work, pandemic be damned.
“Man, this stuff is crazy,” she said of the COVID-19 situation which hit her adopted home state of California pretty hard. “But it's all right, though. I've been pretty busy. It's not a normal situation, of course, but we've been trying to keep it as normal during the fight camp as possible and I'm still training full-time.”
She also has her usual sunny disposition and positive outlook as she approaches this pivotal bout with Souza, embracing the grind of practice with the idea that each day in the gym is allowing her to learn more and more. And for her, that’s the bonus of this entire gig.
“I still feel like I have so much to learn,” said Yoder. “I'm learning so much all the time and that's the most fun part about being an MMA fighter, especially if you enjoy what we do as an art and you get to learn those different techniques. Even things that I was throwing in fights, I didn't really learn; sometimes it just came natural throwing random things. But learning the techniques behind those things and actually throwing them with intent is something new that I've been doing and it's really fun. I definitely think in this fight camp and since my last fight, I'm in a better place mentally than I have been in a long time.”
She also has good examples in and around her division to look at when it comes to fighters who suffered some controversial setbacks before finding their groove, including Cortney Casey and former opponent Angela Hill, who she even got some work in with recently.
“There's a lot of people who have rough starts, whether it was them trying to get their niche or whatever the case may be, but we're all individuals and I haven't lost hope,” Yoder said. “If I've lost hope, I'm not gonna be fighting anymore. So I'm still at it, I'm still willing to learn and I have so much still to learn, so I'm good.”
That doesn’t mean the folks outside of her MMA circle understand how all this works, that sometimes a loss is really a win, and how a 2-4 UFC record can be deceiving. But Yoder is used to that end of things.
“I didn't have that martial arts growing up,” said the 32-year-old. “I was a swimmer, a dancer, a cheerleader. So it's been quite the task to show my family the technical side. My uncle is a black belt in karate, so he is probably the only person in my whole family that understands the technical side of it.”
But mom is still in her corner, and as far as Yoder is concerned, that’s all that matters because she’s gonna keep fighting until the wheels fall off.
“If I had one fan in the room, it would be my mom,” she said. “If that was the only person that supported me, I'd still do it. This is my choice; I'm having fun doing it and I'll do it until they don't want to pay me anymore.”