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In the Octagon, Alex Chambers knows she has the ability to outthink her opponents.
She also knows that being a brainiac isn’t always a good thing.
MMA fighting requires intelligence, but it’s also good to have instincts, quickness and superior skills. Chambers will have a chance to prove she possesses all of that tonight when she faces Paige VanZant on the main card at UFC 191.
When it comes to smarts, Chambers (5-2) is possibly the sharpest fighter in the UFC. She has a science degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Sydney in Australia, and she was close to competing course work on a degree in mechatronics engineering.
Then her fighting career got in the way.
Chambers, who goes by the nickname “Astro Girl,” has no regrets. MMA is her passion, and she was willing to cast aside her college work so that she could concentrate full time on fighting. Returning to school isn’t in her plans.
“I don’t think it’s an option for me now,” she said. “I’ve made this decision. I’ve always known I wanted martial arts to be a big part of my life, whether it’s now through fighting or in the future through coaching and running my own gym.
“I still wish I’d completed my three months worth of experience to get my mechatronics (degree). I think about that occasionally, but that’s just to have a piece of paper hanging on the wall.”
Chambers is coming off a third-round submission win over Kailin Curran in May, and a win over VanZant would likely catapult her into a top-15 ranking in the UFC’s strawweight division. VanZant (5-1), however, is a big favorite.
In the Octagon, Chambers said, her intelligence doesn’t cause problems. In training, it can sometimes be an obstacle.
“For one, I don’t think I’m that smart,” she said. “Two, I definitely overthink things. Sometimes you tend to overthink and get hard on yourself, and I’m definitely critical of myself. In a training camp, that can be difficult to deal with, but I’m used to it now.
“Come fight time, the preparation that you put into a training camp, regardless of how much you overthink things, it’s that muscle memory that’s going to take over. So you don’t have time to think in a fight.”
Chambers said she doesn’t mind that VanZant has drawn most of the media attention this week. She believes she’s gotten her share in the buildup to the three-round bout.
“Is the attention on her?” she asked. “I feel like I’m getting a lot of attention, too. If she’s getting a lot more, sometimes that extra pressure can be difficult to deal with. I don’t think about that at all. She does have a big fan base, and that’s great for the sport.”
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez