At the age of three, Cheyanne Buys knew exactly what she wanted to be: “the female karate kid.”
Unsurprisingly, that aspiration garnered various reactions, as the landscape of martial arts more than twenty years ago wasn’t exactly the most welcoming place for a woman.
But the opinion that mattered most to Cheyanne was her father’s, and he signed her up for private karate lessons the following day, as she was too young to participate in a standard class.
“He was the only person who believed in me in the sport. He left his family for months at a time, he’s a truck driver, to pay for all of my training growing up,” Buys explained.
By the age of five, Buys started karate classes with peers, which she pursued for three years before moving cities and starting over again as a white belt in taekwondo. By the age of twelve, Cheyanne earned her black belt and also spent time as a volunteer instructor.
JP And Cheyanne Buys: Married To Combat
JP And Cheyanne Buys: Married To Combat
Then came mixed martial arts -- a transition into a discipline that was new territory for most, excluding her dad. He suggested they start with a one-week trial with MMA classes, and the two would reevaluate from there.
“That week I was there, I got my a** beat by all these dudes because ten or 11 years ago, MMA was not for females,” Buys recalled with a grin. “There were some monsters there. I just got beat up, but my dad said ‘I see something in you. We can do this.’”
So, by 15, Buys began training MMA exclusively, while still coaching and instructing taekwondo at the same gym. Within two years, she had dropped out of school to pursue training full-time, a decision she went with and never looked back.
Buys highly valued the worth of cage time, taking 17 amateur fights before making the jump to professional fighting, including a bout against UFC flyweight contender Gillian Robertson.
The strawweight, now 5-1 professionally, describes herself as “still a baby” in her career, acknowledging her prerequisites of fighting in the LFA and Invicta FC promotions as necessary steppingstones. One of the biggest steps for Buys was earning a shot at a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series.
“I really wanted to get on Contender to prove my worth and solidify myself in the UFC, but unfortunately I don’t have a large record,” Buys explained. “I don’t have that many [professional] fights, but I do have a very extensive amateur background that I pride myself in.”
The 25-year-old was able to make a statement and prove her worth in her unanimous decision victory over Hilarie Rose last August on the Contender Series, leading to her big break: a chance to fight in the UFC.
With contract finally in hand, Buys was ready to embark on a journey she describes to be “everything I’ve dreamed for, everything I know.” But she wouldn't be doing it alone, as her husband JP subsequently earned his own UFC contract on Contender Series just three months later.
Buys has said that “all I’ve ever known is fighting,” so it’s no surprise that the sport has given her more than just experience and success, but also a life partner.
A bit of fortuity and a surprisingly small world brought the two together, and they haven’t spent a day apart since they met.
“When you really follow your heart, some great things come out of it,” Cheyanne said, speaking from experience that extends far beyond her marriage. “Now I have a very loving husband and a best friend out of it, too.”
Both JP and Cheyanne credit each other for their surging performances on the professional stage, spending the past two years living, learning and training together in various parts of the world.
“He changed my life. When I found him, I was 1-1 and he was 4-2, and since then I’ve gone on a tear. I’ve won four fights straight,” Cheyanne said. “I have the best training partner there is. We’re similar in size, but we’re complete opposites. We’re both well-rounded in everything but I definitely favor the striking side and he definitely favors the wrestling side and that’s something we were able to help each other with and give each other pointers.”
Taking turns between living in the United States and South Africa over the past two years, the two have settled for now in Texas under the mentorship of Sayif Saud at Fortis MMA, giving Cheyanne the opportunity to work alongside friend and Invicta FC contender Emile Ducote, which proved to be unexpectedly advantageous for Buys when her original opponent, Kay Hansen, was replaced with Montserrat Conejo on short notice.
“Every time [Emily] came to train, I was pretending to be Montserrat,” Buys explained. “At the end of the day at this highest level, if they call you a day out with a new opponent, you’ve just got to be ready for anyone at all times. I was just happy to have an opponent that I did know very well and that I had studied so much in this fight camp.”
Heading into Saturday in a familiar venue, against a familiar opponent, Buys will also have even more familiarity just outside the chain links, as JP will be fighting on the preliminary card before Cheyanne’s main card appearance.
The Buys will not only be just the second married couple to share the spotlight on a UFC card, but the first to both make their debuts and the first to corner each other while fighting in the same night.
“At first, we weren’t gonna corner each other. When we first got the call, we immediately got our corners put together because we were both fighting grapplers and we knew we were going to take our jiu-jitsu coach, our head coach, and my dad,” Buys said.
Due to an unexpected hurdle, the Buys’s jiu-jitsu coach was no longer able to make the trip to Las Vegas, opening a spot for each other to serve in their spouse’s corner.
“[UFC] made a plan and they made it work last minute,” Buys said. “Now here we are. I’m going to be there with him, making that walk with him, and he’s going to be right there for me.”
And next to JP will sit Cheyanne’s father, the one who kickstarted her journey 22 years ago with private karate lessons.