When Mandy Böhm first saw the UFC on television at age 18 in her native Germany, she fell in love.
She was new to the sport, new to martial arts in general, but she knew what had to be done. A week later, she walked into a combat gym and never looked back.
She had her first professional fight in 2014. She won the women’s flyweight title under the TKO Major League banner in May 2019, (coincidentally on the same evening as a then up-and-coming heavyweight named Ciryl Gane also secured the TKO MMA heavyweight title). Across other promotions like GMC and Bellator, she dominated on the strength of an ace Kung Fu and kickboxing game, a game that finally precipitated a call to the UFC in 2021.
The dream had come true, although the first couple chapters of that dream were not like she had imagined. “Monster” dropped her debut to Ariane Lipski and the follow-up to Victoria Leonardo, both by unanimous decision.
Losing inside the Octagon was as new as being in the UFC. In the eight professional fights preceding her time here, she had never lost and, in fact, boasted five finishes, three in the first round. She’s determined to get back to her winning ways this Saturday when she meets Ji Yeon Kim on the prelims of UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Spivac.
“I feel great. I feel confident. I feel well-prepared and ready to rock on Saturday night.”
She didn’t get those great feelings overnight. Wholesale changes, including relocation to Las Vegas to work with a new team in Xtreme Couture, and availing herself to the UFC Performance Institute were part of her recipe.
“I traveled the whole way from Germany to Las Vegas because I know it’s one of the best places to be for combat athletes. I have a new team, new coaches. Process takes time and I’m glad I found my way and my rhythm. Yes, you are alone in this cage at the moment of fighting, but it’s still a team sport.”
And the losses, although they stung, were central to her reinvention.
"What I appreciate the most is the learning, not only about my sport; it's learning about myself, how it feels to lose. What can you take from this experience? It hurts. It hurts a lot. I've grown so much in my personality, my character was built, and I'm just grateful.
"Winning is easy," she laughs. But losing meant more than running a little longer on the treadmill or hitting the pads more often. It meant confronting something "deep inside myself. And I'm pretty sure I've figured a lot of this out. I know everyone is always selling ‘the best version of myself’, but I actually feel like the best version of myself; head, heart and body.
"My mind is free right now," she explains, noting that she worked closely with a sports psychologist this time around. "I feel excited and I'm happy to feel like this again."
She put in the work for her opponent, too, leaving no stone unturned.
“It was a pretty long fight camp. I think I got this fight 14 weeks out. That means I have a lot of time to think about my opponent, my game plan, what I like to do and what I should focus on. I feel well-prepared, not only physically, but mentally.”
Like Böhm, Kim is 33 years old and coming off consecutive losses—four to be exact—and what that means for which version of the South Korean she’ll face remains unclear.
“It’s not her first loss. Maybe this makes her more dangerous. Maybe it makes her weak. I don’t know. I’m just prepared for war on Saturday night.
“I’ve run into her a lot of times at the PI. She has a lot of experience. She has good striking. She has a proper right hand. She’s called ‘Firefist’ for a reason. But I’m prepared. She has a little more volume, but I think I’m more precise. We also both have a similar reach…I think we both have one of the longest reaches in the flyweight division. I think it’s a great matchup.”
All fighters say some version of that as the event draws closer, but you can tell Böhm really means it.
“This one is for myself. I really had some troubles over the last year to find my place, to find my way, and this fight for sure is for myself. I’m so happy to go to the mat with a smile again and enjoy what I do.”
And then that dream that started 15 odd years ago can finally get rolling.
“When I get my hand raised on Saturday night, that’s just the beginning of a beautiful story.”