A lot was on the line for Gina Mazany on November 28. She was coming off a June loss to Julia Avila, had just made a move from Las Vegas to Kansas City, and she needed a win over Rachael Ostovich in her flyweight debut.
Mazany hit her mark. That’s the condensed version of what happened that night, as she stopped Ostovich in the third round to earn her second UFC victory. What may have been more important was what happened outside the Octagon, something she found out when received a photo of her fiancé Tim Elliott’s five-year-old daughter Sterling.
Staring at a television screen mounted on the wall, Sterling watched as Mazany punched her way to victory. As she looked at the fight, she was wearing a cape, a mini superhero watching a UFC superhero doing her thing. It was an image you couldn’t help but get moved by.
“It makes me so emotional,” said Mazany. “Her mom sent me that picture and told us that she was just mesmerized watching me.”
Attached to the Instagram post is a video of Sterling at her next jiu-jitsu practice, and it’s clear that martial arts has turned into a bonding experience for the trio, something Elliott and Mazany didn’t push, but are grateful that it happened.
“She started doing jiu-jitsu, and Tim and I have never pushed it and never influenced her into doing it because let's be real: fighting is a rough sport,” Mazany said. “But she wanted to do it and it's been such an amazing experience.”
It’s one filled with lessons, not just for Sterling, but for two of the UFC’s finest.
“Just the other day she was practicing and was getting her butt beat by the boys,” Mazany recalled. “She cried in the middle of practice - she's five, mind you – and the coach went over and talked to her, she sucked it up, went and did another two rounds, then lost those two rounds and afterward came off the mat and was crying to me and dad, and we're like 'It's okay,' and gave her the pep talk. I told her you don't have to do this. If you want to take a break, that's totally fine. But she showed up to practice the next day with a positive attitude. If I can teach her to fail and that it's okay to fail and that the next day's a new day, I feel like I've done my job as a step mommy. Most adults won't let themselves fail because they're embarrassed.”
Mazany has been through those moments over the course of a pro MMA career that began in 2008, and while so much has changed in the ensuing 12 years, what remains the same is that when it’s time to fight, the nerves kick in. The morning of her sixth UFC bout, the Alaska native saw Factory X coach Marc Montoya working with her coach at Glory MMA, James Krause.
“How are you feeling, Gina?” asked Montoya.
“I'm really nervous.”
“Good. Make friends with those feelings because they're not going away.”
“He was right,” laughed Mazany. “This is what I signed up for. No matter what, I'm gonna have all these butterflies and anxiety, but the nice thing is that James had an answer for everything. So before, I put myself in a bad scenario in my head and I couldn't get out. Now, I've done it so much on the mat, that it's second nature for my brain to go to the right solution. It's life changing. I've been fighting for over ten years and now I feel like I'm finally where I need to be, which is such a great feeling.”
She showed it against Ostovich, putting together her most complete performance yet when she needed it the most. That’s not to say it was easy, as there were still points during the bout where Krause had to remind her that she belonged there and that she was doing what she needed to do to win. It may sound like a small thing, but it’s not, especially when confidence hasn’t always been the 32-year-old’s strong suit.
“That was probably my biggest fault, that I lacked confidence,” she said. “Now being with Krause, he knows I'm good, but he's able to organize my game so that I see that I'm good also. I don't even know how to explain it, but I definitely needed someone to push me in the right direction and help me prove to myself that I am good. Tim's great about telling me how good I am, but he's also my fiancé, and he has to do that. (Laughs) That's his job. But I think my biggest fault in all of MMA was my confidence, and after my last fight, I feel like I gained quite a bit of confidence from it. I feel like a bad bitch and I love it.”
Mazany laughs, and when she says she’s exactly where she needs to be, it’s genuine. In fact, it’s so much a part of her now that a couple weeks after the Ostovich fight, she was looking for another one as soon as possible.
“Especially during this pandemic, a lot of people aren't able to work, and if I can take these opportunities to still work and get an extra paycheck for my family, why not?” she said during this interview on December 15. “And also, what else am I doing? I've had 30 Christmases already and I know that for Sterling's Christmas, it will be even better if I get another paycheck. It will just be that much better and, at the end of the day, I just really want to keep this momentum going and I really think I can make a name for myself in the '25 division.”
Mazany didn’t get a late call for one last 2020 fight, but she’s in the gym and waiting for the phone call to begin her 2021 campaign and build off the most important win of her career. Some have wondered if it was a weight lifted off, but it was more a redistribution of that weight as far as “Danger” is concerned.
“A lot of people asked if the weight from my shoulders was lifted off, and I was like, kind of, but I feel like the weight was lifted off my shoulders, and now it's on my back and it's wanting me to push forward,” Mazany said. “That win really motivated me to get better. I did a lot of great things in that fight, but it was also a good fight for me to be like, okay, I'm actually good at fighting. (Laughs) I felt like I showed good striking, good wrestling, good ground, all that fun stuff. So it felt great to get that win.”
And to give a lesson to Miss Sterling about making the best of any situation.
“This year was full of highs and lows, but I feel like it's been a blessing on people who are able to stick their neck out and just try,” she said. “Go out of your comfort zone a little bit and try. Things are a little bit harder to access right now, like gyms and training, and even good food, but it gives you an opportunity to try and do things. Even if you take a fight and fail, like I did, I made a change. I didn't like how things were going for me in Vegas, so I made a change and I moved to Kansas City. I'm happy with the decision I made, and 2020 ended up being one of our worst years transferring into one of our best, most successful years.”