“There’s always a lot of ‘ohs’ and ‘oohs’ and ‘did you see that?’ but I’m cracking jokes left and right.”
Julia Avila is describing the scene at her Oklahoma home on fight nights. If you follow her on social media, you’ve experienced her fandom and exuberance.
“Usually on UFC Fight Nights, we get together with a small group of friends and we’re always conversing, talking about the fighters. We never have a unified household, it’s always a house divided: who is going to win what fight and why and how. But it’s always a good show and it’s always super entertaining. If I’m not in camp, I’m throwing back a few and sometimes you have to watch what I say on Twitter.”
Avila, of course, has been in camp recently, preparing to open Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Holland card in a bantamweight bout vs Julija Stoliarenko. And although the libations will have to wait until afterwards, she and her squad was still enjoying the fights last weekend. At one point during the festivities, she tweeted “being a tough SOB doesn’t win fights.” For someone as clinically tough as Avila, I had to know what she meant.
"There's a lot that plays into my love for MMA. 50% is the chess match with your body, 50% of it is I just really like punching people in the face."@RagingPandaMMA discusses growing as a mixed martial artist and more Speaker with 🔊⬆️ #UFCVegas22 pic.twitter.com/wuXCizve6D— UFC News (@UFCNews) March 17, 2021
“You can be tough. You can be strong. But that doesn’t guarantee longevity in this sport. You don’t want to end up not being able to respond to people. You have to think things through. You have to grow. So yeah, you can take a punch, but it’s worth more in gold to learn how to slip a punch and be able to react. So it’s really a chess match without trying to take as much damage.”
So does “Raging Panda” characterize herself as a cerebral fighter?
“I know it seems sometimes that I don’t have a cerebral approach because I rage,” she laughs. “I would like to think of myself as a cerebral fighter. I think of this art as a chess match…there’s a lot that plays into my love for mixed martial arts. 50% is the chess match with your body, 50% of it is I just really like punching people in the face. It feeds into my primal drive and desire to…um…kill. (Laughs) My ratio of passion and love and monstrosity is definitely complimented and intertwined, but it is my responsibility as the mixed martial artist to be able to turn it off and on.”
She’ll look to turn it on against Stoliarenko on Saturday, as both women are eager to wash away a defeat in their most recent outings.
“I think she’s going to be really, really tough. I know I can finish her. But I’m not searching for the knockout. If it presents itself, of course I’m going to take it. I have full faith in my training and my coaching. I just need to be patient. I need to be a little less raging on this one.”
That patience was born at least in some part to a loss to Sijara Eubanks in this same UFC APEX last September. Although she had one previous loss on her 8-2 professional record (and if you are even mildly squeamish, I implore you not to Google the injury that ended said 2018 Invicta FC bout vs Marciea Allen), she counts the unanimous loss to Eubanks as her first.
“It’s actually pretty hard reevaluating a fight after a loss. This is my first true loss—my first loss was a finger injury, neither of us broke a sweat—it was really, really difficult. So I took my first loss. I took it on the biggest stage available and I humbly accepted it. She had an amazing game plan, and she executed it perfectly. And we didn’t have a response for it. So yeah, it was really difficult to go back and look back at things. Even when I win, I don’t like watching my fights. It was pretty hard and humbling to go back and watch.”
It’s almost a shame Avila doesn’t enjoy watching her own fights. Mostly finishes and packed with thrills, it’s one of the stronger résumés in her division at the present moment. But Avila recognizes the continued evolution that needs to occur to break into the elite.
“I know my punches are hard. I know people don’t want to stand up with me and I know I’m really susceptible to the ground game. So I learned how to defend a takedown (laughs). We’ll be able to see that, hopefully. But [Eubanks] is a tough girl and it’s a tough division. I shouldn’t expect just a knockout. I should expect to work and earn my keep. So I learned, I assessed, and I’m growing. You can’t grow without a little hardship and a little loss.”
Although in a losing effort, that time on the ground versus Eubanks set her studies up beautifully for Stoliarenko, who has an even greater tendency to take things to the mat.
“Julia is very tough. She hasn’t been finished (very often), and she has eight armbar finishes. Surprise, surprise, I’m going to be defending an armbar, probably. I’m excited, though. I know she’s looking for a finish. She has a lot to prove. She’s coming off a loss, so she’s throwing caution to the wind, right?”
“But hey, here I am. I’m here to redeem myself and prove that I’m supposed to be in there.”