"I’m super tough and I am going to fight my heart out every single time. Everybody is going to be surprised at how well I’m going to fight Sara." - Lauren Murphy
At the core, Lauren Murphy’s story is about hard work paying off.
This story has its humble beginnings as a fairly innocuous tale about a mom in her mid-20s, with no martial arts background, taking her son to his first Brazilian jiu-jitsu class and deciding she would try it as well to encourage him.
But that’s where all sense of normalcy ends.
Over the next four years, that outside the box thinking mom became an undefeated professional MMA fighter and, in her most recent fight, was crowned the first-ever Invicta bantamweight champion. If parents are role models, Murphy has shown her son, Max, that if there is a will, there is a way to grab life by the horns with both hands and shake it for all its worth.
“I want him to know that he can be anything that he wants to be,” states Murphy. “I think I’m proving that. I’ve been training for such a short amount of time. Really, my MMA career has been so short. For me to even make it into the UFC and to fight someone like Sara [McMann] who has so many athletic accolades, I hope he knows that if he works hard and makes good decisions he can be anything he wants to be. I hope he sees that when I’m standing inside the Octagon, hopefully, getting my hand raised on August 16th. I hope he sees if he puts in a little hard work, gets a little luck, and puts good people around him he can be whatever he wants to be.”
Murphy’s inspiring journey is far from over, as she is making her Octagon debut in Bangor, Maine at UFC Fight Night: Bader vs. Saint Preux against former U.S. Olympic wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann. While McMann’s background does sound intimidating, Murphy did just defeat “The Queen of Mean” Miriam Nakamoto with an arguably more dangerous resume as an eight-time world Muay Thai kickboxing champ at Invicta FC 7 last December.
“We knew it was going to be a tough stand-up battle,” remembers Murphy. “She’s really well-trained and really tough. I have only trained for about four years total and Miriam’s probably been in combat sports for a decade. Just looking at those numbers (laughs), this opponent is going to have more experience than me and is going to be technically better than me on the feet, but that doesn’t always mean everything, especially in MMA. We knew it would be a tough fight, but we knew I was going to give it my best and everything I have. I was going to learn everything I could in the camp and do what my coaches told me to do. And that’s what I did.”
Heading into the Nakamoto title bout, Murphy owned a 7-0 pro record, including three wins in 2013 alone at her new weight class of 135 pounds. The Anchorage, Alaska native earned back-to-back unanimous decision wins in Invicta over hard-nosed, seasoned veterans in striker Kaitlin Young and grappler Sarah D’Alelio. In her third bout for the burgeoning organization in less than eight months, Murphy collided with undefeated kickboxer and MMA pro Nakamoto, who had scored back-to-back Knockout of the Night bonuses in her first two Invicta appearances.
“It was kind of funny, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for any of those fights when I took them,” admits Murphy. “When I took the fight with Kaitlyn Young, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for this, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.’ And I did and I won. When I got Sarah D’Alelio, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for this, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.’ And it was the same attitude for every fight. Each one was definitely a step-up, but I was going to give it everything I had and just see what happens. I think that’s the best attitude to have going into a fight.”
The bout for the belt in December played out how many thought it would on paper. The taller, longer, and more experienced striker Nakamoto had the upper hand when the action was on the feet, but Murphy’s determination and pressure to get inside wore on Nakamoto. In the third round, Murphy ate a knee to the face and kept on pushing until she got “The Queen of Mean” to the ground, where she rained down strikes. Nakamoto fought to get to her feet, but Murphy dragged her to the ground again. Somewhere in those tide-turning takedowns, Nakamoto’s knee was injured and at the start of the fourth round she could not continue.
The now 31-year-old Murphy walked out of the cage that night with a well-deserved gold belt, and, more so, she proved that she can not only hang with a world-class striker, but beat one. “At the end of the day, Miriam’s stand-up might be better than mine, but the truth is that she hit me with everything she had and she couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” asserts Murphy, whose raw toughness has been her key asset in her short, but impressive career. This seemingly unbreakable spirit is what has pushed Murphy in the gym to make up for her late start in the sport and has paved her way to victory after victory in the cage as she breaks her opponents’ will.
“I go into a fight knowing that it is absolutely possible that I can make that happen,” affirms Murphy. “When I started, I didn’t know it was really possible to do that to somebody. The first couple times that it happened, I remember being in a fight and feeling the whole direction of the fight change. Her attitude changed and I knew I was going to win the fight - she was broken. Mentally, she’s broken. I started to learn on my own that I could see in someone’s eyes that they were mentally broken and I could capitalize on it. Not just in fights, but in jiu-jitsu tournaments. I can now see it when I watch other fighters fight in the UFC. It’s such a huge deal. You can just see when someone’s heart goes out of them and they don’t want to be in that fight anymore.”
Up next, Murphy will make the jump into the UFC women’s bantamweight division against the #4 ranked McMann on August 16th. With a 7-1 pro record, McMann made her Octagon debut with a first round pounding of Sheila Gaff in April 2013. Following that, McMann was thrust into a UFC title fight with fellow Olympic medalist and MMA freight train “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, where McMann suffered her first loss this past February. In the highly-decorated wrestler’s previous efforts, McMann showed off great takedowns and ground control, as expected, as well as a heavy right hand. But, frankly, Murphy isn’t worrying about what McMann brings to the table and is supremely focused on only what she brings.
“I don’t know what kind of person Sara is like, but I know what kind of person I am like,” says Murphy. “I remember signing to Invicta and being like, ‘I’m going to give it everything I have, but they have some tough girls in that promotion, so we’ll see what happens.’ My husband told me when I signed, ‘You’re going to be the champ of that organization.’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.’ We just took it day-by-day and fight-by-fight and it was a really good experience for me. They gave me really tough fights. I got to fight some of the best of the best that they had there and that really moved me up and prepared me to fight for the UFC and fight against Sara McMann. I know how hard I work, I know what I do in the gym, I know what my coaches think of me, and I know where my strengths and weaknesses are, but I don’t know much about Sara at all.”
In preparation for her UFC debut, Murphy has joined the highly-regarded gym The Lab in Glendale, Arizona. If last year wasn’t enough with a change in weight class, four fights, and winning a gold belt, this year Murphy moved from Panama City, Florida with her fellow pro fighter husband Joe Murphy and her son to Phoenix to train under Royce Gracie BJJ black belt John Crouch and alongside a talent-rich crew that includes former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and The Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Efrain Escudero. Sharing Murphy’s corner duties will be Crouch, UFC vet Joe “Diesel” Riggs, who has been working on Murphy’s boxing, and 3-1 strawweight Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, friends/teammates who made a pact that whoever made it into the Octagon first would corner the other.
“We wanted a strong coach and John Crouch is a really strong coach,” tells Murphy of why she and her husband chose The Lab. “He’s a really good guy. We wanted to be in a place that had a good gi jiu-jitsu program and the Lab has that as well. And just a family atmosphere. Those were all high on the list for us. I’ve always prided myself on being in really good shape in all my other fights, but this time I will be on another level. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I feel like I’ve worked pretty hard to stay in good shape before and I’ve never worked this hard before.”
This Saturday, two of the toughest moms in the world will clash inside the Octagon as Murphy targets to upset McMann. “Yeah, I’m the underdog, but I don’t give a crap - I’m going to shock everybody,” declares Murphy, who will aim to continue her undefeated and unbelievable MMA ascension with another gritty and hard fought win. “I’m super tough and I am going to fight my heart out every single time. Everybody is going to be surprised at how well I’m going to fight Sara. They’re going to see a war of attrition, a lot of heart, and a lot of blood.”