Sometimes, leaving a job is the happiest time in someone’s life. If not the happiest, it’s at least in the top 10 of satisfying moments. But when Randa Markos left her job as a Pharmacy Assistant recently to become a full-time fighter, it was far from an easy task.
“That was a difficult choice to make,” she said. “I was getting a paycheck every two weeks and there was a family atmosphere at the pharmacy with everybody being so supportive of me, so leaving was a huge decision.”
She doesn’t regret the decision though, believing that to make a strong run at the UFC strawweight title held by Joanna Jedrzejczyk, moving from Windsor, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec, home of the renowned Tristar Gym, was a necessity. And if she needed any reminders, she got it from the manager at the pharmacy.
“My manager was really awesome about it, and she knows what it means,” Markos said. “She has a son who's a huge fan of the UFC, and he made her understand what it was all about, and she said 'you've gotta do this; you only get one chance. You're not living to work, you're living to pursue your dreams.' So they've been extremely supportive and I'm glad I did it.”
The funny thing is, Markos’ decision to go all-in on her MMA career doesn’t come on the heels of a loss or a string of bad performances. Far from it. The “Quiet Storm” dazzled on The Ultimate Fighter 20, defeating Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig before losing to Rose Namajunas in the show’s semifinals. And while she lost her Octagon debut to future world title challenger Jessica Penne, it was via split decision in a bout that garnered both ladies Fight of the Night honors, and in April, she picked up her first UFC win by defeating Aisling Daly.
Some would say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but Markos is not one to get complacent.
“I was training really hard in the gym in Windsor, and then Montreal, but I really felt like it wasn't enough,” she said. “The competition was only getting tougher and I wasn't getting any fights, so I felt like everybody was getting all this experience and I'm sitting here waiting for a fight. So I think the best decision for me was to get up and leave and change up the training style a bit and move to Montreal. It really opened my eyes, and this is one of the best gyms in the world. I'm really glad that I made this decision to come down here. I'm really excited to see the changes that have been made in my next fight.”
That next fight is this weekend in Orlando against unbeaten Polish newcomer Karolina Kowalkiewicz, but before touching on that pivotal bout, it’s important to point out that while most would have considered Markos’ juggling of two jobs to be something where each endeavor got half of her attention, that’s just not the way she operates. So in essence, she was working two full-time jobs before she quit the pharmacy. And while she admits to training hard before, her reason for going full-time is to train even harder. Is it safe to say that nothing is ever going to be up to the standards she’s built in her head?
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“I'm guilty of that,” Markos laughs. “Everyone thinks I'm crazy and they tell me I need to relax and slow down and take it easy. But I just feel that I'm not doing enough. I keep thinking my opponent might be working harder than me and I can't have that. The harder I work the more confident I feel and there's so much for me to learn and I just want to take advantage of it and absorb as much as I can before my next fight. If that means I'm crazy, then I'm crazy.”
“Crazy” Randa Markos? Not yet, but her work ethic and desire to get better is admirable, and there’s no place to push both to the limit than with Firas Zahabi’s crew in Montreal, where Markos admits there are good and bad days – often within the same day.
“It's such a high level here,” she said. “Every day is like 'I'm doing good, okay I'm like 10 steps behind today.' (Laughs) It's constantly back and forth and it's really, really tough. I've talked to other fighters and they're like ‘yeah, you're gonna feel that way here.’ You're gonna come in and feel like you're not getting any better and wonder if this is for me because the level is so high here. It's been back and forth constantly here. I feel like a fight is just a test for me. You put all the hard work in and you're constantly training, constantly drilling, and then there's a test at the end of the road. So I'm really excited to see how it's going to work out.”
This semester’s final exam is this Saturday, and it’s an interesting place for Markos to be in. On one hand, the No. 7-ranked strawweight is facing a relative unknown in Kowalkiewicz, but she’s also doing it in the main card opener on FOX.
“I'm not really looking at the exposure,” Markos said. “To be honest, I'm just excited that I have a fight. (Laughs) The opponent they gave me, I think it's great. She's undefeated, nobody really knows too much about her, but she has an amazing record and for me to fight on the main card against somebody as talented as her, I'm really excited about it. And I think her style as well, she's more of a striker and she's got really good takedown defense. She's similar to Joanna, and I look at this as kind of a test for me to see if I'm ready for Joanna. I've been working on my stand-up and it's improved, so this is big test for me.”
So with a big win or two usually being the ticket to title contention in the still fairly new 115-pound weight class, what would Markos do if she wins on Saturday night and gets a call in January to face Jedrzejczyk? Would she take it?
“Honestly, I feel like I need a couple more fights,” she said. “That's ideal for me before I take that fight. But I don't know if I have a choice.”
Markos laughs, knowing that title opportunities don’t come around too often, and that, as a fighter, she is not likely to refuse a fight against 135-pound champ Holly Holm, let alone the queen of the 115-pounders. That’s just the way the 30-year-old Markos is, and it’s probably why her legion of fans on social media are always quick to take up the cause of the “Quiet Storm.”
“It's so amazing to see that,” she said. “These are people who have never met me before and like me for my style and who I am, and they're constantly behind me, whether I win or lose. They want to see me succeed, and it's motivating to have people want to see me fight. That's awesome and I couldn't ask for anything more. My fans have been totally supportive and I'm really hoping to show them a good fight.”