The fighting life is not easily understood or explained. No one knows that better than Sarah Alpar, who understands it, but has stopped trying to explain it to anyone who is not already in that MMA circle she calls home.
“It happens all the time,” she said. “Unless you're really in the sport and you've experienced it first-hand, cutting weight and fighting in general, it's hard for people to relate to that and get that.”
That doesn’t mean the fighter dubbed “Too Sweet” is nasty about it when discussing fighting with the uninformed. Instead, she has a simple retort.
“Now I get to say, ‘Yeah, I do UFC.’”
Alpar laughs, knowing that there’s nothing sweeter (pardon the pun) than to say she’s part of the UFC roster nine years and 13 fights into her pro career. It was that 13th fight in August of 2019 that put those three letters on her four-ounce gloves when she upset Shanna Young on Dana White’s Contender Series, earning her a UFC contract.
Since then, it’s been a waiting game, as she worked to get health issues sorted out before the COVID-19 pandemic showed up and slowed things down further. But on Saturday, she’s got a fight with Jessica-Rose Clark and she couldn’t be happier to finally make the walk to the Octagon.
“I was ready yesterday,” she laughs. “I'm so excited for what's to come and I have to reset my goals. Getting to the UFC was a big goal, and I talked to my coach and he's like, 'You're here, so you need to reset that and you need to look for something more so you don't fall off.' Okay coach, I can do that. But I'm excited to be here. Every fight from now and every time I get to go into training, it's a privilege.”
And a long time coming for the 29-year-old, who will follow up her first UFC fight this weekend by getting married on October 10, making it quite the early fall season. It’s almost enough to make up for the year-long delay since her win over Young. But don’t think that Alpar has been sitting idle. She’s been sharpening the tools she will bring to Las Vegas.
“I've been training, trying to keep up with everything,” she said of her layoff. “I've been going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out why my weight wasn't going anywhere and why my body was doing what it was doing. I had help from the (UFC) PI, and finally I found a good dietician and got started with her and now things are finally working out as they need to.”
Which means Alpar’s expected drop from bantamweight to flyweight is still part of her future plans.
“Flyweight is still a thing,” she said. “My body's starting to do what it needs to, to get down. I feel like I would be strong and more comfortable at flyweight. At bantamweight, I have to compensate a little bit, especially for things like height. All those girls (at 135), especially in the top ten, are so strong, and there's some things you just need to match up. You can't have somebody who's just naturally a better athlete on top of technique and stuff like that, you need one or the other to match up with them evenly.”
Alpar is ready to throw hands with Clark at 135, though, and when it comes to getting ready for the fight, the Oklahoman did get in some work with one of the division’s best, former champion Holly Holm.
“That was amazing,” she said of working with the Jackson / Wink MMA squad in Albuquerque in addition to her camp at home with Derrick Adkins and the crew in Oklahoma. “I loved it. I get really nervous; I get a lot of anxiety going to new gyms and it takes a second for me to settle in and to jump out of my comfort zone, but to go out there, it was such an opportunity for growth for me. I learned a lot. Everybody out there was just great. I have nothing bad to say about any of it and I'm looking forward to going back there again.”
As for working with “The Preacher’s Daughter,” Alpar admits to being a little star-struck at first.
“You see these people that you followed for so long and you're like, ‘Man, I want to be like them,’” said Alpar. “You think of them as these famous people. Now I'm really awkward as it is, and I was super awkward. (Laughs) But hopefully the more I go out there the more I can just chill out and be myself and hopefully we can be able to make it a thing because I know she can make me a better fighter for sure.”
Hearing her talk about training with Holm and the Jackson / Wink squad, it’s clear that Alpar is not jaded by her ascension to the UFC. She’s still a fan, and she hopes that will never change.
“I think that's super important,” Alpar said. “Fighting is just as much or even more mental than it is physical. And when you start going to practice and thinking it's a job or 'oh, when is this gonna be over,' when you fall out of that love for it, what are you doing here? You need to love the sport and need to have that heart for it to keep you going.”
Alpar’s enthusiasm is infectious, not just for the sport, but for life in general, and anyone can pick that up from talking to her, seeing her interviews, or even reading her UFC bio, where she writes of a purpose greater than just winning fights.
“It's a chance for the world to hear my story and let me be a real role model for those who need one,” Alpar wrote when asked what it means for her to fight in the UFC. “All the blood, sweat, and tears will finally mean something. Being in the UFC gives me the purpose I have been searching for.”
I asked her about the answer to that question, wondering where that attitude of putting others before herself comes from.
“It definitely comes from my childhood,” she said. “Growing up for a long time, especially the middle school years when I was getting bullied, when I was feeling uncomfortable with myself and very out of place, I didn't really have anyone to go to or turn to. I didn't have anyone who understood. I wish I had someone to look up to, to keep me going. I didn't have that. I had wrestling and I had myself and I said, ‘All right, I'm gonna keep going,’ but I feel like if I had somebody who understood my experience, I would feel more at ease, more okay. So if I can be that for somebody that I didn't have, I'd be pretty fulfilled. To be an influence for somebody else, that's more important, and lifelong, than just the career of being in the UFC. I'm not Sarah, UFC fighter; I'm Sarah and I'll be Sarah for my whole life.”