Photo Credit: Chris Scadden
Kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu… when it comes to MMA fighting (mixed martial arts), the breadth of disciplines is intense. And that’s on top of the killer fitness required. 30-year-old Polly Beauchamp, amateur MMA fighter and professional K1 fighter, talks about what it takes to be a cage fighter.
You were a black belt in karate by the time you were 10. Can you tell us how you got into it?
I had several male cousins who took it up and being the only female at the time and playing with all the boys, I wanted to do the same as them!
How did your involvement in MMA come about?
I wish I’d kept up martial arts from when I was a child but unfortunately I didn’t start kickboxing again until my twenties. After I’d had a few kickboxing fights, I started training at a new gym and training in MMA where I discovered an interest in different disciplines too.
You’re an amateur MMA fighter but you’ve won professional K1 matches – can you tell us what K1 involves?
K1 is a style of kickboxing so the fight remains standing; you wear 10oz gloves and a gum shield for protection and the rules allow knees to the head, which is not allowed in amateur fights.
Photo Credit: Steve Dyer
In MMA you cover everything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Judo. How do you split your time training the different disciplines?
Luckily the gym I train at (Trojan Free Fighters Gloucester) puts on sessions that cover multi-disciplines and has coaches that specialise in different areas, so I get great coaching and cover everything. I came from a stand-up background (kickboxing/karate etc) so tended to prefer stand-up, but once I started to wrestle and do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – and actually started to get it! – I loved that, so I really enjoy all my training to be honest … I do love to box, though!
How physically demanding is being a successful MMA fighter?
It is both physically and mentally demanding to be honest. You can’t cut any corners and you have to be sure you’re prepared in all areas as no-one knows how a fight is going to go or where it will end up – standing, on the ground, wrestling up against the cage etc. When you’re training for a fight, the level intensifies, the diet is stricter, the sparring is harder and you are pushed more… you have days where you feel great, then some off days. I always go on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, sometimes I feel great and can’t wait to get in the cage again, then sometimes – normally if I have an off-day, or my whole body hurts and I’m tired, hormonal and hungry! – I ask myself what the hell I am doing?!
How important is strength training when it comes to fighting?
It is quite important, but technique always beats strength… It helps to be strong in certain positions though, and it’s more the body being used to fighting I suppose – the more you train, the stronger the body gets!
What does your weekly training schedule look like?
I work fulltime but I work remotely a lot of the week which means I can use my lunchtimes to get extra training in as well as evenings. A normal week would tend to be:
Monday – Bag work/weights then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/judo in the evening
Tuesday – 3-mile run then wrestling, MMA striking, sparring in the evening
Wednesday – Cross trainer/weights, then MMA, K1 in the evening
Thursday – 5-mile hill run. Rest in the evening
Friday – 3-mile run then boxing in the evening
Saturday – Rest day
Sunday – Fight training and sparring
If I’m preparing for a fight, I tend to take holiday from work one day a week leading up to the fight so I can work on fight specifics with my main coach.
One of your videos shows you practising neck strength drills. Is this about taking the impact of blows?
Doing neck exercises is important, it helps with blows to a degree, but it’s mainly to help with wrestling; if you shoot in on someone for a take down, you need to be strong; if your neck is weak you end up with regular whiplash(!) – you can also end up in some odd positions in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) training so it just helps if the muscles in the neck are built up a bit to help prevent injury.
Are there any female MMA fighters that you admire?
There are several female fighters that I admire as athletes, my favourite female fighter is probably Claudia Gadelha though.
You have to maintain a particular fighting weight – does this mean a strict diet?
Yes, I fight at straw weight as an amateur which is 115lb, but I’m looking to go pro soon and will drop to atom weight which is 105lb… I am naturally small, so don’t have to try overly hard to make 115lb – atom weight will be a different story though! When I train hard and eat clean, I walk around about 117 anyway. I absolutely love food though and hate being hungry. I tend to have a fairly clean diet most of the time – oats/eggs for breakfast, chicken/fish with vegetables and brown rice for lunch, meat with more veg and brown rice or sweet potatoes for dinner and I snack on rice cakes/protein bars and shakes/nuts/yogurt and fruit etc.
If I’m not in training camp for a fight I’ll eat out more and have the odd pizza or other takeaway, ice cream, biscuits, crisps etc… but those are the sort of things I would cut out at least a month out of a fight to make sure I maintain weight easily, and I also find when my diet is cleaner I feel less sluggish. I don’t really drink alcohol or any fizzy drinks anyway, and only tend to have coffee, green tea or water – but again, when I’m not training for a fight I may have the odd cider or shandy!
Do you get nervous or scared before I fight?
Yes definitely, I don’t think I will ever not feel nervous before a fight, I just need to remind myself that I’ve trained hard and now it’s time to put it into action.
How do you get yourself pumped and in the zone? Do you have any pre-fight traditions?
I don’t really have any pre-fight rituals to be honest – I know I always put 100% effort into my training so I just need to make sure I rest properly a couple of days before a fight and stay as relaxed and mentally prepared as possible!
What’s the hardest thing about being a cage fighter?
I’m not sure to be honest – I really like the training and like pushing myself physically and mentally. I guess one of the hardest things – for me, anyway – is when you’re training for a fight and your opponent pulls out. I know this is a tough sport so injuries etc are inevitable, but it can be so frustrating, especially being a small female. There aren’t many of us around so it’s not like the guys, who, if an opponent pulls out, are 95% sure of getting a replacement – with us, it’s like a 95% chance of NOT getting a replacement – so that is pretty tough sometimes and can really demotivate me.
Photo Credit: Steve Dyer
Have you ever come out of a fight with any nasty injuries?
I’ve had my nose broken. I also ruptured my ACL in my knee, when I was training for a fight. It was really painful, but I was told it was nothing, so I carried on training for the fight, did the fight, managed to get the win but performed really badly… I knew my knee was bad and I couldn’t keep on with it, so I paid for scan and it showed a complete rupture so pretty much had surgery straight away. That was last July. I boxed in April but I’m waiting to have my first MMA fight back! The rehab is 9-12 months for that operation, so that set me back a bit and unfortunately meant I had to pull out of a title fight which was a real shame.
Do you set goals for yourself?
Not really – just continue learning and improving.
What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of the year?
I was meant to be fighting in Scotland in September but my opponent pulled out with injury, so I don’t have anything lined up currently, although my name is down for a few shows. I would like to go pro and hope to have a fight at atom weight soon…
Can you tell us about your favourite kit for training and fighting?
This is tricky! I get through about 2-3 gym kits a day so don’t really have any specific faves – it’s more about needing the right kit for different things. I have two Gis for bjj, 12oz boxing gloves to train k1 in, but then a nice set of 10oz gloves which I keep just for boxing! 7oz gloves for MMA sparring and drills. I need hand wraps, gum shields, wrestling boots, boxing boots etc! So no faves, just necessities!
Who are your sponsors at the moment?
I am sponsored by SCI-MX Nutrition currently, they provide me with the best supplements and protein bars/shakes every month which is awesome.
She Cries War, Hello Sock, X-ion-X, Maple Scaffolding, TD Sport Nutrition, Bad Boy EU have all been kind enough to help towards training costs or provide me with various bits of kit or supplements over the last few years which I am grateful for…. A regular clothing sponsor would be great right now though, with the amount of gym clothes I get through! [Laughs]