Maria Lopez started training in boxing, kickboxing, and jiu jitsu four years ago, never did amateur MMA, and is fighting as an atomweight in her second pro bout on November 1 in McAllen.
Sure, that happens. Some athletic young thing wanders into a gym, discovers an aptitude for fighting, and takes over the world in a few short years.
But Maria is 36—older than most who are just starting out in MMA. She works full time and is a single mom to a teenager. And not only is she fighting pro, her fight is the main event that night. She is front and center on all of the posters.
For her skill and fitness, she credits her coaches at Eastside Austin Elite and the Fit Pit, her teammates, her friends, . . . and her 18-year-old son Isaac—a high school junior with an 8–2 amateur boxing record and Maria’s favorite sparring partner.
Q: What happened in your first pro fight?
A: I got arm barred in the first round. It was a strange situation.
My head trainer left me two weeks before the fight. It was a Legacy fight, so it was big. King Mo was walking around like it was nothing! Pat Miletich and Greg Jackson commentated my fight. But I felt lost. I’d lost my trainer. There were cameras in my face. It was very hard and very exciting. So many emotions.
At the restaurant after, Miletich walks in, and I’m just like, “Hey!” He waved back and smiled, and that just made my day.
Of all the bad things that happened with that fight, that was still one of the best nights of my life.
I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t stop smiling. Someone on my team was like, “What’s wrong with you?” And all I could say was, “I did it.” Getting in there is so hard. I learned a lot about what I’m capable of doing.
Q: And now you’re the main event on your second fight!
A: I don’t know what the story is behind that! I accepted the fight, and then two weeks later, he’s like, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to make you the main event.” At first I was in shock, and then I got excited. I celebrated a little inside. Then you just gotta get it out of your head. You gotta train. It’s a fight.
I have people sending me pictures from the Valley. There are billboards of me up!
I’m somewhat shy. The attention I’m getting is very different for me. It’s exciting, but it’s important for me to put it to the side. I didn’t expect it to be what it’s become. I’ve never had so many Facebook requests. When I have my own training sessions at the gym, people just walk up and sit and watch. I’m not comfortable with that!
Q: How are you feeling about this upcoming fight?
A: I know I’m one of the older ones out there, but I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel strong. I feel like I can do anything any 25-year-old can do out there.
The training is hard. There are times I just want to cry. It’s a real important moment, though. That moment is pretty much when you decide . . . it’s so hard that you start to question yourself. You just gotta get past it, push through it. When the day is over, when the training is done, though, it’s the best feeling ever.
I would like to express how much I appreciate the team that I have today, and all the support I have from everybody. We’re not finished yet, but I’m in a really happy place. I love my team.
Q: You train with your son. What are your sparring sessions like?
A: My black eye that I have right now is from him!
We got into fighting together. We went to a gym that taught kickboxing, boxing, jiu jitsu, and after a while, he was sure that MMA wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted boxing. I was the opposite. I loved MMA and had trouble with just boxing.
He’s gifted. He is my number one sparring partner with stand up. And it’s tough when we’re just boxing. I want to kick him. I want to grab him and throw him down. But that would change the game entirely.
The first time he came to my gym to train with me, the whole gym stopped to watch him. I was telling them he was good, and they were like, “Yeah, you’re his mom.” But he beat me up! Another trainer asked him to help his fighter train. They’re really impressed with him. I’m so proud of him.
Q: Does he like having a fighting mom?
A: That’s the best part—he’s not embarrassed of me. One time he texted me from school and said, “Mom, I’m writing a report on you, and my teacher doesn’t believe me that you’re an MMA fighter. Can you call and tell her that you really are?” I texted his teacher and sent some pictures of me fighting.
Q: Do the people at your day job know you’re about to go do a pro fight?
A: I’m a sales manager at two hotels in Austin. I love my job. They sponsor me! They have my poster up at the hotel. One of the presidents of my company even went to my last fight.
Q: How do they feel about the black eye?
A: They always kindly ask me, “Please don’t mess up your face.
I had the opportunity to speak with Maria’s son Isaac, too, and asked him about what it’s like to have an MMA fighter for a mother.
Q: How do you feel when your mom gets into the cage?
A: It’s pretty scary, actually. It’s a different feeling. I’m not going to say I don’t like the feeling. It’s a really exciting moment. And I know she’s really excited. She trained real hard for it. It’s kind of indescribable. I never feel that way with any other kind of situation. It’s a lot of emotions.
Q: How do you like training with your mom?
A: I like it a lot. It builds our relationship. We have really busy schedules, and it’s hard for us to hang out sometimes. But we can train together. It’s just what we do. You never really hear that. But that’s how we spend time together.
Q: Does she hit hard?
A: Yes! Very hard.
Q: What do think about this upcoming fight?
A: I’m just happy for her. I’m glad that she’s doing this. No doubt in my mind that she’s ready. I know she’s going to come hard, so the girl she’s fighting better come hard, too.