It's been a couple of weeks now since my UFC debut and life is slowly starting to return to normal. Looking back, the last few weeks have been a blur of events and emotions.
From the minute I arrived at the hotel in Winnipeg on the Tuesday evening, I was kept busy with paperwork to do, posters to sign, photo and video shoots, interviews, medical tests to be completed. I also fit in my last few training sessions, made sure I was on weight for the weigh-ins and got as much rest as possible to recover from jet lag.
There was a huge amount of interest from the British and Canadian media - for several weeks, it seemed like one interview after another. In the hotel, I started to get used to the fans stopping me to ask for a photo or an autograph every time I went through the lobby. Everyone seemed friendly and happy to see me, even though I was there to fight their fellow Canadian.
The days before the event passed slowly, even though there was plenty to do. The waiting often seems like the hardest part of fighting, and I was impatient.
On fight day itself, I slept as much as I could. I was still adjusting to the time difference and waking up early, so after a good breakfast I went back to bed to sleep for a couple of hours while my manager and my team ran around sorting out last minute issues with my kit.
Finally, it was time to head to the venue. In the dressing room, I put my headphones on and focused on my breathing. It's still hours before fight time; I know from experience that it would be easy to burn too much energy too soon, leaving me exhausted by fight time.
The event was being shown on the TV backstage. Everything about the broadcast was familiar from years of watching the UFC. The music, the graphics, Bruce Buffer announcing the fighters, Joe Rogan's voice on the commentary. It felt strange to think that the event was taking place just metres away and that I was a part of it.
The early fights are on. I let my attention drift, catching brief exchanges here and there. At last, my hands are wrapped and I can start my warm up. As I start to move, working through the stages of the warm up, the routine and the training takes over. I shadowbox, then drill a few set pieces, finding my range and my timing. By the time the fight before mine comes on, I'm sweating and at last strangely calm.
I watch on TV as the referee stops the previous fight, and suddenly it's time to go. Burt Watson, the UFC's charismatic production manager appears, with his trademark call "Time to go to work! We rollin' baby!" (Burt calls everyone "baby"). I follow him out of the dressing room, and then find myself standing in front of a camera, my team behind me, waiting for my music to come on (Going Underground by The Jam). As I walk out to the Octagon, fans reach out to tag my hand as I pass. It feels like a long wait as Alexis walked out, and Bruce Buffer made the introductions. The noise and atmosphere from the crowd was electric. Then it was fight time.
The next 17 minutes are a blur. Both of us had our moments in what was a tough back and forth bout. Although it wasn't the result we'd hoped for, I knew it was a performance I could be proud of. It wasn't perfect, by a long shot, but this is a sport where perfection is elusive. Most important to me was that I'd given everything I could in that moment.
MMA was a sport that I took up as a personal challenge. I didn't start out with the intention of being a professional athlete, or fighting in front of millions of people. I was the nerdy kid at school who took up martial arts and now, somehow, I was fighting on the biggest show in the world; the first British woman to compete in the UFC. Thinking about that made my head spin, and at times it had felt closer to a dream than reality.
Slowly, over the few days after the fight, it all started to sink in and I could at last appreciate what I'd been a part of. The support both before and after the fight from friends and MMA fans here in the UK has been incredible. Life has now returned to (something close to) normal and I'm enjoying this chance to relax, spend a bit more time with my family, eat whatever I like and be thoroughly lazy for a few weeks!
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