(PhatzRadio / MMA) — Female mixed martial arts over the past few months reached its highest level of attention in years, yet the sport’s most accomplished American woman was stuck in a holding pattern until last week.
“We went through probably seven or eight that I know of just for this fight,” says Tara LaRosa, No. 1 at 125 pounds in the Unified Women’s MMA Rankings. “Everybody at 125 or who has fought at 125 or is interested in 125 is busy right now and has either got a fight coming up or they’re under contract exclusively to someone else or they’re just not prepared to take it because of personal things going on.”
She recently signed a multifight agreement with Resurrection Fighting Alliance, which on Thursday announced a March 30 bout in Kearney, Neb. featuring LaRosa and unranked Kelly Warren. The difference in experience suggests a mismatch between LaRosa (20-2) — a pioneer of women’s fighting with a professional resume going back almost 10 years — and Warren (3-2), who’s been doing it for less than two. LaRosa will take almost anything she can get at this point.
Despite a resume unmatched by any female fighter in North America, LaRosa has had such a hard time getting match-ups at her ideal weight of 125 pounds that she’s been out of action for a year. It’s the second longest drought of her career, exceeded only by a 14-month hiatus caused by the demise of BodogFight’s operations in mixed martial arts.
As recently as two weeks ago, LaRosa thought she’d be facing a far more experienced opponent than Warren. But that plan fell through the weekend of March 3, so while Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate were tussling over Strikeforce’s 135-pound championship, a fighter with more wins than both of them combined was still wondering whether she’d have a bout in four weeks.
Some of the ranked talent at 125 pounds already committed to other fights in the near future or remain tied to other organizations. No. 2 Rosi Sexton fights for the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts. No. 3 Cat Zingano has an April 28 fight at the debut event of Invicta Fighting Championships. No. 6 Aisling Daly and No. 7 Jessica Eye will square off April 20 in Bellator Fighting Championships.
LaRosa might have an easier time finding opposition at the bantamweight limit of 135 pounds, the weight at which she competed for much of her career. Although she has beaten three fighters in the top 10 at bantamweight, LaRosa was undersized for the division, given that she’s small enough to qualify at 121 pounds in grappling tournaments.
Meanwhile, LaRosa can’t figure out why it’s been so hard to find an available foe at 125.
“It just seems to be for different reasons each time,” LaRosa says. “I don’t think anybody’s really afraid to fight me. I don’t think I’m someone that’s scary. I don’t knock people out. I don’t cut people. I don’t break limbs.”
That last statement has a slightly disingenuous tinge. Eight women in mixed martial arts would have suffered broken bones or badly damaged joints had they not submitted from submission holds applied by LaRosa, winner of several medals at international tournaments for grappling.
On paper, she should be able to do outgrapple her next opponent. Warren — a member of MMA’s hottest camp these days, Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M. — will go into the March 30 fight barely a month after suffering her second loss in a row.
On other other hand, staying busy might be preferable to LaRosa’s lengthy absence. While other women — including several that she has beaten — found fights in 2011, she spent much of the year bartending and working in construction to pay the bills. Until this month, LaRosa hadn’t trained MMA since last summer, she says.
LaRosa remains affiliated with the Philadelphia Fight Factory team that includes Bellator bantamweight titleholder Zack Makovsky. Though LaRosa speaks highly of the Fight Factory, she returned to training this month by going to highly respected coach Matt Hume’s AMC Pankration gym in Kirkland, Wash. for a change of pace.
“My timing, it’s starting to come back, but I’m really rusty,” LaRosa says. “My details are off. … What’s nice is, I’m adding some new things in. They say that sometimes when you take a lot of time off, sometimes your habits change and some of your bad habits can fall away, which is kind of nice.”
She believes she has to afford herself of opportunities while she’s still near her physical prime. At age 34, LaRosa doesn’t know how she has left as a top fighter.
“When I first started, a question that I was asked a lot was, ‘Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?’ ” she says. “I always said, ‘Fighting. I’ll always be part of the sport in some way or whatever.’ Now where do I see myself in another five or 10 years? I have no idea.”
The rise of younger fighters has LaRosa looking over her shoulder.
“It’s going to be an up-and-comer that takes me out,” she says. “Kelly’s a tough chick, from what I understand. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”