Alex: Kali, could you start by telling everyone a little bit about yourself?
Kali: I’m a professional female MMA fighter competing in the strawweight division. I found fighting by accident while I was in college and wanted to stay in shape. I started out with fitness kickboxing classes, but wanted to train more. I remember looking over in another room and I saw students rolling around with pajamas on, and I thought...why not? My first day in Jiu Jitsu blew my mind, I was hooked. I continued to crosstrain in Kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu until my coaches asked me (bugged me) to compete. I finally caved and am currently on a 7 fight win streak.
Alex: Now, you have a pretty unique nickname, “Poptart”, what was the evolution of that nickname and how did it originally come about?
Kali: I blame everything on Instagram ;) Every fight camp I’ve had, I get crazy pregnancy type cravings for certain foods. Everything from golden raisins (weird) to pizza, fried chicken and waffles, and one was Poptarts. I posted so much about Poptarts that the name stuck. And now I currently have 20 boxes of Poptarts in my kitchen cabinets at all times.
Alex: You've been involved with mixed martial arts in some capacity for about 7 years now. Obviously, being a female in the MMA game presents some unique challenges. What would you say are the biggest obstacles as well as rewards you have faced since day 1?
Kali: The way it stands right now, women are still very new to the sport. I will always be a “woman” walking into the gym first, before an athlete. We’re featured in MMA shows almost as a sideshow of sorts which can be both frustrating and lucrative. I deal with every shade of sexism towards myself and my female teammates. Luckily you have the choice to surround yourself with people/coaches that focus on your athletic ability and support you in such a way that it makes it easier to deal with the small minded or ignorant people.
Training wise, I’ve found myself to be very picky with my training partners, making sure I am being pushed but not putting myself in a potentially harmful situation. Being not only a woman, but one of the smaller weight classes, I’ve had to push my pride down a bit and ensure I’m training smart rather than being stubborn. I work on it everyday J
The rewards are immense, this is one of the only sports that women can see paydays bigger than the men. While I selfishly think that’s pretty cool, it’s literally the last thing I care about. I’ve found that the personal journey, the way it’s shaped my life and proven to inspire other women to pursue their passion, is the main reason I’m getting out of bed 7 days week and busting my butt.
Alex: Strength & Conditioning is obviously a great tool to have in your toolbox as a fighter and it is something you have supplemented with along with all of your other training for quite a while now. If you look back to when you were first getting started, what would you tell the “younger version” of yourself about strength & conditioning?
Kali: START RIGHT AWAY! It’s been the game changer for me, makes me a better athlete, avoid injuries and keeps my weight in check. It’s also the few hours a week I get to do something just for me. I get to focus on myself and compete with myself rather than anyone or anything else. I love it.
Alex: Everyone has their kryptonite and I love asking the question of what your most hated and most liked movement or lift is in the gym. What are yours?
I have stupid strong legs-and it’s probably mental, but I could squat all day. I’ve just decided that’s my thing. Hate hate hate farmer’s walks. Hate them immensely and will only do them pouting and acting like a baby.
What would you say is the most grueling process of prepping for a fight?
Hands down the weight cut. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t understand how frustrating and fickle that scale is. When I’m done cutting, I shove my scale in the deepest, darkest, dustiest place in my house until I start the cycle all over again.
Who are some people in the MMA game that you really look up to?
Oh man, I’m going to be so biased here. I have to say Red Schafer. He’s 38 years old, still competing, still training full time in both Jiu Jitsu competitions and MMA. His story is an inspiration to me and he’s guided me through all of my professional wins. He’s competed on every level, including thee biggest stage in the world. Won and lost and has used his experiences to build an amazing gym. I’ve never seen him show up to coach in a bad mood, ever. He’s a positive leader, an inspiring coach and has made Martial Arts his lifestyle.
Kali, you've had a very successful career up to this point. Where do you go from here? What's next?
Just looking to win fights, grow and evolve as a fighter, surround myself with great people that care about me and good things will come. I truly believe that, whatever I pour my heart into will yield success, whatever that may be.
While being a strength & conditioning coach, it's very easy to get passionate about your athletes and what they do and jiu jitsu is something that I have grown to be passionate about and is something you are as well. What advice would you give to a youngblood like myself with jiu jitsu?
Enjoy the moments, even the bad ones. This sport teaches you so much about yourself and if you allow it to, it makes you better. Be patient, listen to your coaches and enjoy the ride.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself or other females or males just getting started with MMA?
Believe in yourself.