A few years ago the idea of women competing in professional Mixed Martial Arts seemed unlikely. The sport was in the midst of growing rapidly, but there did not seem to be any demand for female fighters. They were a novelty for small promotions to attract a curious crowd who had never seen two women fight. Some thing changed in the mindset of fans and promoters since then. Female fighters are no longer novelties. They stepped into the ring and proved to the world they are excellent athletes and fighters, just like their male counterparts. In many cases the female fights turned out to be more exciting than the male bouts.
One of the pioneers of women's MMA is Elaina Maxwell. Already a highly decorated San Shou veteran, Maxwell has fought in five MMA bouts, including a highly publicized battle with Gina Carano in December of 2006 for Strikeforce. She trains with Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le at the Universal Strength Headquarters in Milpitas, California. In addition to her Mixed Martial Arts fights, she competes in San Shou, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu events. She is regarded as one of the best San Shou fighters in the sport. In 2003, she became the first American (male or female) to win a gold medal at the World Wushu Games in Macau, China.
I am a big supporter of female fighters because I believe it is vital for the growth of the sport of MMA as a whole. The best way to attract new fans, fighters, and trainers is to appeal to different audiences. Since its inception, Mixed Martial Arts has been a male dominated sport and industry. Obviously, a sport run by men and supported by the performances of male athletes is going to attract a largely male audience. For MMA to continue on its current course, it needs to find ways to get women interested. In my opinion, the promotion of female fights is the answer. The UFC is still holding out, but hopefully in the near future they will see the possible financial opportunities and create a female division.
I know from past interviews you train primarily with male fighters/trainers. Do you think there will come a time when female fighters form their own training circles without men every where? Or, do you think there is an advantage to it and women would be nuts to lose the opportunity to primarily train with male fighters?
Females have already formed their own training circles, but men are more than welcome in these circles. I think it is smart to train with both genders and all levels. It makes you a better competitor to be able to train at all levels and with different body types.
When the UFC began, its purpose was to pit different fighting schools against each other to see which was the best. Right now the majority of MMA pro fighters use Muay Thai and BJJ. You practice San Shou and BJJ. What are the advantages to learning San Shou for pro MMA bouts over some thing more popular with the mainstream like Muay Thai?
I think Brazilian jiu-jitsu and boxing are winning fights. Kickboxing makes you susceptible for a takedown. When I was coming up in the ranks of San Shou, my style would always beat Muay Thai because I think San Shou is more versatile. However, since I intrinsically know both styles now, I can appreciate them while knowing the advantages and disadvantages of both.
What are some of the biggest obstacles women's MMA has to overcome?
I think the biggest obstacle is society's perception of women's MMA and women in general. Women are changing this [perception] every day in all industries. Bottom line, it's hard being a woman in a man's world, and I say this because there will always be roadblocks. It's what you do to avoid those roadblocks and how you react to them that helps you through the obstacles.
What's the worst injury you ever sustained in a fight?
I partially tore my meniscus.
How is the jiu-jitsu training going?
I am working towards my purple belt.
What upcoming fights/tournaments do you have?
I have a professional San Shou fight coming up on November 8th in Atlanta, GA at Art of War VII. I'm fighting for a title and I'm the co-main event. For more info, you can check out my calendar of events on my website at ElainaMaxwell.com.
Other than your training partners, are there any fighters you look up to and try to emulate?
Anderson Silva and Muhammad Ali. They are my favorite fighters. Anderson Silva is pound for pound the best fighter out there. He impresses me more every time I see him fight. I like his honor, respect, integrity, and humbleness in all that he does. In addition, I love Ali's confidence. It permeated in all his fights.
What's the most important thing Cung Le has taught you over the years?
USH! (Unlimited Strength and Honor)
You've said in the past you would never fight a man in an MMA bout, but if Dana White challenged you to fight with the stipulation that if you won, the UFC would form a women's division, would you kick the crap out of him?
No, it's a no-win situation.
Is it possible to ever get fighting and training off your mind?
Since you started in the fighting world, has it become easier for female fighters to get sponsors? For awhile, it seemed quite difficult.
Yes, it is easier. But, that's more my manager's job, not mine.
What would be more satisfying...Knocking out an opponent with one punch or submitting them from guard?
I've done both, so I would have to say a KO is much more exhilarating.
(For more information on Elaina, check out her website at ElainaMaxwell.com)