Posted 03/12/2012 by admin in Michelle in Charge

Women of MMA

MMA Referee Michelle D. Drake shares her experience and thoughts after meeting Kim Winslow and Danielle Curzon recently in Reno, Nevada, the weekend of February 17th, 2012.












I blame my eldest daughter for getting me into Mixed Martial Arts. Check that, maybe blame isn’t the right word, hold her responsible is more like it! Furthermore, if it weren’t for Kim Winslow (first female MMA referee working in the UFC), I wouldn’t have turned an obsession into a career choice… that is to become a Referee and Judge in Mixed Martial Arts.

For the past two years, Kim and I have been emailing each other and we’ve always talked about meeting in person ‘one of these days.’ A mutual friend of ours, Danielle Curzon (UK’s first female MMA referee) was planning a trip across the pond to attend Herb Dean’s referee training course, in Pasadena, California. So, it just seemed that ‘one of these days’ was upon us! The three of us decided to meet in Reno, Nevada and as it turned out that Kim was working an event in Reno (Ultimate Reno Combat 31) and wanted us to ‘shadow’ her.  We would then get together to talk about MMA, our roles as women in this sport, and just some good old fashioned girl talk. It was grand!

When I arrived at my hotel/casino resort, where the event was taking place, I called Kim to come pick me up and then we would head over to meet up with Danielle. I saw Kim drive up and my heart was racing! Finally, I got to meet one of my mentors and a woman who had become a good friend, albeit through email and texts messages. We drove to Danielle’s hotel and the three of us had our hellos and hugs then the ‘fun’ went from there!

Kim had arranged for a radio interview for the three of us, so we headed to a private conference room for the next hour and did the radio show. Hear it here:

After the interview, we had dinner and talked for the next several hours and ended up closing the place down. It’s always great to talk to fellow ‘refs’ and get their opinions, points of view, and share  stories. But it was especially nice to sit with fellow refs that are female that experience the same issues that I’ve experienced with in regards to sexism, cat-calls, fears, etc. The three of us became close friends and we found the conversations flowed quite easily and transitioned seamlessly.

Kim was very helpful in guiding Danielle and I in our respective directions and she filled our brains with more than enough information.  It hit me about half way through our radio interview how deeply honored I was to be a part of this history in the making. THE three female MMA referees leading the charge for other women in a male dominated sport. It’s important to note there are two other female MMA referees, one in Tennessee the other in Indiana. Kim, Danielle, and myself together, finally in one spot.

Here’s what I took away from this weekend with these extraordinary ladies: While it is a huge honor and a big deal with what I’m doing and who I am (I’m huge in my own mind), it’s very humbling. We’re in a ‘fishbowl’ as female MMA referees. As I’ve said, our male counterparts can hide under the radar, while we don’t have that luxury. People forget that dude’s name if it’s not Herb Dean, Mario Yamasaki, Big John McCarthy, Josh Rosenthal, or Dan Miragliotta. NO ONE forgets the ‘chick’ with the long braid or the bright red hair!  And they refer to us as ‘that chick ref…’ All eyes are on upon us at every event we officiate, if only to pick us apart or add to that we’re being watched. Sitting cage-side doesn’t shield us from scrutiny either. Other women are watching our actions, whether they’re wondering if they can do what we do or to criticize how we do our hair. It doesn’t matter why we’re being watched, we must be on top of our game and stay professional at all times.

I love this sport like no one’s business. It’s literally become an obsession, much to my husband’s chagrin. I’m in it for the long-haul and am so thankful there are ladies like Kim and Danielle that love and respect the sport as much as I do. I very much look forward to the day when another woman contacts me and asks how she can get licensed and then watch her grow in the sport. Even more, I’d love to work with one of my ‘mentees!’ So let the questions begin! I take inquiries from men too!!

In closing, it was with the greatest of gratitude that I thank my eldest daughter for turning me on to Mixed Martial Arts and being patient with me while I was learning about it and asking her tons of questions. Had it not been for her, I certainly wouldn’t have a love for MMA or even be involved in martial arts at all. I ask you fine folks keep her in your thoughts and prayers for she is serving our country in the US Navy over in Japan.  Thank you.