Alida Gray on Her WSOF Strawweight Title Fight with Jessica Aguilar: “It’s Not Going to Go to the Scorecards”
There’s an axiom in combat sports as old as fighting itself: “One punch can change a fight.” A single, solid connection can alter the trajectory of a contest, undoing every bit of contrary progress that preceded it. Sometimes the recipient of such a blow isn’t separated from their senses altogether; they merely are temporarily disconnected from their wits – “put on queer street,” so to speak. During this time, through artful evasion, they may be able to clamor back from the brink of defeat. Other times, however, the strike is so powerful or it connects so crisply that it is all over in an instant, the victor standing triumphantly over their opponent’s crumpled body.
In the fast-growing world of mixed martial arts, one punch can not only change a fight – it can change a career. Such is the case of Alida Gray, a former 1996 U.S. Olympic judo alternate who skyrocketed to notoriety earlier this year when her one-punch third round knockout of Soannia Tiem at 24/7 Entertainment 12: State of Emergency went viral back in late October. The world took notice. After picking up a second round TKO win less than a month later, World Series of Fighting came a-knocking, signing the surging 5’4” strawweight, and on January 18th, the 36-year-old Gray will carry her 4-0 professional career into the decagon when she faces #1-ranked strawweight Jessica Aguilar for the inaugural WSOF strawweight title.
In conversation, Gray is gracious, good-humored and open, displaying a level of introspection in her answers that suggest she is a person who tries, at all costs, to be honest with herself and, as a byproduct of that, with others.
Of course, I start off asking about the punch.
“I didn’t even know that the video had gone viral,” she says. “Some of my teammates and my coach had mentioned to me that the video had gone viral. I was blown away. I was surprised. But at the same time, I was excited that the video was being looked at by others.”
Was her knockout power something she consciously cultivated, something she worked on at the gym, or was it an intrinsic ability?
“We had worked on that overhand right for about two weeks,” she offers. “Going into the third round, my coach got in my face and he told me, ‘Throw the overhand right. It’s going to be there. She’s not going to move from that spot – she’s been standing in that same spot – so throw it.’ And I already had it in mind. When the bell rang for the third round I just tried to get as close as possible to her and I threw it and I made perfect contact and I felt it. I felt when I made perfect contact that she was out. I stood over her, I could see her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and didn’t dare hit her again because I knew she was done.
“As a professional athlete and MMA fighter, you want to be competitive and you want to win, to be successful, but at the same time I don’t want to kill anybody. It is a very brutal sport and – thank God – I don’t know if you saw any of the pictures, but I was on my knees and Soannia Tiem, she didn’t wake up. I prayed. I prayed that she would wake up, because I felt the connection from when I hit her. I heard the pop.”
Tiem did eventually wake up of course, and, if her activity on Facebook is any indication, the 1-1 fighter maintains an interest in the sport despite the first setback of her early career.
Both in her 4-1 amateur career and her unblemished pro career, Gray has never seen a judge’s scorecard and, though her punching power is pronounced in her three (T)KO pro victories, she’s collected her fair share of arms as well, winning thrice by the submission as an amateur and once with it in her pro debut. It was in her formative years that this aggressive style was ingrained in her mindset.
“I did judo growing up and my dad always told me to be aggressive and not let it go to the scorecards, to not let the fight go to decision, because if I did, I could lose,” she says. “That’s the mentality that I have now. I don’t want my fights to go to the scorecards, to have somebody else decide who the winner is going to be. I want to win, and I want to finish fights.”
Alida spent her formative years growing up in the Los Angeles area. When she decided she wanted to pick up martial arts, she initially was drawn to karate, however her father – a black belt in judo – steered her towards the discipline with which he himself had become enamored.
“He told me that I need to do judo first, that it was the foundation of martial arts,” she recalls. “Growing up in L.A., it’s not a safe city. It’s really rough and I wanted to do something to protect myself from the bullies and my dad enrolled me in judo.”
Now, years later, Gray – who had just begun her amateur career back in October 2010 – has blitzed through her opposition en route to a title shot after only four professional bouts. Her fight with Aguilar will be beamed into millions of homes. She is one fight away from being considered the #1-ranked strawweight in the world. Does it all feel surreal at times?
“From the moment that I got the call two weeks ago, it has been surreal, but I’m excited,” she says. “This has where I’ve wanted to be. It’s come really, really fast for me, but at the same time, I’m not young – I’m 36 years old – and I’m very happy that the ball is rolling for me. I’m really glad for all female MMA fighters that the doors have opened for us. There’s opportunity now for us to get it going and keep it going and I know that these young MMA fighters – Tecia Torres and others – they’re going to be the future. Tecia Torres is already making headlines, and she’s a great fighter. Every time I see her fight, she’s improving. I think I have about four more years left in my career and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Is she at all concerned with getting the “cage jitters,” being on national TV for the first time ever?
“I know I will, but I’m going to be in the zone, I’m going to be focused and it’s probably not going to hit me until after the fact, when I step out of the ring – or the next day,” she offers. “It’s all very exciting for me and I’m sure it’s going to be really exciting for Jessica Aguilar. Really, it’s going to be her first time on national TV also. I know she’s been over there in Japan – and those were televised – but the United States, that’s a big thing for us, and I’m really excited about it.”
For Gray, daily training involves an early one-on-one session with her coach, with whom she does cardio and game planning and a separate group training session with her teammates at Bushido MMA that involves the standard gamut of sparring, rolling and the lot. She also teaches physical education to kids from kindergarten through fifth grade. The older kids know she’s a fighter, as do their parents and the faculty at the school, and they are all extremely supportive. They younger kids, however, don’t quite understand, so she sometimes finds herself making up things occasionally to explain her appearance.
“Sometimes I’ll come to school with a black eye – ‘Coach, what happened to your eye!?’” she laughs. “And they’re gullible – ‘I ran into a pole.’ – ‘Okay!’ The older ones – the third, fourth and fifth graders – they know and they ask me about it. They Google my name and they’ve seen my fights on YouTube. They get really excited. Coming back to school on Monday after the fight, I know my principal is going to make the announcement and I heard some teachers are going to have a party at their house so they can watch my fight, so everyone here is being very supportive and my family is being very supportive.”
On January 18th, Gray will be facing Jessica Aguilar on what can fairly be her home turf, and “Jag,” who trains at American Top Team in South Florida, will likely enjoy the support of the attending crowd. Is Gray at all concerned with that?
“I don’t think it’s going to affect me,” she answers, dismissing the inference. “Ronda Rousey, this weekend, got a lot of boos and she made a comment that she competed in other parts of the world and she got booed there. So for me to fight in somebody else’s hometown is not going to affect me. That’s the experience that I have. I’ve competed all over the world – in Egypt, Cuba, England, Italy – and I wasn’t in my hometown in any of those places. The plus side of this is I love being the underdog because I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. People in Florida are going to be disappointed that that belt is going to come back to Texas. It’s going to be a fight, and it’s not going to go to the scorecards. That fight is going to end before the fifth round.”
Alida Gray and Jessica Aguilar will face off on the main card at WSOF 8: Gaethje vs. Patishnock for the inaugural WSOF women’s strawweight title on January 18th at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL. The preliminaries, which begin at 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT, will stream live on MMA Junkie. The main card will air on NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT. Click HERE for more information.
- Alida Gray
- American Top Team
- Combat Sports
- Jessica Aguilar
- martial arts
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Ronda Rousey
- South Florida
- Tecia Torres
- women’s mixed martial arts
- World Series of Fighting