Interview with South African WMMA Trailblazer “The Surgeon” Santa-Marie Venter
Witbank, South-Africa-born women’s bantamweight fighter “The Surgeon” Santa-Marie Venter is making history on January 18th. In her U.S. debut at Shooting Star Casino in Full Nelson Promotions’ Ground & Pound: USA vs. South Africa, the 31-year-old will be breaking ground as the first South African female mixed martial artist to ever compete stateside.
Currently training out of Gorilla Warfare MMA in Johannesburg, the 5’8” Pretoria resident – who holds a 2nd Dan in Karate – will be taking on 5’4” Tennessee submission fighter Madeline “Madhatter” Simmons Kidder, who will be looking to rebound from an armbar loss she dropped back in April.
Venter is equally as deft with a scalpel as she is with her fists and feet. “The Surgeon” is not merely a nickname indicating the precision in which she is able to pick apart her opponents in combat; she sees the inside actual operating rooms on a daily basis. Many would assume that balancing two such different and demanding interests would be more than enough for anyone, however that just begins to scratch the surface when it comes to this truly fascinating human being.
I was able to track Santa-Marie down ahead of her big fight in Mahnomen, Minnesota, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions on a variety of topics including the similarities she finds between her two primary interests, training in the Japanese art of NInjitsu, her involvement in the dating scene and how she manages everything while also pursuing a law degree.
JS: First, let’s get the obvious question out of the way – you got your nickname, “The Surgeon,” due to your being an actual surgeon, right? I heard in an interview you participated in that you are about one year’s studies removed from being permitted to practice orthopedic operations. Is that correct?
SMV: I did specialize in orthopaedic surgery for 3 years. Due to various reasons, I decided to postpone my specialization. I am one year and one exam away from having my Masters Degree in orthopaedic surgery. I still have surgery lists 3 times a week where I work with one of my friends who is a qualified orthopaedic surgeon.
What do you make of the unusual dichotomy you present, being both in the hurt business, as a fighter, and in the healing business, as a person of medicine? How do you reconcile the two?
Doing MMA and surgery or trauma work is not that far removed from one another. You need to think on your feet, make quick decisions and have the confidence to know that you are doing the right thing. If, however, you make one mistake in either, it can have devastating consequences. I have a deep seated passion for both medicine and martial arts. Both teach me valuable life lessons on a daily basis.
You are making your United States debut on January 18th, having the honor of being the first female fighter from South Africa to represent her country stateside. Does that bring with it any additional pressures, and if so, could you tell me about some of the things that have been on your mind?
Excitement has predominated my mood. With more than 500 karate fights under my belt, I am so used to competing that I don’t really get nervous or feel pressured. This will be a phenomenal experience, regardless of the outcome.
Your opponent, Maddy “The Mad Hatter” Simmons, is touted as being something of a submissions specialist. Being as you come from primarily striking-based disciplines – Karate and Ninjitsu – what changes have you been making in your training to shore up your grappling and takedown defense? Have you enlisted your brother’s help at all? I’m aware he competed in the sport…
My brother was a national wrestler. They have a newborn in the house, so I wouldn’t dream of bothering him for help right now!
Marc Hebert is my coach and he is a BJJ black belt from the Machado-Will lineage. Him and our assistant coach, Graham Edwards, as well as my sparring partner Jessica Hill, have made sure that all bases are covered.
Going back to your martial arts training, can you explain a little the differences between your two main traditional disciplines, how they differ from one another, how they compliment each other and how you have applied the two to your overall MMA game?
Karate has been my main Martial Art. They use a point scoring system in competitions and only semi-contact is allowed. This has taught me to have excellent distance control, hand and foot speed and self-discipline.
Ninjitsu was very different. This is the traditional Japanese art of stealth, camouflage and espionage – basically “ninja training”. The conditioning in this discipline is extremely tough. Movement is key and the element of surprise is always favoured. I also had to do a fair amount of weapon training. Unlike karate, this is a full-contact, fight-or-die discipline. It made me extremely tough and taught me to focus my energy where it is needed.
I believe you first began your mixed martial arts training at Shido Fighting Systems, but since 2013 you have been calling Gorilla Warfare your home. Why the move? I’d have assumed that you’d be reinvigorated following your successful “Fighter’s Test” attempt at Shido…
I was with Shido for 2 years and received excellent training. Out two main coaches, Arno and Ian Pienaar, decided to leave the gym due to personal reasons and that is why I left as well. After Shido, I joined Team Mayhem to sharpen up my submission wrestling. I did my stand-up training at Legends Arena. My striking coach moved to Cape Town and my wrestling coach retired from MMA. I had pretty much given up MMA due to the lack of amateur female fight availability. When I had my first amateur fight, I was not affiliated with any gym and had not trained for 4 months. I met my current coach, Marc Hebert, at this event. I was at Gorilla Warfare 2 weeks later and realised that I had found the gym and coach I’ve been looking for all my life.
The time restraints on someone pursuing a degree in any sort of medicine are incredibly strict. Likewise, in the time leading up to a fight, your training regimen increases multifold, both in repetition and intensity. What are some of the ways in which you wind down and keep yourself from going crazy?
Everybody always asks me where I get the time. Truth be told- the more you do, the more you WANT to do. If that means sacrificing sleep, then that’s what you need to do. I train at 6 a.m. three times a week and 6 p.m. four times a week. I work from 8:00 to 17:00, and I’m currently busy with a Masters degree in sports Medicine as well as my LLB degree (Law). And I still have time to socialize with my friends, see my family and watch TV from the comfort of my couch! I meditate daily and do a fair amount of reading to nurture my spiritual needs.
Let’s say that, after your fight on January 18th, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along, opening doors for you in the sport that you’ve only dreamed of, but the catch is that you will have to give up your dream of becoming a surgeon. Do you go for it?
I have already put the surgery specialization on hold, so this answer is a no-brainer. Once you are a qualified doctor, you remain that forever. Fighting as a professional for 5 years or so would be an opportunity that I would grab with both hands. When that part of my life is over, I just simply go back to being a doctor.
I’m sure that you’ve had a few friends and loved ones express their concern to you regarding your safety and the risks involved in competing in MMA, specifically risks that could impede your chances of becoming a surgeon. What do you offer them as consolation? Do there exist any concerns in your own mind?
Injuries are a reality and unfortunately they cannot be ignored. My family is well aware of all the risks involved in MMA, but they have supported me in all my contact sport endeavours over the years. This isn’t any different. I am a “live in the moment” kind of person and believe that everything always happens exactly as it should. Worrying about what the future holds does not exist in my life!
Considering all you have on your plate at the moment, do you have any time to pursue social involvements? In other words, are you active in the dating scene? If so, what are some things you wish your suitors understood about you and why it is you do what you do?
I do go out with my friends quite often and enjoy socializing. Presently, I prefer having a bunch of friends. If there is someone special that draws my attention, then so be it. And honestly – when I meet someone I really like, I try to not bombard them with my crazy lifestyle in the first couple of dates. I’m independent, dynamic and a tad crazy – most men find this intimidating. All I have to say about that is: I am just a normal person like everyone else. Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance!
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like people to know – a parting message for our readers?
The mind is everything. What you think, you will become.
“The Surgeon” Santa-Marie Venter will be facing Madeline “Madhatter” Simmons Kidder in the main event of Full Nelson Promotions’ Ground & Pound: USA vs. South Africa at Shooting Star Casino.
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