Local fighter to compete in Bellator MMA bout next week
Tabatha Watkins, a 2012 Grayling High School graduate, is currently 3-0 in her mixed martial arts professional career
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Tabatha Watkins, a 2012 Grayling High School graduate, will be fighting in a professional mixed martial arts bout next week in Connecticut for one of the largest MMA organizations in the world.
Watkins, who’s 3-0 so far during her professional fighting career, will be competing in a bout held in Uncasville, Connecticut on Friday, February 15, during Bellator 215, a series that will feature several televised fights
– 7 p.m. start for the prelims and 9 p.m. start for the “main card” – on the Paramount Network.
Bellator MMA describes itself as “a leading mixed martial arts and kickboxing organization featuring many of the best fighters in the world,” according to www.bellator.com.
Watkins said Bellator is “the second biggest” MMA company to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Watkins said after she graduated from Grayling High School, she wanted to stay active – she played multiple sports for the Vikings – and she wanted to learn self-defense before going to college. Watkins discovered that she had a love for martial arts.
“I kind of got hooked on it,” she said.
Watkins trained at a few different places, learning wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, jujitsu, taekwondo, and muay tai.
(Watkins said muay tai focuses on “knee and elbow strikes.” Taekwondo focuses on kicks. Jujitsu is “ground fighting without strikes – chokes, joint locks,” Watkins said.)
Watkins had her first fight six months into her initial training, she said. She made her professional debut in February of 2017 in Southgate, Michigan. She won the bout by unanimous decision. Watkins has fought in two more bouts since her debut, and she is 3-0 going into the Bellator MMA event on February 15. Watkins competes in the Atom Weight division (105 pounds).
Watkins knows she will be a heavy underdog in her upcoming bout. She said her opponent is “a pretty big name. This is her Bellator debut as well.”
“I’m really excited,” Watkins said. “This girl is a lot more well known than me. I took (the fight) on two and a half weeks notice. I know I’m going to be something like a 10-1 underdog.”
“I’m ready to shock the world,” she said. “I’m confident I can pull it off.”
Watkins said getting into MMA was “life-changing for me, mentally, physically, spiritually.”
“It’s like my hobby and my therapy,” Watkins said.
She said her strengths are probably “striking and jujitsu,” although she’s won two of her three professional bouts with submission holds.
Watkins said a “typical fight camp” to prepare for a bout lasts six weeks. She trains four hours a day, five days a week. She said conditioning is a key component.
“You’ve got to be able to withstand a full fight, 15 minutes,” Watkins said.
(A bout is three five-minutes rounds.)
Watkins had to go the full 15 minutes during her professional debut.
“That one was a little rough,” she said.
Watkins ended her next two bouts early with submission holds.
“I’m in better shape now than I ever was,” she said.
Watkins said she goes through simulated fights at her training gym to make sure she’s conditioned enough to complete all three rounds if necessary.
“I could go the full 15 minutes if I had to,” Watkins said.
Diet is also a big part of fight preparation and training.
“Diet’s huge,” Watkins said. “It’s 75 percent of making weight.”
She gets help from a local nutritionist – Rich Ferrigan of Grayling Fitness Center – with regard to her diet.
Watkins said she had to drop 16 pounds for her last fight, but she had several weeks to do it. For this upcoming fight, she had to drop 10 pounds in two and a half weeks because she took the bout on short notice.
Watkins said the biggest challenges in the sport are mental.
“More of a mental stress than a physical stress. It takes a lot of dedication,” she said. “You have to be mentally strong.”
Watkins said “Fighter IQ” is “very important.” Due to the wide variety of fighting styles allowed in mixed martial arts bouts, the competitors have to be ready for anything.
“You have to be very aware of all the options. It takes a lot of knowledge,” Watkins said.
She said it’s important to have skill in all of it. Striking. Wrestling. Ground and pound. Submission holds.
“You kind of have to know them all as well as defend all of them,” Watkins said.
How does someone learn to defend against all of the possibilities?
“Just a lot of practice, being aware. I pretty much visualize every option, good and bad,” Watkins said.
Watkins knows being a professional fighter is a short-term career. How long is she hoping to go?
“I’ve said I would retire in five years. I don’t plan on making it my life career. I’ll do it until I decide I can’t,” Watkins said.
She has a few goals before completing her fighting career.
“Gain new life experiences. Meet new people in the sport. I do want to travel the world. I do want to get a world championship. I do want to fight for UFC,” Watkins said.
(Currently, the UFC does not have Watkins’ weight class, but she said “they are talking about” adding it.)
What will she do once her fighting career is over?
“I want to go into coaching, teach others what I’ve learned in the sport,” Watkins said.
One thing she’s learned?
“Never quit, no matter what,” Watkins said. “Chase your dreams and don’t give up when it’s tough.”