Current Invicta FC bantamweight champion Lauren Murphy has had a remarkable journey to that title. There is an excellent 5 part interview on Fightland with Aurora Ford that you can find here http://fightland.vice.com/blog/fights-in-every-direction—part-1 . It is a great read about her early life, the troubles she overcame and how she ended up in MMA.
There are also several Fighting Words interviews with her on Invicta FC’s site as well. In them she talks about a little bit about food. So, that is where we started this interview.
DW: What are your top three favorite dishes to eat? And the top three you like to cook for others?
Lauren Murphy: Pasta, and my momma’s home cooking are the top two. This is kind of weird, but my mom makes the best beef stroganoff on the planet. I could eat buckets of that stuff – but not any stroganoff, just hers, haha! I like bread a lot too and will pig out on fresh-baked bread. In all honesty, there just isn’t a lot of food I don’t like. It just depends on my mood.
For other people, I like to cook whatever they like. Sometimes it takes me a couple tries to really perfect a dish, but I like playing around in the kitchen and trying new things out. I used to run the kitchen at a treatment center and cooked in the industrial sized kitchen there for 50 people at a time a few times every day. It was a lot of fun. To this day, it remains one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had.
DW: What is your favorite after fight victory food indulgence?
LM: Well, since we usually end up at a waffle house or something at like 3 in the morning, it’s usually French toast or waffles! I don’t really have a specific thing that I completely eliminate from my diet during camp, though, so there’s nothing I crave so badly that I eat a ton of it after the fight. I am pretty careful to indulge a little here and there semi often so that I’m not tired, sore, emotional AND hungry during camp.
DW: You fight with what I would describe as an intelligent, violent, aggressive and fun-loving style. How are you able to blend the violent aggressive side with the fun-loving side? Are they a part of the same thing? Is the violence fun, the getting hit and hitting back? Is some of it tied to proving that you can take their best shot and still keep coming?
LM: Well, first of all, thank you. I love to hear that kind of stuff and my coaches will be flattered. One time around my second fight, I was walking out of the locker room to do my walk out to the cage. I had been nervous all day, and was tense and jumpy. My coach gave me a few extra reminders about what to do, and then he looked at me and said, “And above all, have fun. What else are you here for if you’re not going to enjoy it?” It was a great reminder to enjoy the moment.
Fighting in a cage is an awesome feeling. It’s very real and very surreal. I think lots of people want to experience that, and wonder their whole lives what it would be like to step in to a ring or a cage, and they never get to find out. It’s pretty cool to be a part of something that many people dream of and only a few experience. I also really like how anything can happen. Sometimes I do something in a fight, and I think, “Hey! I didn’t know I could do that!” That’s a pretty cool feeling, right? That would bring a smile to anyone’s face, to find out they are capable of more than they thought they were.
Hitting and getting hit is kind of fun, but it’s also part of the chess match. I like the mental aspect of fighting, and getting hit and realizing it’s not so bad is a big part of that. It’s such a relief to find out that the fear of getting hit is far worse than the act of getting hit.
DW: You adapt incredibly well and quickly during your fights. How much is what you see and making adjustments and how much is your coaches in the corner?
LM: It’s both. A lot of it up to this point has been instinct in the cage, to just react on the fly before my coaches can tell me what to do. That’s part of my job as a fighter, but I do train for anything and everything, so when a situation arises, I usually have at least one “go to” move from just about anywhere. My coaches are great about prepping me for the most likely scenarios, as well as anything else that may happen, so that adaptation is a lot easier because it’s something I’ve seen before. There have been a couple of times in between rounds my coaches and I have had some quick conversations about changing things up, but for the most part, if I listen to them as well as I can during the fight, and follow a game plan, then the fight tends to start going my way sooner than later.
DW: You have said in the past that your coaches tell you to do something and you do it during a fight. As simple as that sounds, not many people are able to do that during a fight. What is it that allows you to be able to implement it immediately during the chaos of the fight? Trusting them is obviously a big part of it but it is still a skill set that many seem to struggle with in the cage.
LM: Okay, I don’t know if this is good or bad, but this is what goes through my head. They’re the coach, so if they tell me to do something, it’s my job to do it. They’re the brains of this operation. If I do it, and it doesn’t work, then it’s their fault, and we’ll sort it out later.
The first time I clearly remember I was told to do something that I thought wasn’t going to work and I did it anyway, low and behold it worked, and I told my coach later, “If it hadn’t, I was going to blame YOU!” He just laughed and said that was fine. So from then on out, I just did whatever he said, and it’s never not worked. Turns out the dude knows what he’s talking about.
DW: You often seem like the Terminator in the beginning of your fights processing all the information of your opponent and then unleashing the right attack for that opponent. This is not to say that you start slow, in fact you are processing the information at a very fast rate and always figuring out a way to get the win. Essentially you are truly in the moment, focused on your opponent but aware of what is happening and once you have a sense of their timing, power and speed you start to impose your will. Is this accurate? If so how do you get in that state? If not how would you describe that process? Does the fight itself bring it out or is it something you bring to the fight? Do you have a running dialogue in your head or is it just knowing the right move and reaction based on your training?
LM: I do like to feel my opponent out, because I think at the higher levels of WMMA right now, that’s a smart move. In my first few fights, I did not feel anything out or take note of anything, and at that level, it worked out. But as my opponents have gotten tougher, I have taken the time to get a sense for the fight. That kind of “feeling out” has its advantages and disadvantages, just like anything else, and I know there are opponents out there where that process won’t be an option for me.
I don’t have a running dialogue in my head, for the most part. When I train, I do. When I fight, I don’t. When I fight, all the training I have done becomes instinct – that’s why I train so hard. Many times in fights there isn’t time to think.
DW: You also have shown tremendous durability and resiliency in your fights. You even seem to like getting hit a few times and have said it lets you know you are in a fight. How do you find joy in something that scares most people, the thought of getting hit?
LM: Haha, I don’t know. I guess in many ways, pain is really a mental thing. It many cases, as long as there is consciousness, pain can be compartmentalized. The adrenaline certainly helps, but it’s also a mental state where a decision can be made to deal with the pain later. The human body can take an amazing amount of damage – much, much more than we see in 99% of MMA fights and keep going forward.
I don’t really find ‘joy’ in getting hit, but when I get hit and it doesn’t hurt, to me that’s exciting. It means the fight is going to be good, because I won’t be afraid.
DW: Do you feel that by not coming from a particular discipline like wrestling, boxing, and etc. it has helped you develop a well-rounded style right from the start?
LM: It has helped me be well-rounded, and it has also hindered me in some ways. It sure would be convenient if I had just started a martial art when I was young, but that just wasn’t my path in life. I guess the upside is, it can be hard to fight someone who has a little of everything and, because I train so much, I feel like I am improving every aspect of MMA very quickly. Also, I have learned a lot about myself and really become a better person through all the hard work I have put in, and that kind of experience is invaluable. That’s really what’s important in life, more so than being good at a sport or winning or losing.
DW: Do you train specific techniques and disciplines based on opponent i.e. Muay Thai for Miriam Nakamoto, or do you just focus on getting better and stronger yourself?
LM: Both! Of course we look at tape and see what types of things my opponents are good at and what they like to do, and then we train for scenarios that will most likely come up in each fight. On top of that, I train everything all the time so that my weak points become my strong points.
DW: In the Nakamoto fight you initiated the clinch against her. Something that most people were not expecting based on her destruction of other opponents in clinch. What did you see that you thought you could exploit in this area?
LM: We did have a pretty specific game plan going into that fight. We watched tape and took note on some other things her opponents had tried to do and failed. I didn’t want to just stay at the end of her range, getting the shit beat out of me, because she’s a tall fighter and she hits like a mack truck. Also, I didn’t want to shoot on her because she is so dangerous with her knees, and shooting a double seemed like a great way to eat one of those bad boys. I think she was expecting me to shoot, but I would rather have kept my head as far away from Miriam’s knee as possible. So my coaches came up with a good game plan for me and initiating the clinch was a part of it.
DW: You said after the fight that Nakamoto hit you harder than you had been hit before. Was this something that you prepare for before the fight mentally? If so what were some of the things you did or did you rely on your toughness?
LM: What I meant was, she hit me harder during a fight than I had ever been hit before. The top 20+ hardest times I have ever been hit, have all been in the gym during practice. Sparring hard helps me get used to getting hit hard and keeping going, so once a week or so I spar pretty hard with some of my team mates under a coaches supervision. I work almost always with men, and depending on their size, some of them just let me have it. They are not there to seriously hurt me, but they do hit me hard. So that helps a lot, in terms of prepping mentally and physically. No woman has ever hit me as hard as I have been hit in practice, but Miriam did have a lot of power. I said later to some people on her team that she hits like a man. She hit me harder than any female has ever hit me.
DW: Speaking of your mental toughness, is that something that comes from dealing with the tough times of your past? Is it something that has always been a part of you and the fight just brings it out?
LM: That second question may be a question you have to ask someone else, like my mother or my husband. It’s hard to say, from the inside looking out.
As for the first part, I will say that I don’t consciously think about my past when I am in the gym. It’s one of the things I love so much about training and fighting. In a way, it keeps that stuff out of my head. I think about what’s right in front of me at that time. I think a lot of people take up a sport for that reason. I noticed when I don’t train for a period of time, I start to get really inside my own head, and resentments and regrets can start creeping in. When I train on a regular basis, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen.
So I would say, it’s the opposite of your question: My past hasn’t made me tougher in my fights, rather, training has actually made me more mentally relaxed than I used to be. I used to freak out a lot over small stuff. Now, it’s like, I’ve been crumpled into the corner of a cage twice a week while a grown man punches me….so being stuck in traffic or something, it’s really not a big deal.
DW: How much did the leg kicks bother you in the Nakamoto fight? Do you see yourself adding them to your arsenal?
LM: Any strike in a fight isn’t going to be exactly enjoyable, but I wasn’t in a ton of pain, either. They weren’t slowing down my movement, and my leg wasn’t bothering me when I put weight on it, BUT, I knew that just because it didn’t really hurt yet didn’t mean I could just stand there and take them the whole fight, because they do add up. Who knows? Maybe the next one was going to be the fight ender, so I was more frustrated with myself for not checking Miriam’s kicks than I was in pain. Like I said, the adrenaline helps a lot. In the third round, my leg buckled a little, and I thought “I have to check those,” and the next one she threw, I checked perfectly. I was pretty proud of myself for that. As far as adding them to my arsenal, I was thinking about it until I saw Anderson Silva wrap his leg around Chris Weidman’s shin.
DW: You seem to use your jiu-jitsu more defensively and to gain position. Do you enjoy hitting someone more than submitting them? Is it just a matter of taking what is there in the fight?
LM: I DO enjoy hitting people more than subbing them, although I am not against submitting people when it’s available. It depends on the position and what’s going on in the fight. Even in BJJ tournaments, I would rather keep a top position than go for a submission and end up fighting from bottom.
DW: Can you talk a little bit about what you think makes for a great fight? The kind of fights you seek and want to be a part of during your career. What kind of opponent brings out the best in you? Would rather have a five round war or the quick early first round KO? And why?
LM: Ha! That’s like five questions. Very sneaky! I would rather have a five round war with someone. That was what I wanted from the beginning. Isn’t that why we like movies like Rocky, and The Fighter, and all that crap? Because we like the idea of the underdog going to war and giving a fight hell with everything they have. Win or lose, it’s the epitome of courage, right? It tells the normal guy who has a dream, “Hey. Anything is possible.” Why would anyone want to watch a movie where some dude just comes in and knocks everyone out in the first round, faces the last tough dude, knocks him out right away too, and then the movie ends? We don’t want to see that. We want to see fights like Jones vs Gustaffson, Griffin vs. Bonnar I, Gatti vs Ward I. People love a dominant fighter, but they love underdogs too. We pay for fights because we want to see two people with heart and courage in there pushing themselves past what was thought possible. The best opponents for me are the ones that are just above my skill and experience level. They force me to be the best I can possibly be. I have to train hard and do my best to rise to the occasion, and I like to think, I usually do.
DW: What are your three favorite fights you have watched?
LM: Gatti vs. Ward I, Griffin vs. Bonnar I, and one of my newest favorites, Javier Vazquez vs Alberto Crane, in King of the Cage in 2003. If you’re reading this, and you haven’t seen all those fights, I suggest you get on the YouTube and the Fight Pass and the whatever else to go check them out. ESPECIALLY Vazquez vs. Crane. So good.
DW: As a fighter you inspire people especially with your personality and your fighting style and have embraced that role. Who are some of the people who have inspired you? Do you feel some responsibility knowing that others are looking to you for inspiration? If so does that actually inspire you during the tough times?
LM: I don’t really think about it. If I am going to be honest with myself and everyone else, the truth is, there are fighters out there with much, much tougher lives than I ever had, that have clawed their way toward their dreams with less than what I had. So some days, I don’t really understand why anyone would make a big deal out of my story. It’s a little weird to me and in some ways I think it’s a disservice to the ones who have really faced worse shit and rose above it.
On the other hand, my purpose in life, I believe, is to help others and live the best I can, as I think God would have me. So if that’s by doing this for right now, then that’s what it is. If it’s inspiring to some people, I am not going to tell them, “Hey, knock it off. Find another role model.”
During the tough times, I don’t really think of others. During hard training, when I can’t push another minute, I think, “Is this going to kill me?” The answer has always been no, so I keep pushing. When I’m lonely and tired and want to quit, I think, “If I quit now, will I be able to live with myself and my decision in a year? Five years? Ten years?” The answer has always been no.
DW: You seem to have a love/hate relationship with training. It is obvious that you put the work in during your training. You continue to rapidly evolve as a fighter and your cardio has been insane but you have commented that the training itself sucks and the fights are awesome. How do you find the motivation on the tough days and times of training? Is it just a need and desire to get better? Does your opponent matter when you train?
LM: On the tough days of training, usually the problem is that I miss my family so badly I can barely stand it. Then I think, if I am going to be here, away from them, I am not going to waste a single second. It’s a disservice to them. That is pretty motivating to me. Also, like I said, I wouldn’t be able to watch another female fight and live with myself if I quit just because I was feeling lonely one day.
When I am in camp, and have an opponent, it’s much easier to get motivated, because I know my opponent is training. I made a decision that if I was going to do this, I was going to give it my all, so I am not going to let anyone out work me. If it’s someone I think I can beat, I don’t want to slack off and take it easy because I can, I want to work even harder so that I can make a statement during my fight. Sometimes, I train something and I know I might not necessarily use it in the fight I am lined up for, but I might use it in the next fight, so I better get good at it now.
DW: @menoone71 on Twitter (as do we all) wants to know how you got so friggin’ awesome?
LM: Same way you get to Carnegie Hall 😉
DW: You talk about alcohol being like a returning home for you the first time you tried it. In many ways MMA has replaced the negative addictions in your past. What was that first BJJ class like? How was is similar and/or different from the first time you tired alcohol?
LM: I don’t remember my first class all too well. I think there was another new girl there and she showed me how to do some of the warm up exercises. It’s so important to be kind to the newer students! I remember early on we learned an arm bar from guard and I thought that was really cool. I had never wrestled or anything, so I had no clue how to move or what the point was, but I knew I was strong, and I had a desire to be good. It was a great workout and it made me feel good. I wanted to be able to move, and control people and submit them, the way the higher belts were. I thought then, and I still do, it’s a very beautiful sport. That’s a little different from my drinking, because there was nothing beautiful about that.
Jiu-jitsu was one of the first things in my life I was willing to be bad at in an effort to get better. Everything else in my life, if I was bad at it….I would usually quit it right away because I hate being bad at stuff. But jiu-jitsu, I was willing to be bad for a while. I don’t know why. It was different from alcohol in that regard, because I thought I was great at drinking (I wasn’t). I loved to drink and party, and I felt like, that’s where I fit in and where I could be normal. BJJ was different in that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I was naturally competitive and I wanted to get better. One way MMA and BJJ helped replace some negative addictions in my life was because I wanted so badly to be good. When I first started MMA and BJJ, I still drank and smoked and took pain killers a lot. Some weekends, I started staying sober because I wanted to be able to work out the next day. It wasn’t in and of itself the thing that got or kept me sober, but it was, and still is, a good reason. I have other reasons now, and I don’t think BJJ/MMA keeps me sober, but it was a good starting point.
DW: Your career has been almost an accidental one from that first class to your first fight which was over quickly. Then because it was over so quickly you took a second fight and because you kicked that woman’s ass so bad her friend, the champ, called you out. What about each one of those steps help you fall in love with the sport more? What did you learn about yourself during the journey that has surprised you the most?
LM: It was pretty accidental, haha! But I fell in love with seeing hard work pay off. I didn’t know that was possible. I had this idea, people were either born champions, or they weren’t. I didn’t know you could work and really achieve anything, I think that deep down, I thought that idea was for fairy tales or something. I thought exceptional people were raised from an early age to do exceptional things, and if you weren’t born into that, and didn’t have a family that could help you with that, and you didn’t get an early start on all that, then it wasn’t going to happen. So I loved finding out that I could work hard for something and then watch it pay off. I have also become much more okay with people disliking me. I try not to take anything personally. The lesson, “it’s none of my business what other people think of me”, has really been drilled home.
On top of that, it’s given me other things too – it’s shown me how to lose and win with grace, to take responsibility for myself, calmed me down, and made me be a better friend.
DW: Watching you fight one gets the sense of watching someone do what they are meant to do. You seem to enjoy the whole experience from the walkout to the actual fight itself, even getting hit. Do you find a kind of peace within the fight itself? Do you feel like you are where you are supposed to be at this point in your life? Could you have envisioned in your wildest daydreams sitting in the parking after that first jiu-jitsu class that four years later you would be a three-time champion and current the bantamweight champion of the premier WMMA organization?
LM: I do feel like, right now, this is where I am supposed to be. I don’t know why, but I suppose that’s not really my business. The day it changes, and I feel like I am being called in a different direction, then I will go that way. Anything is possible. I am one of those kind of people, where I think there is a plan for me. I’m doing my best to be a part if it, so I just wake up every day, do my best. I believe that’s all the universe needs to do it’s job. Look, this, it’s really just crazy, when you think about it. I saw a comment the other day on social media, someone said that I’m “not very good”, they meant I am not a good fighter. I thought, good enough for what?
Just a few years ago, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, trying to find a way not to blow my own head off or stick a needle in my arm. I had never played any sports AT ALL prior to beginning MMA training. I had never even seen a UFC. Now, a few short years later…I’m clean and sober, I live a fantastic life where I get to live the dream every day and share it with awesome people. I get to compete in one of the biggest stages in my sport. I’ve fought on TV, I’ve fought on pay per view. I’m ranked in the top ten. I am 8-0 with six finishes, all TKO’s, I hold three championship titles, one of which is a world championship. I have a great team, family, and lots of friends. People write to me sometimes and tell me I inspire them or their daughters, sometimes young ladies tell me they want to be where I am at one day. Can you imagine? Me! I am really a nobody, I came from nothing. Nothing. I was a sorry ass addict with no hope. And in four years, I have come all this way, worked hard, and achieved more than anyone, anywhere, including myself, thought possible. I’d say that’s actually pretty good.
It is her attitude of looking at herself as just a regular person that has help foster a strong connection to her fans. She has been open and honest about her struggles and that is something that people can relate to in their own lives. It is inspiring to see someone pick themselves up and through hard work achieve dreams that they did not know they had.
It is amazing that someone without a pedigreed background finds herself holding her third championship belt after just four years in the sport. She has recently been called out by Cris Cyborg one of the biggest names in the sport. They could be heading towards an epic showdown this summer.
Currently there is a documentary on her life in the works. It arose from a couple of filmmakers reading the Fightland piece and they wanted to bring her story to the masses. You can find their Facebook page here: Lauren Murphy Documentary, for more information about the project.
This was conducted before her latest Fighting Words interview on Invicta FC came out. There is a great interview conducted by Stacey Lynn for WMMA Jam Live where she addresses her comments, and some of the responses to them. You can find it here: WMMA Jam Live 21. Lauren starts at about the thirty-four minute mark.
You can, and should follow her on Twitter @LaurenMurphyMMA and of course she would like to thank the following:
I’d like to thank my husband, first and foremost, for supporting me and loving me. Also my close friends and family, people like Aurora and Leonard, they inspire, comfort, and advise me all the time. My team at Gracie Barra Katy for putting up with me and helping me further my career, I am so indebted to that team and to my coaches, I don’t know how I’ll ever thank them enough. Thank you for everything, guys! And my manager, Chuck Wichert, he’s been great to me and I am so glad I signed with him.