Finding Your Strength By Taking Control - Advice from MMA Pro Grace Cleveland

By Sharon Braso Lewis

I feature a lot of kick ass Lady Lifter Women, but this is the first time I have featured a woman that can actually, literally, with out a doubt, for real … KICK YOUR ASS. But, as she explains, "MMA is not just physical toughness, but a mental sport...Your mind has to work under stress, anxiety and fatigue.” She encourages women to try Mix Martial Arts because "It could change your life. I always tell myself this, it is not why, but why not? I think it is good to dare yourself in life or you are not really living.” She talks more about her journey here:

How did you get into this sport?

When I was 17 years old I saw some sort of mix martial art fights live on television and I was automatically drawn to it. Then I saw Michelle Waterson who is now a UFC fighter on this old show called "Bully Beat Down". I saw her and thought to myself, "if she can do it I can also.” After realizing that women could compete in this sport, I decided to take action.

When did you realize you wanted to become a professional fighter?

I realized the moment it was in my head. I just knew that that was what I was going to do. I was determine and had my mind set on finding a way to reach my goal.

Who or what do you attribute to your success?

I feel everyone that has been part of my journey in the past has helped me out. I also have a "never want to quit" attitude. I have definitely had my ups and downs. One of my biggest challenges was searching for a gym that I felt was right. Before I went to FactoryX I was trying different gyms. It was important for me to find which one was best for my career. I always played sports and was active as a child, but I never lifted much. So jumping to MMA I had to start lifting and working out more. It transformed me and made me healthy and mentally strong. It changed my life. I am grateful for all the coaches, teams and teammates in the past as well as now that have helped me with my success. I feel going through rough stages, finding yourself, knowing right from wrong really makes you a stronger and more successful person. I believed in myself. No matter what people told me I was going to keep pushing. I think having those traits makes you a good fighter. My coach, Marc Montoya, who owns FactoryX welcomed me in and trained me. He believed in me when most didn't take me seriously. Training with my teammates everyday makes us family. We see each other all the time. Watching one another transform into a better fighter day by day is what brought me to the level I am now.

What is your favorite submission move and why?

My favorite submission move, I guess, is an Armbar. I win most of my fights by submissions and armbar is what I always end up with. I have a best friend Name Jennifer Perez who is a Purple belt out of Easton Training Center. She has taught me tons of moves and she has always told me to go for the arm. They will always give you an arm. I believe it is true, though, in situations when people are pressured and flustered they tend to throw their arms out or forget to protect their arm. It is a basic move you learn, but I am a firm believer that simple and basic is always important. The fancy moves are great, but if you are giving up control and dominating positions to get something that isn't there then it is a waste and you end up putting yourself in the danger zone. Like I said, MMA is not just physical toughness, but a mental sport because you have to think quick and use what you learn in a cage where some else is putting pressure on you all the time. Your mind has to work under stress, anxiety and fatigue.

Describe how your training is organized.

We have a schedule Monday through Saturday morning. Monday we have 30 mins of cardio and pad sessions. Later at 5:30 we have Muay Thai with the head coach Marc Montoya. The team is always welcome to do extra classes at 7 pm to 8pm. Those are the open classes for people who aren't on the team or want to try out the gym. They come in and do either Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu. Tuesdays and Thursdays we do our strength and conditioning at Landow's Performance. Located on 7094 S Revere PKWY, Centennial, CO . I would recommend this place to anyone who wants to work out and train as an athlete in any sport. Probably one of the best places to train at because of the high level of knowledge they have on athletes and what they need to perform their best. Tuesday morning we have striking and at night we have Judo. Wednesday we have cardio and then wrestling/ light sparring. Thursday night we have jiu-jitsu and Friday we just spar. Saturday is open mats so you pick either Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu and then we do cardio. Sunday is rest day.

How can you tell a good fighter from an amateur?

You can tell someone is a good fighter when they are calm and technical in the cage. They can hear their coaches and do what is told at times. They know how their body moves, what angles and their striking and takedowns. They can setup up their striking and takedowns to submissions. And they know how to pace themselves in rounds.

What is going through your head before a fight? Do you have any rituals?

I actually think about nature and the outdoors. I only think of training when I am in the gym. I go in the gym and train my butt off, but when I am out I relax and I don't try to over think stuff and just keep calm. I tell myself I am ready because I am prepared. I train everyday and I know when I step in the cage I will fight. I believe, in life, you need a balance or you can go crazy. So I balance my life with training and nature. I tell myself to have fun before I fight and that it is 3 rounds and 5 mins each total of 15mins of your life. I wake up and go to my best friend Kayla's house in the morning and she braids my hair every fight. She makes me oat meal with pecans in it and coffee. Then I get my fight gear on and go to the the venue and wait. 4 fights out till I fight we start to warm up in the back.

What are some advantages of doing MMA that you want women to know about? If they are not interested in competing, what else can they get out of doing MMA?

The advantages of doing MMA for women is self empowerment. It is a great way to learn to be able to handle yourself in situations if you are in danger or if you need to control your emotions. MMA is a great stress reliever because it teaches you how to control your emotions and put your ego or pride to the side. Having the power teaches you to be humble and confident. You learn that you don't need to act out because you are in control. It's great cardio and builds your endurance for outdoor activities. It also helps with social confidents because you are in a group and most MMA gyms are friendly. Most MMA gyms provide an environment where people want to teach and help each other out. The gym becomes a family and you make friends. Everyday you are learning, not just MMA skills, but about yourself, as a person. I think everyone should give it a try because it isn't just one sport, but a mix of all martial art sports. It could change your life. I always tell myself this, it is not why, but why not? I think it is good to dare yourself in life or you are not really living.

What do you enjoy doing outside of training or fighting?

I enjoy nature!! I love hiking, fishing, swimming, camping, biking, climbing, snowboarding, surfing or whatever outdoor activity, you name it. I don't keep my mind on one thing, but many. There is a ton to do outdoors and so many beautiful places to see. I prefer to spend my time and money outdoors any day. I like learning to do new things and I feel exploring and surrounding yourself with nature is another way of being intune with your body, mind and soul. By doing new things and teaching yourself new things, you exercise your mind. By feeding your brain with information through books or hands-on learning, you grow as a person and appreciate life. I love nature and I can't wait to keep exploring!!!

How can poeple find you?

You can find her here:
FB: Grace Cleveland
Instagram: @Thai_kitten