Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Ronda Gale: Dungeon Queen
My first real knowledge of Ronda Gale was watching her NAAFS fight with Marcia May. I knew of her before then, but before that fight, she was just another fighter to me. I began to take notice of her after hearing NAAFS matchmaker Nichole Long speak so highly of her. Nichole talked about her being willing to start so late in the sport, of her being a mom, working and training. Nichole used many ways of describing Ronda. My respect for Nichole made me more interested in finding out more about Ronda. So I went to the May fight interested to see Ronda fight.
That fight left me impressed for a variety of reasons. Leading up to the fight May talked trash, but Ronda was her normal humble self. Willing and content to do her talking in the cage. Early in the fight May appeared to have a tight choke, but it was tight only to the untrained eye. While May continued to try and get the and get the submission, sitting cage side, I could see Ronda was in no trouble at all and willing to allow her to keep trying and tire her arms out. As the fight dragged on, it became a stand up battle, which Ronda began winning by a wider and wider margin with each passing minute. As the fight ended, May was exhausted and Ronda kept throwing. Ronda won a decision. After the fight she thanked local stand out fighter Jessica Eye. I was unaware Jessica had helped Ronda for this fight. You can't help but to improve working with Jessica, and Ronda had improved. According to Jessica, "Ronda's biggest improvement is her confidence." She says Ronda is not just someone to train with, but also a friend who she "only wants to reach her goals." Jessica also remarked about Ronda's strength saying "Never met a girl at her size with that strength."
So it was decided. I wanted my next story to be on Ronda. So I set about making it happen. After some brief phone conversations we set up a date to meet at her gym, the Dungeon.
When I got there I had a brief conversation with Ronda, and then watched her train, led by Robert Greathouse and her husband Dan. I was very impressed with the entire gym. Not just Ronda, but everyone. It really came across as a family. Not a case of supporting and encouraging because it was the right thing to do, but because they wanted to. Ronda stood in there with the guys, and they treated her as one. Ronda refers to them as "a great bunch of guys" and she likes being treated as one of the guys and she "wouldn't want it any other way." Rob Greathouse says they are always talking about 'Ronda's testicles, which let's you know how they view her." Does Rob have to enforce that thought process? No! "I just instill the ideas..... they act those ideas out."
So what about that first day at the Dungeon? What was the training like? Intense! They worked hard, but also kept it lighthearted when it was needed. They paired off in the cage and worked a lot of takedowns and takedown defense. Also some cardio work was done. Constant encouragement from all. Rob and Dan giving instruction and encouragement, which was followed by the whole team. Ronda more than held her own, really impressing me with her takedown defense. Also, while being so much smaller than the guys, getting takedowns wasn't easy, but in a metaphor for her life, she kept working for it until achieving success. After the training I had the time to talk to Rob for a minute and was impressed. After that, I had a conversation with Ronda and Dan. Didn't take long for me to see why they are so liked by people in the local fight scene. We agreed I would come back another day.
While waiting to see when I would return, there became a problem finding Ronda an opponent for her next NAAFS fight. There are two reasons why it is tough to find opponents for her. First reason is her move to a lower weight class which has fewer fighters. But the biggest reason, to quote Nichole Long, "watch film on Ronda. Her record doesn't do justice to what she has become." How has she become so much better? "I attribute that to her switch in teams" says Nichole.
Ronda has been a fighter way before she got in a cage. But no matter how much of a fighter one is, they may not realize how good they are. She got started in the sport because of her husband Dan. Always at the gym watching the guys train she "fell in love with the sport." But that doesn't necessarily mean confidence either. As Jessica Eye said, her biggest improvement is her confidence. You can attribute that to the work ethic and her drive which Rob mentioned when saying "even if weight cut has her crawling with fatigue, she would go another round", or to her trainers at the Dungeon. While Rob calls Ronda her own biggest critic, the people at the Dungeon are her biggest supporters. And having her husband as a big part of her training helps. Dan is knowledgeable and pushes her at the gym and home. He may criticize, but in the end, she knows its for her improvement.
So, my next day at the Dungeon arrives. Still no opponent for Ronda. But Ronda and her trainers don't allow that to get in the way of training for a fight. This day they are doing different drills. Ronda, like the rest of the team works till exhaustion, and you can tell they enjoy every minute of it..... or as much of it as they can. As I sat there taking notes, a girl I do not know asked who I was. I informed her I was doing this story on Ronda. Her response was simply, "She is amazing." I left there hoping they could find Ronda an opponent.
As it got closer the the event, still no opponent. But I also knew that if anyone could get one, it would be Nichole. And I knew Nichole was trying hard. Would she try this hard for anyone? Possibly, but for Ronda you could tell she tried extra hard, because as she says, "I admire Ronda."
Day three at the Dungeon. Fight is getting close and still no opponent. But Ronda is training as if there is one. Working her ass off, wearing her sauna suit to help drop weight. I told her if anyone can get the opponent it's Nichole. You could tell she wanted to believe that, and somewhat did, but there was also the expected doubt since it was so close. Training on this night was heavily focused on boxing. Half were in the cage and half were in the ring. Ronda was with the group in the ring. As I watched, I did notice a couple things. First, I noticed her foot work seemed to be really improving. She looked more fluid, more natural. Secondly, she made me think back to when I was real young. A wrestler named Ole Anderson tried to always say he would take five hits just to hit you once, because his one would hurt more than your five. That was Ronda. She was persistent, took some shots, but willing to in order to get in there and deliver hers. During all this, the encouragement from others was amazing. people yelling from the cage to encourage someone in the ring and vice versa. That all goes back to what I said earlier, you could tell these people encouraged their teammates, not because they are supposed to, but because they want to.
Days before the show, I found out they had found an opponent for Ronda. A fighter named Holly Powell. A skilled opponent who would really test Ronda. So I was very excited about that. Fight or no fight, this story was being done, but obviously, a fight would make it better.
I arrived early as always on the day of the fight. One of the first people I saw was Ronda's husband Dan. He was in the middle of something but did acknowledge me. I also saw Rob and he shook my hand and said hi. Then Is aw Ronda. I had a conversation with her. You could tell just by the look on her face that she was happy to have a fight. She said she knew Powell would want to take it to the ground so she was going to keep it standing. This takes you back to Jessica Eye's claim that Ronda's biggest improvement is her confidence.
Self confidence is easy for some and hard for others. As someone who himself has long had confidence issues, I can tell you that sometimes what is need for you to have confidence in yourself, is for others to express confidence in you. Ronda has that now. Whether it be people who contributed to this story in Jessica Eye, Nichole Long, her coach Rob Greathouse, or her husband Dan, her team, and others in the local MMA community. Watching Ronda train, talking to her, and even watching her walk to the cage, you see confidence. You see someone who expects to win.
Time for Ronda's fight. My plan in covering the event was to be "professional" and not root. But as Ronda got in the cage I threw that out the window. How can you not root for her? So as loud as I could I yelled out "you got this Ronda."
Now to describe the fight, I could give you a round by round, blow by blow account, but it would get repetitive. Why? Each round was the same. Most of the round was standing with Ronda clearly getting the better of it. When Powell was able to get it to the ground, Ronda held her own, and in fact, in most instances, got the better of it. Now, don't get me wrong. Powell showed a ton of heart and put up a great fight while showing a ton of skill. Which tells you how impressive Ronda was in winning a split decision in the fight of the night. Not sure how it was a split decision as I had her winning all three rounds, but she at least got the well deserved decision.
The story of Ronda Gale is the story of a woman who has persevered, overcame and toppled all obstacles put in front of her. It is also the story of a wife, mother, worker, fighter and warrior. When asked to describe Ronda, the words people used were, honest, inspiring, dedicated, happy, driven, determined and confident. I am in a position where I often get told by someone how they secretly don't like another person or hear a lot of stories I am asked not to repeat in which a person is spoken of unfavorably. Ronda is one of the few that I never hear a bad thing about. My hope is young fighters coming up will learn from Ronda. Learn how to be professional, respectful, hard working and dedicated. The fringe fan may know the names Carano, Cyborg, Tate or LaRosa. But I implore that fringe fan to realize there is MMA that isn't broadcast on Pay-Per-View or movie channels. MMA organizations that are the heart and soul of the sport. Organizations where you will see fighters who are honest, inspiring, dedicated, happy, driven, determined and confident. But usually a fighter is one, two or occasionally three of those things. If a fighter was all those descriptive terms, then you could probably give that fighter another descriptive term. That term would be, special. In fact, there is no one word more fitting of Ronda Gale than the word SPECIAL