Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lettia Suchevich: Old School MMA

I am no professional writer. I don't write to make money. I don't write in the hopes of having some literary career, or for any other reason like that. I write simply to help get the stories of some incredible people out to the public. So, how do I decide who to do the next story on? Well, I needed to find someone who was worth reading about. Someone who is talented, or interesting, or inspiring or influential with her fellow fighters. I was deciding which fighters qualified as on of those things. Then I realized I knew someone who is all those things. Her name is Lettia Suchevich. My choice in Lettia was confirmed as a good one from other fighters as well as NAAFS matchmaker Nichole Long. When the idea of this story was first starting, there was a fight tentatively scheduled for the NAAFS in June. That fight, for whatever reason, fell through. But that did not make me even consider not doing the story. This was not planned as a story on Lettia Suchevich the MMA fighter. It was on Lettia Suchevich the mother, tattoo artist, teach..... and fighter. I called Lettia talented, interesting, inspiring and influential with fellow fighters. Let's break those down.

Lettia is talented. Her 3-0 record tells you that. But the record is just the beginning with Lettia. Lettia gets in the cage and displays a real skill set, a skill set that is far and above what you would expect from someone with three fights. Lettia knows how to fight to entertain, but doesn't do it recklessly. As matchmaker Nichole Long says, Lettia "surprises the crowd.... the minute that age door shuts she becomes a killer."

Lettia is interesting. Interesting in a good way. Her story is one that people can associate with and enjoy hearing about. Look, I drove three hours to visit with her for this story. Surely I wouldn't do that for someone I don't find interesting. This is a short paragraph because I don't have to list why she is interesting. That will come out throughout this story.

Lettia is inspiring. She has made a life of overcoming and conquering obstacles, or as Lettia says, having "so many little victories". Things like getting out of what she refers to as "getting out of a terribly abusive relationship", separating herself from family members who tried to bring her down and being able to walk away from the gym that she helped start because she felt she was being disrespected. Through all the bad, Lettia never changed who she was. A lesser person may have given up with all the things Lettia has been through, but Lettia came out a better person. She "overcame all the people who didn't believe in me" and says she now "fears nothing."

Finally, Lettia is influential. This is the one I don't know if she will agree with. But I am writing the story and I know she is. When I asked Lettia some questions for this story, I told her how respected she is. Her response? 'That's silly". The best way to find out how influential someone is is to ask those who could be influenced by her. One such person is Angela Tarli, who trains with Lettia. She describes Lettia as a trainer who is "fun.... always coming up with crazy things.... adding her own spice to fighting". Also, in what I do, I deal with many fighters. I can't count how many have said they want to go train with Lettia. Some because they like how she fights, some because they know they can learn from her, but for most, it is both of those reason.

So the decision was made to do the story on Lettia. But of course, before you do a story on someone, you need to see if they want to be the subject of a story. I knew Lettia knew me, but didn't know me that well. So i didn't know if she would have interest. I called her and asked and she quickly said yes. She even quickly invited me to her home to work on it.

So we picked a day and I made the two and a half to three hour drive to Lettia's. Upon entering I was greeted by Lettia, her boyfriend and his friend. They all made me feel welcome. In some instances, the boyfriend in situations like this can be skeptical. Wondering why some guy would drive three hours to see his girlfriend. But i didn't feel it was the case here, which was appreciated. Lettia had cooked food for the day and I felt bad eating very little, but my diet is strict. We did a whole lot of talking. We talked about nothing in particular, and when alone me and Lettia talked a little about the sport. What struck me is that while we had only had brief phone conversations before, Lettia talked as if we were friends forever. But it's not a surprise either. I knew from several fighters that Lettia was a kind person. I knew Nichole Long described her as a "caring and hysterical person, positive and genuine" and Nichole remarked how Lettia always made her smile. I think Lettia is best described by Angela Tarli when she says Lettia is "creative, fun and has a whole lot of heart". Lettia accurately says"what you see is what you get.... I'm not fake." All these things people say and think about Lettia is to me, part of why she is a good fighter, but we will get more into that later.

Lettia had to go to the gym to work with some girls she trains. On the drive we talked about some things. One of which was tattooing.

If you have seen Lettia, you know she has many tattoos. But you may not know how good of a tattoo artist she is. How good? Ask Nichole Long and she will say Lettia is "the only one I'd drive five hours in a snow storm for." Lettia describes tattooing as something she always wanted to do. So she "hung around crazy skin heads, drinking whiskey and fighting" since she was 14 years old until they taught her the trade. One gets the feeling tattooing is more than an occupation with Lettia. It is more like a passion. She loves to do it and wants everyone to love the work she does on them.

We arrived at the small gym where Lettia was going to train the two girls. Lettia expressed how she wished she had more girls to go on Sunday's, which was the day I was there. I found it obvious Lettia enjoyed teaching, liked helping others. "She makes a good teacher.... she is patient and will let you know what you are doing wrong and how you can improve it" according to Angela Tarli, one of the two girls there that day. They worked on several drills, mostly different striking drills. She keeps it fun and serious at the same time, which is how Lettia is. It was almost like an extension of her tattoo work. She is happy when she sees other people happy or do good, like when she is most happy when others are happy with their new tattoos. As I had time to myself I thought about how good Lettia could do if she had a real school of her own. She, as noted, is a good teacher, she is patient and really good at breaking things down. She has her own tattoo business out of her home, so my hope is that for a generation of young fighters, somehow she finds a way to have her own gym to teach them.

So how about Lettia's fighting? How did she get into it? She trained Muay Thai for eight years and became 'addicted" to Jiu-Jitsu. She watched the UFC from it's early days and in order for it to grow for girls her size she felt she had to get involved. She named her son Vitor after reading an interview with Vitor Belfort and liking something he said about not hating his opponent. Fighting for the right reasons. That's Lettia! She is not fighting out of hate for an opponent, she is fighting for the love of it. To use what she knows and compete. She likes Wanderlei Silva because he is like her. Both Wanderlei and her do not want an easy fight, she doesn't like a boring, play it safe fight. For her, winning is second to putting on a good show. And watch Lettia Suchevich fight, and it is a good show that you will enjoy.

So what about the future? Will she have a school? Lettia is opinionated. She believes what she believes. She hates these schools and gyms named after people who are trying to get rich. She "doesn't need some facility to share her knowledge." So I think if the right opportunity to do it her way came along, she may take it, but won't sell out and do it if it is against her beliefs. Will she fight again? Lettia is nearing the age here medicals to fight are more extensive and expensive. Furthermore, MMA is becoming what she doesn't like. It's becoming more commercialized. Also, running her tattoo business out of her home makes finding training time hard. Tattooing pays, fighting doesn't. So while fans hope she fights, while people like Nichole long say "fighting is in hr blood" and that it would be a "disservice to herself and fans if she doesn't", I think fighting is something Lettia will not let be a priority. She puts it this way, "wherever I end up or whatever I do is what's meant to be and I can accept that." She doesn't want to be known as a fighter or tattoo artist. She wants to be known for being Lettia Suchevich and most importantly, as Vitor's mom. Lettia Suchevich is old school MMA. The old school MMA that the die hard fans first watched when they fell in love with the sport.

Before I left we went to a bar. Did some talking about nothing in particular and competed to see which one of us was a worse pool player. I admit, I was worse. In this surrounding I saw why people like Lettia so much. She engaged in conversation with anyone who approached. After awhile I became tired. So it was time to leave. Lettia gave me a hug good bye and insisted I text her to let her know I made it home o.k.

I am no professional writer, probably not even a skilled writer. But to make you like Lettia Suchevich, I don't have to be professional or skilled. I just need to do a decent job telling her story, or telling about who she is, and if I do that, then you are going to like her. I became an MMA fan by watching the very first ever UFC, old school MMA, competing for the love of it. That's old school MMA. That's Lettia Suchevich MMA.

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