“I believe in God. I believe in myself. And I believe I have done everything possible to prepare myself for this moment.” That was my last thought as I slipped away from the comforting embrace of my coach, slapped my four ounce gloves together with conviction, and stepped into the cage for the battle that was about to ensue.

Sinking the Arm in Deep

Less than 10 minutes later, with a face bruised and swollen from the first two rounds of battle, and the roar of a crowd standing on its feet in excitement for the last minutes of this main event, I took a deep breath of confidence that – win or lose – I was leaving it all in the cage tonight. My opponent came out wanting to bang, just like she had the previous rounds. I also held true to my game-plan, which had been drilled into my head with the harsh chant of my coach’s voice. “The game plan is solid! Game plan! Game plan!”

I needed to get into the clinch again. It had come in the first two rounds but not fast enough for the finish. She pushed forward. We drove to the fence. Her head was in my chest, as I dug my forearm deep under her thoat. I despise jumping guard. I hate playing from my back. But I know that my ground game is solid. I regained my balance against the cage and created some space. I made an audible ki-ai though clenched teeth, as I jumped high enough to wrap my legs around her waist. I went down on my back taking her with me, refusing to let her head escape. I pushed my hips to the sky and flexed every muscle I had, as her hand slowly came into my line of vision….Tap, tap. “Bryanna Fissori of South Oahu MMA wins by third round guillotine submission!”

Tap for Guillotine Choke

After more than a year of Jiu-Jitsu training and several months of hitting the stand-up hard, I earned my first win. It felt great, not only for me, but also for my teammates, sparring partners and supporters. Being a woman mixed martial artist is a whole different ball-came. For better or worse, virtually all my sparring partners, as well as my coaches, are males. I’m not sure who that is harder on. No one wants to see his female friend get her teeth knocked out but, if they don’t try it themselves in practice, it is all that more likely to happen in the cage.
The promotion my fight was under is called FightGirls Hawaii. They run all women cards across all martial arts disciplines, allowing females the opportunity to test their skills without the hype of male dominated bouts or locker rooms. This was their third event, and proved to be even more successful than the first two.

Promoter Rick Lee started the promotion because his own gym, Animal House, was home to a number of girls who wanted to participate in the fight scene. “The girls at my gym were working out and wanted to compete, but didn’t have anyone to show them how to really train for an event,” said Lee, so that is what he did. The FightGirls Hawaii promotion is structured to showcase whatever skills the competitors want to bring to the table including boxing, kickboxing, submission grappling, Taekwondo and of course the art of mixing all of those skills together.

“Being able to train and compete first and foremost gives the girls self-defense skills, as well as the confidence to believe in themselves and face any fears they have,” said Lee. “It is different working with girls. It is very emotional. You have to consider everything and everybody involved. That is why we place so much emphasis on making the girls comfortable with the fight, the rules, the surroundings and all that.”

Though my photo is on the promo poster (top right) for the September 30th event, my 135 pound bout against Marine Lance Corporal Nadia Humphries was not originally slated as the main event. The headliner was set to be one of my best friends, Valarie Aspaas against Vee Vickers in a 130 pound title match. Vee is an experienced local favorite and Val is an up and coming success story.

Fight Girls Hawaii Poster

Val and I traveled together to weigh-ins the evening prior to the event. We waited impatiently, with a cooler of food and coconut water in hand, as the rest of the competitors trickled in. Shortly after we hopped on the scales and photos were taken, we were happily stuffing our faces with excitement after sizing up the opposition. Val and I represent two different fight teams but became good friends after competing against each other in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament the prior year. After weigh-ins, I dropped her off at her place to rest up for the next day and went on my way to do the same.
Around midnight, when we both should have been snoring, I received a text from her that stated, “I’m in the hospital. Can you come get me and can I stay with you tonight?” My heart sank. Both of us girls are from the mainland. Opposite ends. I’m from California. She is from New York. Our ohana (family) consists of our teammates and each other. She didn’t give details. I didn’t know what to expect.

I walked into the emergency room and asked for her. I was routed and re-routed, until I found her in a room, sitting up on the hospital bed, talking to one of the doctors, red-faced with tears streaming down. I didn’t ask questions but instead sat behind her on the bed and put my arms around her.

Valerie Aspaas and Bryanna after Weigh-In

I listened as she told the story to the doctor. She had just bought herself steak for dinner, as her personal post-weigh-in celebration. She was sitting on a table in the communal area of her small apartment complex. A friend of her neighbor came by. He was a big 230 pound Samoan man, whom she had met previously. There had been some bad blood between them. A week or so before, he had come banging on her apartment door, drunk or high, in the wee hours of the morning. She refused to open the door and told him to go away.

That night as she was eating, he came over to her disruptively. She asked him to leave her alone. Instead of doing so, he knocked her plate off the table, sending her steak flying. She stood up. He forced her against the wall of the complex. He shoved his open hand in her face causing one of his fingers to press harshly and directly into left her eye. She splashed water in his face from the glass she had in her hand. He advanced, chasing and driving her backward and slapping her in the face causing more trauma to her eye. Operating completely on instinct, she defended as best she could before reaching in to clinch her attacker. At that point the neighbors emerged to separate the two, but the damage was already done.
The police were called and Val got a ride to the hospital. The doctor had to explain to her repeatedly that, if she took a hit to the eye during the fight, it could cause more serious trauma and possibly result in complete loss of vision. The black eye was a glaring target for any opponent. Val had been preparing for this fight and this opponent for months. She had shed the weight. She had put in the time. Now she was being told that – because this man, who out-weighed her by at least 100 pounds, was having a bad day and decided to take it out on her – she was out of the bout. At least she was alive.

Bruised Eye

Feminists can make whatever argument they want, but men are inherently stronger than women. At least the overwhelming majority are. But that doesn’t mean women have no place in combat sports. This goes beyond the entertainment aspect of the game. If Val had not had the training she did, she could have easily ended up with much more severe injuries than a busted eye. Her impulse, derived from months and years of training, told her how to move and block. She was prepared to advance if the opening arose. These are not natural-born instincts. They are the instincts of a trained fighter.

Across the ocean from Val and me, Florida Muay Thai is working to create those same instinctual responses in their students. Paul Marfort is a founding instructor at the facility, where 30 to 40 percent of the students are females. “We teach Muay Thai for self-defense,” said Marfort. “We do have some pro and amateur Muay Thai fighters, but we train everyone as if they are going to fight. We show them what a fight is like and teach them effective techniques to defend themselves. There are a no forms or katas to learn like you would in Karate or similar arts. We show the basic moves that work. There are only a few things you need to focus on to be effective. You need to know how to use things like knees, elbows and kicks.”

Florida Muay Thai Logo
Marfort asserts that a woman who trains in Muay Thai is going to have several advantages in the case of an attack. “First of all, a woman who trains is going to have more self-confidence period. There is also the advantage of being more physically fit. The skill set that is developed through training is especially key, as it becomes more instinctual. And another thing that is gained through Muay Thai that is very important is awareness. Muay Thai is about instincts and reacting to your opponent. Feeling for good intentions and bad intentions, then being able to respond to them to protect yourself.”

I called Lee in the morning, while Val was still sleeping, to tell him what happened. Word had already gotten out but without detail. I expected him to respond like a typical fight promoter, concerned primarily with his fight card and bottom line. I found the complete opposite.

As his story unfolded, he revealed that his sister passed away due to injuries sustained from a domestic violence incident. The situation with Val had struck a heart string, and it was if a light went on. Through his promotion and position as a coach, he was already teaching and encouraging women to learn to protect themselves, much like the coaches at Florida Muay Thai. In that moment, it was as if he had just realized that this may be his calling.
“I always thought that maybe I could have done something more to help my sister,” said Lee. “Then I heard about Valerie. I was mad and upset and ready to get the guy. Then I realized that maybe this was my wake up call, and I did have a higher purpose for what I was doing. God has a plan for everyone.” With renewed energy for the already successful promotion Lee plans to emphasize the strength and courage of these ladies in the cage, as he looks towards a date for the next Fight Girls Hawaii event.

With a packed house of spectators and Val vs. Vee’s fight postponed, Nadia and I were called on to be the main event. Val walked out with me and my coaches that night with my intro song playing. I believe wholeheartedly that my opponent and I put on a show that gave spectators their money’s worth. But thanks to Val’s fight training she will have the opportunity to fight another day.


Bry sends Mahalo to her teammates and Coaches at South Oahu MMA for all the love, support and beat downs. There’s no better way to show your support than a sponsorship donation by clicking here:

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