KANSAS CITY, Mo. Look, LC Davis rolled his eyes, too. The little blond cheerleader walked right into his office on a Sunday and sat down, a ball of grace and steel, her mind made up. She wanted to take the next step.
Do you think I could actually fight? Rachel Wray asked.
You know, me being a gym owner, I have a lot of people that come up and say they want to be a fighter, Davis says now. When she told me she wanted to do MMA, (I was like), Ill believe it when I see it.
But Im proud of her, man. Shes stuck with it, and Im proud of how far shes come along.
Wray tossed her gloves into the ring, so to speak, last February. Fast forward 11 months, and the 23-year-old from Arkansas sports a 2-0 record and as soon as word and pictures (especially the pictures) of her days as a Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader hit the web has become something of a minor sensation in MMA circles.
When they say, Oh, youre too pretty to fight, that seems kind of dumb, chuckles Wray, whos slated to take on Katelyn Radtka Friday night at the VooDoo Lounge in Harrahs Casino North Kansas City as part of the Blue Corner Battles series. Why does me being pretty (matter)? Does that make me automatically unable to fight? Are you saying ugly girls are better at fighting?
Its been an uphill battle for Wray to prove the beauty is a beast, but its starting to pay off. She recently received an offer to do a major magazine photo shoot, and the phones ringing a bit more regularly ever since video of her first bout a TKO over Ashleigh Tillman this past September went viral; YouTube.com footage of the second round had received 263,042 views as of late Thursday afternoon.
And Ive even had a few people (offering) to manage me, says Wray, who turned in her Chiefs pom-pons after the 2011 NFL season. I have met a few people who I barely knew from high school, and are (like), Nice going, Rachel, what are you doing? Im like, Oh, NOW you want to talk to me.
I didnt do this because I wanted to be famous. I just do it because I love it.
She fell hard, and kind of by accident. The Chiefs played a role, too, albeit indirectly: The love affair all started when the teams cheerleading squad was meeting up for alternative cardio workouts at Title Boxing Club in Leawood, Kan. High-Davis Mixed Martial Arts (or H-D MMA), a training facility run by professional fighters Davis and Jason High, is just a few doors down.
One thing led to another, and Wray wandered in to H-D one day, some 18 months ago, on a lark. Before long, she was hooked.
It was actually jiu-jitsu and grappling that sold me, Wray recalls. I was like, I cant imagine not doing this every night. Its just like, the intensity, the sweat, how much you can create with your body, like when youre grappling, you can do so much. Its intoxicating after two hours. Its like a runners high, but times a million.
When Im fighting, all my problems go away. Its like my happy place.
Joy is where you find it. For Rachel, the octagon was zen and sweat and pain and awesome. But mostly zen.
Ive been in gymnastics, dance and cheerleading my whole life Ive never been around boys, Wray says. So thats why everyone thinks this is such a crazy story. Ive been a total girly-girl. Ive never been involved with a sport that involves a ball. And thats why fighting is perfect for me, because it doesnt involve a ball.
It does, however, involve repeated pummelings with the hands and feet. Neither of those options have sat particularly well with Rachels parents, who have offered blessings through, shall we say, gritted teeth.
Oh God, Wray says. Well, they know it was a slow process and finally, it was like, I had to tell them I wasnt doing cheerleading, it wasnt making me happy anymore I didnt fit in and all that.
They love me and theyre going to support me, because they want me to be happy. My parents called me, they said, We cant come and watch your fights anymore, its too hard. Theyre 100 percent supportive. They just cant watch.
By day, Rachel is your regular office type, working a human resources gig back in Arkansas. Theyre cool with her fight schedule, too, even giving her time off to come up to Kansas City for a few weeks and train in advance of the bout, a strict regimen of two workouts per day.
Shes going to have that former cheerleader stigma attached to her for the rest of her fighting career, says Davis, Wrays MMA trainer and guru. A lot of people are going to look at her and joke. So its up to her to go out there and prove people wrong. And I think shes doing a good job of that so far.
If its Monday, its stand-up strikes if its Tuesday, its wrestling If its Thursday, its jiu-jitsu Boyfriend? Wray laughs. Whos got time for a boyfriend? If Friday goes well, there are more fights and more photo shoots in the cards.
Im not going to be, like, trying to be overly sexy, because my parents are gong to see all this, so I dont want to disappoint them, Wray allows. Im not going to be covered head-to-toe (either). Im not a feminist in any way; Im actually anti-feminist.
And yeah, sex sells. Im not going to like, overdo it. Im just going to be who I am. Ive been in a swimsuit calendar before Im fine being in a magazine, as long as a photo isnt too suggestive, because my parents are going to see it. You have to give the people what they want to see. This is the entertainment business, and apparently a lot of people would rather see Miesha Tate and fight and Ronda Rousey fight than two fat dudes who have shaved heads.
The ladys got a point.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org