|By Carley Dangona
Sarah "Soulja" Payant hit pads with Ron Beattie at the Gabriel Gladiator Training Center in West Springfield, while instructor Gabriel "Gladiator" Santos looked on.
Payant and Beattie will all fight at Premier Fighting Championship 13 on April 28 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
Reminder Publications photo by George Skovera
WEST SPRINGFIELD Sarah "Soulja" Payant, 23, is a local up and coming amateur in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). By day she is an ophthalmic assistant, but her true passion is the art of combat.
Payant, who trains at the Gabriel "Gladiator" Santos Training Center, located at 130 Myron St., will face Heather Lefevre in a 125-pound title bout at Premier Fighting Championship 13 on April 28.
Reminder Publications had the opportunity to speak with Payant and see her in action during one of her training sessions.
She was enlisted as an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army, but sustained an foot injury that cut her time short. "Unfortunately my military career was shortened unexpectedly due to an injury that occurred in a training exercise," she said.
Payant began MMA training in 2009 and had her first bout in 2010. "When I started training with Gladiators' three years ago I didn't join a gym, I became part of a family. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Santos is a veteran of this sport and is an extraordinary coach."
Payant described the difference between military training and MMA fighting.
"The combat training in the military is very basic," she said. "It's nothing compared to a fight camp. Fighting and MMA came natural to me as soon as I started. I've always been good with sports and have been an athlete since age 4. MMA came into my life for a reason. It fits my lifestyle and personality. Nothing else would be as rewarding for me."
She described her training for the upcoming title shot. "A fight camp for me is very intense. I train seven days a week. Mondays and Fridays I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I focus on strength and conditioning, and follow up with a boxing class. Saturdays and Sundays I focus on anything I feel needs extra attention. The next two weeks [leading up to the fight] I will do a lot of game planning and cardio," Payant, a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu, said.
Currently, her favorite technique is the judo toss. "It's a very technical part of MMA and I enjoy learning it. I think it's fun to send an opponent through the air only to smash her to the ground."
Payant said that maintaining her diet is her least favorite aspect of preparing for the cage. "Like everyone, I love my junk food at times and I love to cook. Sometimes, a fight diet gets boring I am working on that though," she stated, adding that she will eat a couple teaspoons of fat free Cool Whip if she's desperate for a treat.
Surprisingly, Payant's not afraid to get hit in the face. "In the beginning I was, but it's something I've become used to over the past five years," she said. "In a fight, the adrenaline rush is so intense I don't feel a thing. It can hurt at times but you get over that fear very quickly."
Her family supports her MMA career. "I don't know if it will ever be easy for them to watch, but they don't miss a fight ever. I have a great group of friend and family that have always followed and supported me. I appreciate everyone who has been a part of my career and can't thank them enough for their support, Payant said."
This reporter asked her thoughts on the recent addition of a women's division to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
"I think it's awesome for women. I think it was good that UFC President Dana White recognized he was wrong in saying women would never be a part of the UFC just shows how much our role is growing in MMA," she stated.
Payant described what sets her apart from other competitors. She said, "I think I have an advantage in the sense that I've been an athlete all my life. This is not a hobby; this is what I surround my life with. I will stop at nothing to win and make sure I do damage. I have the drive to take this as far as possible. I hope to turn professional later this year. But I'm not in a rush my time will come."
She continued, "This title fight is my main focus right now. I think Lefevre's going to be a scrapper. I know she has some wrestling experience but I'm going to dominate the fight in all aspects."
In preparation for a fight, Payant visualizes what she would like to happen, but said that she is open-minded and is comfortable however the fight manifests itself, whether it goes to the ground or remains standing.
As for her walkout soundtrack, "It depends on what mood I'm in and what mood I feel like putting myself into. It's never the same," she commented.
This fight, among others, will take place at the Log Cabin, located at 500 Easthampton Road in Holyoke. Doors will open at 1 p.m. and the fights start at 2 p.m. Admission costs are $25 for standing tickets, $35 for floor seat tickets and $75 for VIP tickets. For tickets, visit www.thepremierfc.com.
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