“We made it. I don’t know how I got here, but I’m in here.”
Ashley Yoder wasn’t thinking about Amanda Cooper waiting to put a fist in her face or about snapping a three-fight losing streak as the Octagon door shut in Denver, Colorado last November. She was just happy to be there. Seriously.
You couldn’t blame her, considering everything it took to arrive at that moment, from her coach Ricardo Feliciano not being able to make it to Colorado in time to mishaps backstage that had to make Yoder wonder if the MMA Gods were conspiring against her.
“It was very chaotic,” she said. “It was a success that they even shut the cage door. I got cut in the back by my coach when he was wrapping my hands and I was bleeding all over the place. My clothes were wrong, it was just all bad.”
But when that door did shut and the fight with Cooper did happen, Yoder put it all aside and went to work. And after three rounds, her hand was raised in the Octagon for the first time. It was a great moment for 31-year-old. Well, you would assume it was.
“It was bittersweet for me because there were so many things going on the backside of that fight, it was bittersweet in the fact that I’m a better fighter than I performed, but at the same time, I overcame a lot of things that were going on up until they closed the cage door,” she said. “No excuse on that side of it, but I really, really tried to perfect every side of my MMA aspect and I wanted to bring that to the cage, but we have our times when we’re either on or off, and luckily, I didn’t get the finish, but I got the decision. So it was definitely bittersweet.”
Ashley, getting that win was more sweet than bitter.
“You’re right. I’m blessed and I love my job and I hope I continue to perform for the fans.”
Performing for the fans has never been an issue for the Indiana native. Getting the judges to be as impressed as the fans is another story.
In her first three UFC fights, Yoder lost three decisions to Justine Kish, Angela Hill and Mackenzie Dern. Many felt she did enough to beat Kish, and one of the three judges saw her as the victor against Dern. In short, that 0-3 start was deceiving and frustrating. But she took it all with grace.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life and, at the end of the day, we have options,” Yoder said. “If you want it bad enough, you’re gonna suck it up. I’ve been on the poor side of bad decisions and you can watch the fights and say they were close fights, but if I let the political or unfair side get to me, I wouldn’t be where I am. I have to brush it off my shoulders, fix my mistakes and do a better job next time. I’m always hungry to learn. I want that finish, I want to be able to show my potential at its fullest.”
“I’m okay with crying behind closed doors and then going back out there with a smile on my face. It’s okay.”
Questionable decisions are never okay, but now that a close one went Yoder’s way, she’s got a new lease on her career heading into her Saturday bout with Syuri Kondo. A win, and now that’s two straight, and then she can start looking at the top 15. It’s a good time to be the “SpiderMonkey,” but for her, it’s never about the result; it’s about the journey to get there.
“Win, lose or draw, no matter what, I don’t dwell on a win, I don’t dwell on a loss,” she said. “I just want to be the best Ashley and learn the most. I came into the game without a background. Most people had been doing some kind of martial arts their whole life. Me, I was like anger management, jumping into it just to release some stress and I made it this far. So now it’s a passion to learn new things. It’s a passion to learn wrestling, a passion to learn different things in jiu-jitsu. It’s like an accelerated program for me because I have to catch up on things I didn’t have, but I’m so blessed to be where I’m at and I love to be able to perform and I’m excited.”
It’s hard to believe that the affable Yoder would ever need anger management, but when you find out that it all stemmed from the tragic loss of her brother in a motorcycle accident when he was just 20 years old. Yoder was celebrating her 18th birthday that day, and it understandably hit her hard. It also changed her life forever.
“I lost my brother and that’s kind of what got me started into fighting,” Yoder said. “And I actually lost him on my birthday. It was rough when it happened, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the hardships that I’ve been through. I’ve never been in a streetfight before that. It made me who I am and you can be sad and take it the sympathetic way or you can find strength in it and grow from it. I don’t know where I got that from, hopefully from my mom or my dad, but it’s something where I didn’t want to be that person everybody felt sorry for and then you didn’t do anything with your life. So I sucked it up and here I am, getting punched in the face for a living. And I’m loving it. (Laughs) I was a swimmer and a cheerleader. I never thought I would be a fighter.”
But here she is. A fighter.