Mixed Martial Arts — a collision of two opponents leveling strikes, chokes and joint-locks as means of conquering one another. It’s a calculated, violent and reliably controversial sport, that has grown widely in popularity over the past two decades.
The fans are rowdy.
The takedowns are hard.
The fighters sometimes leave the cage seriously injured.
In the early days of the sport, martial artists of a singular discipline would square off in vale tudo events, shooto wrestling matches or no-holds-barred fights. The sport was seen by many critics as sordid — a pastime for degenerates with an insatiable bloodlust.
Even so, Mixed Martial Arts gyms can be found almost anywhere these days, with practitioners from all walks of life — including one seemingly unlikely ballerina from Preston, Idaho.
Kaycee Pearce, 22, studied ballet for 11 years before trading in her ballet slippers for four-ounce gloves.
“There’s a lot of common ground,” Pearce said. “It’s kind of crazy.”
And after three years of training, Pearce won the Mountain Force MMA amateur flyweight title on June 23, 2018. Her coach Stephen Page says her pure determination is a critical reason for her success.
“That’s why she’s such a great martial artist,” Page said. “Her body movement is so on point, and her footwork is amazing, just because she’s so good at dance.”
Pearce was introduced to MMA by her ballet instructor, Angie Weeks, who moonlights as a photographer at local MMA events. She invited Pearce to help her take photos at a local night of fights in 2016. Pearce was immediately taken with the sport.
“I was like, ‘that looks so cool,’” Pearce said. “So I tried it and here we are today.”
For Pearce, her history in ballet and dance competition is a powerful tool in MMA. There is an often unseen grittiness in ballet that is in parallel with combat sports.
“You’re on your toes all the time,” Pearce said. “Some stuff you do in dance you still do in martial arts, they’re just called different things.”
Pearce said her last fight was also about fighting for others. After one of her closest friends died by suicide, Pearce took a step back from fighting. After some reflection, Pearce decided to honor her friend’s memory through MMA — to fight for those who feel they have nobody in their corner.
“That happening made it more of a push,” Pearce said. “I don’t want anybody to feel like they don’t have anybody.”
Pearce is planning to have her next fight in October. In the meantime, she is sharpening her martial arts skills while providing a beacon of light for those around her who may feel they’re trapped in the darkness.
“Everyone needs to know that there’s always someone fighting for you,” Pearce said. “Even if you don’t know it, and you don’t see it, and you don’t believe it.”