By Jared Jones
In less than an hour, Bellator’s final card of the year will kick off live from The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana. Fighting in the only women’s bout of the night will be none other than Felice Herrig, a former Muay Thai wrecking machine turned MMA starlet who has been featured in such programs as Oxygen’s Fight Girls. Tonight, she squares off on the preliminary card against late replacement opponent Patricia Vardonic in a strawweight fight that is sure to convert more than a few fans to this thing called WMMA.
Being the humanitarian that “Lil’ Bulldog” is, she recently set aside some time in her busy schedule to discuss everything from the great injury plague of 2012 to the role of sexuality in female sports with us, so join us after the jump to get inside the head of one of WMMA’s fastest rising prospects in this surprisingly candid interview.
CagePotato: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Felice. First off, we were wondering if you could talk about the controversy surrounding Michele Guitierrez’s withdrawal from Bellator 84. When did you first suspect that she wasn’t being exactly honest about the alleged injury that forced her out of your scheduled fight?
Felice Herrig: “I had suspected since I signed to fight Michele that she was going to do it. I’ve been in this game a long time and I heard a couple people that trained around her say that she was like 20-some pounds overweight, that she wasn’t going to make it, and that she was asking [her training partners] for tips on how to cut weight. For so long, Michele has done so many things to me that I’ve had to keep quiet about and now I feel like I got to expose her for what she really is.”
While we’re on the subject of injuries, could you give us your take on the ridiculous string of injuries that have plagued MMA this year? Do you think that many of these fighters are being deceitful like your original opponent was?
“I think a lot of fighters are being dishonest. Not all of them, of course; things do happen in this sport that you can’t control. But there’s no real consequences for a fighter if you do that, so why wouldn’t they? If there were fines and you had to prove to a doctor that you were really injured, then yeah, maybe more people wouldn’t pull out so often. I know it happens all the time and it stinks because it’s going to continue to go like that until there’s more harsh consequences. And right now there’s just not.”
Your replacement opponent is Patricia Vadonic, who you defeated by unanimous decision earlier this year. Did you have any hesitation accepting the fight based on that fact?
“Of course I had hesitation, but at the same time, I’m a fighter and I fight who’s going to step up on short notice. I had already been through my training camp and I was already preparing for Michele, so yeah, there was some hesitation because I didn’t really want to fight her again. But it was also a good thing because I had already fought her, so a last minute replacement who I had already fought wasn’t a bad gig.”
That must relieve some pressure from the fact that this will be your first fight under the Bellator banner since 2010.
“Yeah actually. The thing is, I do really well under pressure. I get really excited, I get motivated, and I want to put on a good show for Bellator. It’s also fortunate because I never really wanted to fight Michele. I had nothing to gain by fighting her. I had already beat her as well, and she’s also on a two fight losing streak and had lost to a girl that I finished. It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense and there was a lot of emotional drama heading into that fight, so I really didn’t want it. But with this fight, I just want to put on a show and make a statement.”
Speaking of Bellator, did you happen to catch the Jessica Eye/Zoila Gurgel fight a couple weeks ago and if so, what did you think of it?
“I did! Oh my God, I was really looking forward to that fight. Here you have two top-level girls and I never knew how the fight was going to go. But the way Jessica finished her like that, so quickly, I was shocked. I thought it was going to be more of a war, but damn, that standing arm-triangle is a bad gig (laughs). It was amazing. It’s sad to me that the people that have always gotten the most attention in MMA are the bigger girls, the ones in Strikeforce. And here you have two smaller girls like that out there who only diehard MMA fans really know who they are because they haven’t really competed in the same platform. That’s something that will hopefully change now that they’re going to Spike TV.”
Being that you compete in one of the smaller divisions, is it harder to find training partners as opposed to the higher weight classes you mentioned?
“Yeah, I actually don’t have any (laughs). I mean, I have training partners but they’re all men and they’re all bigger. For this training camp I brought in four women, but I don’t have consistent female training partners. It’s frustrating; you go to the gym every day and you never really know where you’re at because guys are either going too hard or way too soft and you don’t have the same feel of a female body. Men move different, they’re bones are different, and it’s just different all around.”
Would your gal pal (All American Wrestler) Carla Esparza be one of the women you brought in, and which would you say has evolved faster: your wrestling or Carla’s striking?
“I’ve had a ten week training camp for this fight actually, so I flew Carla out to help me get ready and she was out here for a few weeks. This is the second time I’ve trained with her since we fought but she’s just become a really good friend of mine. We get along real well together, we see eye to eye.
I think that I’m getting there with wrestling quicker because there’s more of an urgency to. For a lot of wrestlers, their gameplan is the same, it’s always to take their opponent down and take fighters into their world, which is why wrestlers are so dominant in the sport. That’s why I made it a point to get as good as I can at wrestling, whereas Carla’s striking isn’t a main focus.”
Some of your past opponents like Carla and Michele are currently fighting for InvictaFC. Has Invicta they approached you to fight for them yet?
“They actually have, but I had a year contract with XFC and Bellator has been trying to get me on board for awhile. When I did sign with Bellator, Invicta approached my manager and was like ‘Hey, we’ve heard about this Felice girl and we’d like to have her fight for us.’ But for me, I don’t really have a desire to fight for Invicta. Bellator kind of wants to make me their poster girl and I would rather fight for an organization where there are all men on a card with the one female bout, because then I get a little more attention as opposed to getting thrown in with all these other girl fighters. You kinda get watered down so much that the only people that are gonna watch [those cards] are diehard WMMA fans.
So for me, I’m a fighter and I’m all about fighting, but I’m also about maximizing my exposure. I’m only going to be in this sport for so long and I want to get as much attention as I can so that I can make my name in the sport, but also have a career outside of the sport when I’m done.”
That’s an incredibly honest answer.
“(laughs) Well, when you do all of these interviews, you always have to be so politically correct. I’m not taking anything away from Invicta; I think they’re a great promotion and what they’re doing is great for females. If I’m given an opportunity to fight [for Invicta], I’m gonna fight, but if I had a choice then probably not. I think the thing with women’s MMA is that you either accept it or you don’t, and more people have accepted male MMA than female, so when I’m on a fight card with all men, then [fans] kind of have no choice whether they want to watch it or not. I’m given more of a shot for someone to give me a chance who might not have before.”
In light of what you just said, were you surprised that Ronda Rousey was recently declared the UFC’s first female champion considering Dana White said that we would never see WMMA in the UFC as little as a year ago?
“No, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Dana White is first of all a money man and for whatever reasonm he’s been promoting Ronda Rousey really heavily. I kind of saw it happening; she’s been the one getting all the publicity and attention so it makes sense that they’re pushing her [in Strikeforce] so that when she made the move over to the UFC there would be more publicity surrounding her. Things change, people change, and when somebody says “I’ll never,” maybe at that point in time they mean it, but things change down the road and different opportunities arise so you have to shift things too.”
Do you think the move will ultimately be a good thing for WMMA, or is the UFC setting themselves up for failure by basically building a division around one person?
“That’s the only thing I have a problem with. Dana White doesn’t care about women’s MMA. He is not creating a division for women, he’s creating one for Ronda. Dana is just going to promote Ronda, so I’m not really that excited. I don’t really care. Megumi Fujii was the top ranked female fighter in the world for a while, but only diehard fans knew about her. Why? Because no one gave her the opportunity to showcase what she could do. Right now, Dana has this thing where he thinks Ronda is the only girl who can fight, but she’s not.
She has her thing and obviously can fight, but just look at the Eye/Gurgel fight. Those girls can both fight and it’s a shame that it’s kind of being put on the back burner as if Ronda is the only woman out there that can fight. I’ve been in this sport a long time and I know that they’re are a lot of women out there who deserve the opportunity as well.”
Some critics of the sport have said that sex appeal has played a larger role in the advancement of WMMA than the actual skill of the participants. As someone who embraces both parts of the equation, what would you say to those critics?
“I mean, it’s always going to play a role and I don’t think that’s ever going to change in general with female sports. Men will always be bigger and stronger; when you think of sports, you think of men’s sports. Look at the WNBA compared to the NBA. Most people aren’t going to be diehard WNBA fans because they love basketball. With women, people need more of a reason to want to watch because mostly men are watching anyways.
If you know that, you’d be stupid not to use it if you had it. People say things about me using my sex appeal, but of course I’m going to use it. It’s good for me, it’s good for my sponsors. It helps me afford to train full time and do other things outside of fighting, because it’s not like fighting pays the bills. Most pop singers who get their big breaks are beautiful and they get those breaks because those are the ones that you can market.”
So can we expect an ESPN: The Body shoot in your future?
“I honestly would love that. A lot of those things have to do with the right opportunities coming at the right times. I’m actually going to be on The Jeff Probst Show on January 11th and I’ve got a lot of things in the works, but whatever happens, happens. I’m sure something like will come out.”
Thanks again for your time. Is there anyone you’d like to thank before you go?
“I’d just like to thank my sponsors: Alienware, Outerwear, Extreme Fit Nutrition, Soldier Fit, True Rival, and Bail Bond.”
I don’t know how to segue into the second exclusive photo Felice sent us, so I’m just going to place it below.