By Lance Edwards
Hailey Cowan made her LFA debut at LFA 33, in a postlim amateur fight. At LFA 40, she makes her professional debut against another debut fighter, Victoria Leonardo. It’s unusual to see a debut professional fight on the main card of a televised promotion, but with Cowan it’s for good reason.
As an amateur, Cowan had three fights, all of which were wins. She brings a high level of athleticism to the cage and comes from a high level competitive background in another sport.
“I started gymnastics at the age of five, and started competing by my sixth birthday. By eight, I was on the Junior Olympic Team. I was at Baylor on the acrobatics and tumbling inaugural team and signed their first scholarship for it. It’s basically floor work and lifting people for the tumbling. It was a good base for MMA, throwing people around.”
Cowan is articulate and speaks with an air of confidence, something you don’t often see in a debut fighter, but she is not a stranger to pressure or competition.
“Having the background in training has helped. In gymnastics, technique is very important and in MMA too. My athleticism has definitely helped, but I am still improving my skills. There are a lot of people who come to MMA from martial arts, but even martial artists don’t train the way gymnasts do. I would train from two to eight every day and compete on weekends. My biggest issue now is not overtraining. I’m a gym rat and often have to be kicked out of it.”
For Cowan she still feels she has unfinished business with athletic pursuits and competition.
“I was graduating in 2014, and ended up getting a nasty injury. I had competed two times before so couldn’t compete another season. I looked at CrossFit but didn’t really want to compete in that. I loved MMA and stumbled into a good gym. I practiced a week and decided that that was what I was going to do.
“I had a job in Pennsylvania teaching tumbling at a college, and was meant to go the next week. I called them and said not now. A couple of weeks later, I competed in my first Jiu Jitsu tournament. My parents saw I did well and have supported me. They were both athletes, so they understand. I jumped into intermediate and advanced and because of my athleticism, not my skill. [I] did well.”
Cowan trains at Blitz Sport MMA in Robinson, TX. The gym is run by two of UFC veteran Chris Brennan’s brothers, Jake and Nick Brennan.
“There are actually six Brennan brothers. I’ve been training with Jake since the beginning. I’ve never put on a gi in my life. My heart isn’t in Jiu Jitsu. We don’t do belt rankings, but I’ve held my own with brown belts. I’m comfortable with Jiu Jitsu.”
In Cowan’s first fight, she threw an impressive head kick and has demonstrated good striking skills.
“People decided I was a striker after that. I’m actually a grind-you-down-and-smash-you kind of person. I like to strike and have been successful doing it. My game is a grind one, I like to clinch and get people against the cage. I love cage work, people don’t really understand it but it’s where I like to be.”
Cowan is actually familiar with her opponent, Victoria Leonardo.
“I know a lot about her, I was meant to fight her before. A couple of weeks before the fight she pulled out, I think she had an injury or something. I prepared for her for six weeks, now I’ve prepared nine more. Game planning is big for me. I like to focus on what I’m doing as well as their tendencies.”
Some people struggle with the move from fighting as an amateur to professionally. The round move from three minutes to five and the fighters have extra tools at their disposal such as elbows and heel hooks.
“I think pro is better for my style. My cardio is very good, the longer the rounds, the better I’ll do. I like to feel out my opponent, and longer rounds are better for that. My last two fights would have finished earlier if I’d been able to use my elbows. Elbows are a good part of my game. I think I’ll have a dominant career in the pro realm.”
It’s not enough for Cowan to compete, as an athlete who has competed at a high level, Cowan doesn’t do things by halves.
“I feel Rhonda Rousey brought attention to women’s MMA, we are still playing catchup. I want to bring credibility. There are so many skilled martial artists, but I also want to bring athleticism. I want to be the GSP of women’s MMA, athletic and a martial artist. The biggest stage in the sport is the UFC. I’m not in a rush to get there. I don’t want to go too fast, I want to be prepared to be in the top ten when I get there.”
As well as training being one of the main focusses of her life, Cowan values her family and the relationships she has with them.
“I’m a big family person and have two younger siblings. We hang out a lot. Jake, my coach, is also my boyfriend, and I’m constantly hanging out with him. I’m actually in the gym more out of camp than I am in as I’m not worrying about being one hundred percent in a fight. I train five to six days a week, two to three times a day.
I’m thankful for my family. I had the opportunity early on to train full time. I get to do it as my job because they believe in my dream. They take care of me. Jake Brennan does everything for me from my strength and conditioning, MMA training and cooking my meals. He goes above and beyond and I’m thankful for that. All I work on is improving. I’m with Sucker Punch Management who is great, I’m lucky to be with them at this point. I have a couple of sponsors. White’s Pickle Salsa sponsors me, they make great salsa. It’s amazing, it started as a small thing, but it’s going to be big. I love it.”