As professional sports are making a somewhat triumphant return amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) have stood their ground through it all. White has been bringing fight fans all over the world some sense of normalcy while stay-at-home orders went out in March.
Despite the fact that arenas are empty, teams and announcers and camera crews have to social distance and fighters have to take coronavirus tests every day in order to stay on top of the UFC’s new stricter regulations, fans have been entertained, almost weekly, with top-tier bouts.
White also caught a lot of heat when he decided to move forward during the pandemic, but when looking at the precautions taken and low numbers for positive COVID-19 cases, it seemed like the way to go. At a recent post-fight news conference after the UFC returned to the Apex in Las Vegas recently, White was asked about his thoughts on how well the UFC has done in comparison to organizations like Major League Baseball, which seems in jeopardy.
“There’s a lot of mistakes that these other leagues have made, and they could do it right if they wanted to,” White said.
One of the mistakes it seems would be not making what is being called “a bubble,” a closed-off area for athletes, events staff with constant testing and no fans. White has mentioned how expensive it is to take those steps, but it seems to be paying off for the UFC.
“You have to be in the bubble,” White said of how to hold events during the pandemic. “It’s impossible to pull this thing off without a bubble. You have to do it.”
So how do athletes prepare for a fight while COVID-19 is still spreading? Temecula resident and veteran UFC fighter, Ashley “The Spider Monkey” Yoder has been hard at working tackling that exact question.
Yoder, who was born in Indianapolis, moved to Temecula in 2011, two months after graduating from Indiana University, where she received two bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and African American diaspora studies. After appearing as a cast member in 2016 on the UFC show, “The Ultimate Fighter 23,” she made her promotional debut later that year and currently boasts a 7-5 record in the Strawweight Division of the UFC. Yoder is scheduled to face Livia Renata Souza Saturday, Aug. 15, at UFC 252.
For fighters like Yoder, training takes her to places all over the state. Whether it’s at Dan Henderson Athletic Fitness Center in Temecula, cross training with CSA up north, doing underwater workouts at Deep End Fitness in San Diego or getting her heartrate going at Dynamic Fitness HPK in Temecula, staying in fight shape is a daily must, she said. Though she spent most of the quarantine recovering from an injury, she never stopped training.
“I obviously wasn’t working out like I normally would, but I certainly did a lot of Zoom training,” she said.
Yoder fought most of her fights in the California circuit under BAMMA USA, Invicta and Gladiator Challenge promotions and amassed a record of 5-1 before joining UFC. During that time, she was a constant fixture with trainers Kevin Duenas and Brian Richardson, co-owners of Dynamic Fitness HPK in Temecula.
“Kevin and I have been working as Ashley’s performance specialists since 2012,” Richardson, who has lived in Temecula since 1990, said. “Typically, she is with us year-round. It’s nice because we get to closely monitor her through all phases of her training, including but not limited to, base conditioning, strength endurance, hypertrophy and maximum power phases which lead us directly to pre-fight camp.”
During camp, their main goal is to keep Yoder healthy.
“It can be challenging when you’re working with an athlete that gets punched in the face for a living,” Richardson said.
That said, her conditioning is based on a very comprehensive evaluation and complete metabolic testing, including maximum oxygen consumption and lactate threshold.
“This allows us to temper her heart rate training zones in a way that will allow her to use higher percentages of fat at higher intensities,” Richardson said. “This ultimately creates a platform for her to push a much higher pace during rounds.”
Richardson is a former professional athlete, which is what led him down the path of sport science. Upon completing his seventh and final World Championship in 2000, he went on to obtain a master’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in performance enhancement and injury prevention before continuing most of his postgraduate work at the C.H.E.K. Institute in San Diego.
“I trust them in everything they do for me,” Yoder said, who is among some of the top names in UFC that live locally and train at the same places, including Dynamic Fitness HPK.
Richardson is also ACE massage cupping certified as well as rock tape/blade certified for soft tissue modalities. Both he and Duenas work with many professional athletes in various sports, not just UFC, though their list of big name fighters certainly turns some heads, including Dan Henderson, “Smiling” Sam Alvey, Tarec Saffiedine, Thierry Sokoudjou, Richie Whitson, Frank Lester and Yoder, just to name a few.
As for her upcoming fight, Richardson said Yoder is absolutely ready.
“There are some techniques that we’ve introduced in the past and we’ve been very diligent with making sure she stays on top of them,” he said.
“I mentally feel better than I ever have,” Yoder said. “I have grown so much since my last fight, and I am really ready to put on my best performance to date.”
Yoder, who is a profound dog lover, said she is her toughest opponent as her Aug. 15 bout draws near. She also said she plans to keep fighting in the UFC until “they stop paying me” she laughingly admitted.
“I am not sure any of the girls have been tougher than another,” she said when asked about her toughest matches. “I do feel like I have had battles more with myself in competing with girls that have had professional careers prior to UFC.”
UFC 252 will take place at the Apex in Las Vegas Saturday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m. on the West Coast. The fight card includes:
MAIN CARD – Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier (title fight); Junior dos Santos vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik; Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba; Pedro Munhoz vs. Frankie Edgar; Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera
UNDERCARD – Felice Herrig vs. Virna Jandiroba; Livinha Souza vs. Ashley Yoder; Herbert Burns vs. Daniel Pineda; John Dodson vs. Merab Dvalishvili.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.