After winning the fight against cancer, even something as grueling as mixed martial arts (MMA) might seem easy in comparison.
That’s why, at the age of 68 and some eight years after first learning she had breast cancer, Ann Perez de Tejada decided to step inside the cage in a Denver arena.
“People have told my coaches, ‘What are you doing training her?’” Perez told KUSA news in Colorado.
“If I can hang, if I can do this stuff, then I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to do it.”
Perez found out she had cancer on Christmas Eve of 2008, the start of a years-long battle with the disease that she says put her life on hold.
“Cancer doesn’t fit anybody. It’s a terrible thing,” Perez said. “It’s like the whole world stops. I think everybody who’s been diagnosed can tell you that.”
After being declared cancer-free last year, Perez said she returned to training in martial arts once she finally began feeling like herself again.
Eventually, she set her sights on an ambitious goal: to compete in an amateur MMA contest.
“I want to prove to [doubters] that I can do it,” Perez said.
MMA is a combat sport combining different forms and styles of martial arts. Boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and more are utilized in MMA competition. The bouts typically take place either in a ring or steel mesh enclosure.
Fights typically are scheduled for three five-minute rounds, with championship bouts getting five five-minute rounds. Fights end either by knockout, technical knockout (referee stoppage), submission (a tap or verbal indicator that you wish to concede) or judges’ decision.
All that may sound like a tall order for someone who’s pushing 70, but for her part Perez isn’t a complete newcomer to martial arts.
She’s competed in several amateur Muay Thai – a form of kickboxing practiced in Thailand and popular in MMA and other combat sports – bouts, holds a black belt in Kenpo Karate, a blue belt in jiu jitsu, and currently trains out of Grudge Training Center according to her Facebook page.
Yet for around a year, she couldn’t find anyone willing to compete against her.
“[People] feel like they don’t have too much to gain if they beat me, and they really don’t want to lose [to a 68-year old],” she said.
But after a year of waiting, Perez finally learned that someone was willing to face her, and she stepped into the cage against Laura Dettman in a Strawweight (48 to 52 kg) bout at a Sparta Combat League even in Denver, Colorado last month.
The fight drew lots of attention, and not all of it positive.
But Sparta Combat League promoter Jeff Cisneros defended his decision to book the fight, saying he was happy to let Perez “follow her dream.”
“For the weeks leading up to it, I won’t lie, I took some heat for allowing this fight to take place, and why? Because people sometimes are insecure in the fact that they never followed their own dreams, so they want to derail someone else from following theirs,” Cisneros said.
“Who am I to say ‘no, you don’t deserve at least one moment to fulfill a dream?’ … I’m very proud of Ann and my decision to let her do it, and her coaches, Luke and Nick, as well for supporting her journey and dream.”
The fight didn’t end up going Perez’ way, as she lost to Dettman in first-round technical knockout after succumbing to an early takedown.
Still, as is often the case in both life and combat sports, the real victory isn’t in winning the bout, but in stepping into the ring in the first place. Perez received a huge ovation from the Denver crowd, with many coming up to her after the fight for photos or just to congratulate her.
“She wanted to achieve this goal, and she did it,” her son Daniel told KUSA. “That’s what you wanted. You wanted to be a fighter, and you did. You came in, and you put on a fight.”
Perez told KUSA that if possible, she would love to compete in another MMA bout in the future.
© 2016 Shaw Media