In searching for topics to write about, I like to look for two things. One of them is people who are important to me, friends I value. The second thing is people or topics I think people should know more about. Gina Begley qualifies for both categories. My introduction to Gina has been noted multiple times. I was bored one night, watched some fights on the computer and one fight was Gina Begley vs Vanessa Demopoulos. Begley in my mind clearly won the fight but the judges did not agree. In such instances I will reach out to the winner and ask them for an interview, but in this case, I went for the “loser”, Gina Begley. We clicked really quickly and became good friends. Over that time, Gina has fought and won and fought and lost. But one thing remained regardless of the outcome, Gina remained a great role model and ambassador for women in combat sports. Through her job hosting Pro WMMA Now, training, teaching, fighting, and having valuable insight on topics in the community, Gina has been a constant recognizable figure.
Gina’s original introduction into Martial Arts came from kickboxing, which she just wanted to do to keep in shape, however that was clearly not enough as she moved into grappling before deciding she wanted to compete. As for what made her want to compete, her son was in a program and she watched him grapple and she decided to start on her own. She says is was a progression from there to going to sparring practice and said “what is the point in learning all this if I am not going to see if it all works?” A grappling tournament came up and she tried it and decided to do kickboxing after that and then she attended a card her former teammate Jessamyn Duke was on and took part in that camp. She said it was a different experience that she was memorized by. They asked if she wanted to fight and she said “I can do that, I am as good as some of these people here.” In describing the first event she ever went to, she says “I had never witnessed a sport like Mixed Martial Arts, I had never experienced competition like Mixed Martial Arts, and everything you have to do to prepare for it.” She added how her team at AFS Academy takes competition very seriously, never saying they never say “you’re just an amateur, you can take it easy.” She was told that she needed to be prepared or they won’t send you in unprepared for an experience like combat sports. That preparedness is no doubt a big reason for Gina’s success and the success of AFS as a whole.
Some people are initially resistant for their daughter, sister, female friend, to get into a combat sport. Did Gina have that problem? “No, never, i come from a roughneck place and had been in fist fights since grade school.” She adds that instead of saying “what? Gina is gonna fight”, they said “you’ve been doing that your whole life.” She said she told them she was going to fight and while her family is supportive, they also don’t feel they have to go to “every fight you have”. It would seem like that is almost a perfect mix, a family that was supportive but also didn’t put more pressure on her. In discussing the mental aspect of the sport and how it has changed from the first fight till now for her she says in her first few fights her focus was on “weird things, I would be distracted by hair and my outfit and walkout music. Those are things I still enjoy but I don’t care as much.” She adds that she still wears a shirt her mom got her at a yard sale in every fight. She says she is not as “prissy” about it and is more focused on training and being prepared, with cardio, technique and things like that.
After having a solid amateur career, Gina is ready to go pro. When I asked her the thought process that led to it she said “I am thirty-four years old, I train as hard as any athlete out there and it is time I get paid for it because I put a lot into it.” She adds she looks at the girls out there and feels she is at their level. There is a lot of truth to that. There are amateurs like Gina who have the same skill set as pro fighters, but they do not rush to turn pro too soon, they wait till they feel it is time. Gina had the tools to turn pro before this, many insiders felt that way, but Gina, again in part due to good coaching, felt she could learn more, be more prepared. She does not hide her age. If she is going to make a move, the time is now, but the Gina that had the tools earlier, has made those tools even sharper and is going to definitely help jump that pro career off to a good start. She wants to “make the best of it that she can” because “I train hard and I deserve this. I train like a professional.” The down side is she has had trouble locking down an opponent for a pro debut, I know this because I myself have been searching. She says it is frustrating because she has let other stuff slide. She feels she could be competing in grappling or Muay Thai and getting into other things. She wants to keep more busy and it frustrates her. She says she wants to be “a competitor and not just an MMA fighter.” I caught Gina off guard when I asked her to over the course of her amateur career, name one thing she wishes she had done differently. She paused for quite awhile before saying “That is hard because I am pretty satisfied. It was a long process, a growing process for me.” Adding she had a lot of things to do that included school and raising her son. Finally she said “If there is one thing, I probably would have started earlier.”
Mentioning school and her son, those obviously are things that require commitment and time. When I asked how, with that busy schedule, she got up to train on days she didn’t have the energy. She said simply “I enjoy it.” She said she grew up an athlete, enjoys being active and says she doesn’t feel right if she doesn’t have something to do. She needs to feel busy, feeling not o.k. if she doesn’t have something to do. That probably plays a role in her success. She likes to keep goals, and having goals no doubt pushed her to succeed in not just MMA, but everything she does. Gina keeps pushing, keeps working, and having those goals give her a direct path, a direct result that would come from that constant hard work. She says “If your striking becomes phenomenal, you can always work on your ground game, always an area to improve yourself, that is what I love about it.” She adds it is not just about being a fighter, but building a better person all the way around.
Gina also teaches herself. I asked her if she saw that as her way to give back and do what people did for her and she said “I one hundred percent believe that.” She tells girls that when she first started, she came up in a more difficult time, when it was just gaining popularity. She adds she has been through it and can let girls know that she knows where they are, can help them get self confidence. She understands and feels it was something she didn’t have that as much. She loves to help people out and even change their lives. She mentioned a girl named Tasha that came in, was kind of out of shape and started in Gina’s boot camp class. She could do maybe five or six push-ups and now she can do twenty-five and ran a 5K. She felt amazed she could help do that and loves hearing Tasha talk about it. She says her coach Scott Elliott was there for her and he has taught people a long time and could tell her what to do, but feels it is different when, like Gina, she knows where you are at, has been where you are at. As I sat and watched Gina train, even though she was exhausted, you could see her genuine enjoyment in teaching and helping others. I believe that helps on many levels. People see that their teacher is enjoying it, is invested in it, it makes them work harder, makes them feel more confident. She said she knows people have different personalities and she doesn’t want them to have a miserable experience. “If you don’t have fun, why do it at all” she says. Gina teaches self defense classes. Asked for a brief explanation of what all she does she said “I initially started Jiu-Jitsu for women only because it can be overwhelming for women to come into a class that is male dominant.” She adds about how uncomfortable it can be at first. “I decided to start that because there were women who were getting interested who had husbands at our school.” She said she saw other programs in the area where “the instructor said if someone gets behind you, you do this and grab their wrist, it was such crap, it doesn’t work.” She knew she had something to offer and decided to start her own class. She was able to ease them in and be in comfort with other females doing what they were. She said she felt it was doing a good service, getting women involved who were interested but afraid. She said one named Rene told her she only got involved because she offered the women’s only Jiu-Jitsu class and now she is getting ready for her first competition. She says “It is cool, I love it, it is fun to have so many females into it.” One thing I noticed and have noticed in many gyms, not just in MMA, is when a student or client does something wrong, the coach or trainer just tells them they did it wrong, with Gina, she pointed out what was wrong and showed them what they did wrong and how to do it correctly. I asked if her being so hands on helped and she said “I am a reflection of my instructor. When you wanna do something well you have to look at someone who is successful in what you are doing. I was fortunate that the first school I choose was led by Scott Elliott so when I decided I wanted to teach as well, I tried to follow what he did and make it my own. That is his style, he is very thorough, good at small details that I think a lot of schools don’t get.” So for her it is a reflection of where she came from, information handed down from Scott to Gina to the girls Gina teaches. That brings to mind something I noticed in my time at AFS. I noticed a real family atmosphere, whether a fighter, just training, a parent, anyone, that everyone talked to each other. I asked if that was a part of the gyms success and she said “that has come up over the last year and a half, we have a lot more family. I think it is because we have put a lot of emphasis on that.” She added how she started working at the gym during school as an intern and after graduating she took over managing the gym. She said Scott was by himself and is an excellent teacher but now he has some help. They are now able to push how important every member of the gym is. She said Scott likes to train fighters, but really likes to teach everyone and see them grow, adding she feels the same way. She said working together they can let every member know that they are just as important as the fighters. She says “just because you don’t train, doesn’t mean you are not part of our team and not someone who can’t take part in what we do.” She mentions one of her teammates, pro fighter Adam Fritz who represents the gym well as well and helps build the great community at the gym. With all that going on, being so busy with all the things she does- and I witnessed it first hand- does she ever just say “why?” Her response was “No, I feel like instead of why, it is wow, I am so lucky. From where I came from, not much ambition, just wanting to be a good parent. Now this is so great I get to do this and be surrounded by so many great people. My son had his state wrestling tournament and all the guys that were their training all went to watch him. He gets to look up to Adam Fritz and it is great that he has a role model like that, I can’t think of anyone better for him to look up to.”
I asked Gina if teaching and managing the gym were things she saw as a way to stay involved even after she is done fighting. She said “I always want to be involved in Mixed Martial Arts, it has been a complete lifestyle change for me. I love training, competing and I love helping fighters come up. I enjoy getting to pass things down, paying it forward.” This is something about Gina that extends far beyond MMA. I can speak from experience in that on more than one occasion I have gone to Gina for help or advice and even when it is clear she is exhausted and doesn’t want to talk, she still talks and helps me out. She says “when I can’t compete anymore I want to be involved, judging, being a ref, still teaching, things like that.” She said “I plan to always be there for my team and my gym.”
Gina’s son Chris, as noted earlier, has done wrestling tournaments and competes in other things. I wondered if she ever worried she needs to step back or that she pushes to hard, sort of the MMA version of a pageant mom. She said “I don’t feel I had anyone pushing me to excel or a lot of direction.” For her she said she knows what she missed out on and doesn’t want that for him. She feels he can be elite and “what is the point in pushing someone to be mediocre. If they can be elite then they should. I don’t feel I am a pageant mom. I want great things for him and that doesn’t come from sitting back and letting him be lazy. I know what is best for him.” I mentioned how while Chris is shy at first, he is very respectful, so my question was if him training with the people at AFS is behind that. She said “part of the sport is creating respect and building better human beings. We push anti-bullying. I always want him to have respect and make right choices.” She adds he is surrounded by great role models and coaches and again mentions Adam Fritz who she calls a “great young man” and who Chris aspires to be like and how she cant ask for a better role model. She says “Instead of wanting to be like some shithead movie star on TV, he has great role models and I feel lucky.
We wrapped it up by me asking if Gina fought till age forty-just to throw a number out- what would she need to call her career a success? She said “That I was a serious competitor, legitimate in what I did and can take into a teaching career.” She wants to show that she was good at what I did so when she teaches others she shows she knows what she is doing. Finally she adds “I want to be a good role model for those who follow me. That is Gina Begley. That last statement defines her. In a sport considered an individual sport when it is anything but, Gina as long as I have known her has gone out of her way to help, support and encourage others. Never greedy, never all about herself. Surely part of that comes from her training at AFS, the things she has learned and why that gym is in such great hands.
So the pro career, how good can it be? The answer is that it can be very good. Gina is a well-rounded fighter, good in every aspect and above all, has a great head on her shoulders, she is smart, not to mention the great coaching we have mentioned. Gina has what it takes to hang with just about anyone at 125 and after some wins can really become a threat to the top girls.
Gina, in my time knowing her has gone from an interviewee, to someone I chatted with once in awhile, to a very close friend to someone I get to work with a bit. I have the greatest respect for her as a fighter, athlete, coach, and mom and I wanted to do this so more people can see why I feel that way.