In a dark corner of the Red Shadow Boxing gym, 17-year-old Robyn Grant is silently going about the business of perfecting her craft.
Her hands are tightly encased in red wrapping tape, there are beads of sweat on her forehead but she’s only just begun.
The aspiring mixed martial artist has already completed her warm-up — several rounds of skipping followed by shadow boxing and agility drills — and under the watchful eye of her trainer, she flashes out crisp punches. Grant’s right hand is quickly followed by lefts in quick succession, combinations sharp in their delivery and accurate in their placement.
At the end of each sequence, her trainer stops her to offer instructions: “Keep the feet moving. Never stop shifting your head. Always be one step of your opponent. Think.”
The message is clear, if you want to make it in the fight game, you have to work harder, fight smarter and be more disciplined than your opposition.
For as long as she can remember, Grant has wanted to be a fighter. When she was six years old, she remembers asking her parents for a punching bag after watching a UFC fight on TV. She said her mother was a little worried at first, but her father, who was a fight fan and also wanted to be a boxer, was delighted and bought her a bag.
“He would hold up his hand for me like mitts so I could hit them,” she said.
When she was nine years old, Grant signed up for taekwondo classes at a gym in downtown Prince Rupert. However, while the gym was fun, Grant knew the structured nature of the martial art was not for her. She was looking something that gives a fighter more freedom.
“Taekwondo is lots of patterns,” she said. “So I had to move up a step and go to MMA.”
Now that she has graduated from high school, Grant has committed to life of a full-time fighter, and is dedicated to being a professional mixed martial artist.
“MMA is just everything combined together so you can do any style,” she said. “You can be fighting any style of person and you just have to figure them out. It’s an art.”
Her search for a gym led her to Red Shadow Boxing and Davit Dzavashvili. Grant said she tried one of the gym’s fast-paced cardio classes and enjoyed the instruction so much, she decided to train full-time at the gym.
“I like the intenseness of it,” she said.
Grant trains twice a day, multiple times a week. The sessions are spartan, minimalist and focus mainly on building her strength and speed while developing the reflexes necessary to fight another human being.
“Sometimes we go on the punching bag and there’s a lot of pad work or I’m in front of a mirror or working on footwork,” she said.
She’s been training for less than a year, but Grant is already thinking like a fighter. She discusses the subtle nuances of how to be effective in the ring or cage, understanding that combat sports are both a battle of the mind and body. She said she enjoys the mental aspect of fighting as much as the physical, and the challenge of figuring out how to beat an opponent is appealing to her.
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“You’ve got to find angle to get around a person and make them think,” she said. “If they have to think more, it’s way harder for them to try and get to you.”
Grant has not yet fought in an amateur or professional bout, but knows the steps she needs to take to get there. While she is focused on boxing and stand-up fighting, she plans to practice other aspects of mixed martial arts — such as wrestling and Brazilian ju-jitsu — in Prince George and the lower mainland.
Beyond that, she will continue to embrace the fighter’s life, the grind of training, the constant push to improve her technique and the discipline.
“You just need to love it, you need dedication and you need to stick with it,” she said. “You’ve got to keep going, even though it’s going to be hard.”