“I don’t feel bad at all,” says MMA fighter Sophie Bagherdai when the subject of guilt is brought up for sending Stephanie Palmer to the hospital after their fight. “If they’re cool we’ll fight, shake hands, and have a drink afterward. But this girl was a punk—she was talking a lot of shit. I went to touch gloves in the beginning of the fight and she didn’t touch. So when I saw her being taken off on a stretcher, I was like good . . . if you wanna be a punk that’s what you get.”
Zero remorse from the IE’s own up-and-coming female mixed martial artist (MMA) Bagherdai who is currently training for her biggest battle yet, a bout with Carina Damm. The two will meet at the Fatal Femmes Fighting Championship at the Shrine Expo Center in downtown Los Angeles on April 3. Sophie, ranked 10th in the world, brings in a record of 3-0, winning two of the three by TKO. Damm, ranked fifth in the world, has a record of 7-3, winning the majority of her fights by submission. She has never been knocked out or stopped, and was recently showcased on BoDog fight. This will be the southland superstar’s biggest test to date.
MMA is commonly confused as “cage fighting” or “ultimate fighting,” but it’s really a rubric for the entire pantheon of fighting techniques and disciplines across the globe, such as Muay Thai, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and submission wrestling. Fighters can win by either knockout, technical knock out (TKO), submission or decision. Bagherdai takes it any way she can get it, and she’s confident she’ll solve Damm one way or another.
“This is a win/win situation for me,” she says. “If I win it’s a great step for me, if I come up short it’s still great fight experience.”
Bagherdai’s confidence is a product of her preparation. She trains rigorously at Championship Submission Wrestling (CSW), a world-class facility in Fullerton. When she arrives at the gym, Bagherdai’s promptly greeted by the other fighters amidst a loud combination of grunts, decompressing punching bags and bodies hitting mats. The sounds of combat. A quick stretch and taping of the hands then Bagherdai’s off to the jump rope to warm up. She then dashes over to the kickboxing bag and delivers severe depressions into its heft with a combination of high and low kicks with intense focus.
Then she trains with former UFC Heavyweight champion, the imposing Josh Barnett. For fifteen one-minute rounds, Bagherdai drills in both counter-punching and combos that utilize kicks and punches with the towering Barnett, who stands eight inches taller than her. Sparring with men is old hat for Bagherdai—she believes that training with someone larger and stronger will greatly improve her performance during a fight with a female counterpart.
After 30 minutes of kickboxing drills, Bagherdai zeroes in. For these MMA drills, Bagherdai trains with another up-and-coming female fighter named Ginelle Marquez. Barnett at this point becomes an instructional coach, barking orders to the two contenders using different perspectives. He instructs one to go for a submission, while entreating the other to defend against it, then vice-versa.
“Sophie’s strength is her tenacity,” he says. “She’s hot-headed, she wants to get in there and bang. She has a fighter mentality with great striking.” When asked about Sophie’s upcoming fight against Damm, Barnett believes Bagherdai will emerge victorious.
“Carina presents odd rhythms which might be a little difficult,” Barnett says, envisioning the fight April 3. “She [Carina] will be looking for the takedown and a submission, but once Sophie takes the rhythm of the fight, Carina is going to suffer a monumental beating.”
This type of sentiment is not boosterism—Barnett knows that as a fighter you are whom you hang around, and Bagherdai’s bout with Damm is also a reflection of him. Former Shooto titleholder Erik Paulson and Renato “Babalu” Sobral are in proximity at CSW, and Ken Shamrock trains at the facility sometimes, too. Bagherdai realizes that there’s no rest for the wicked, and she will go for a run to keep her cardio up after a short rest at home. Stamina is everything to the IE-native, especially with a proven fighter like Damm on the docket.
“I keep envisioning this match ending in a knockout,” Bagherdai says. “I’m in outstanding shape, and my cardio is out of this world. Being in tremendous shape is one of the biggest things about winning a fight. I have a remarkable heart, this girl is either going to have to knock me out or submit me, I don’t give up.”
Fatal Femmes Fighting Championship 4, featuring Roxanne Modaferri/Vanessa Porto, Sophie Bagherdai/Carina Damm, at the Shrine Expo Center, 700 W. 32nd Street, Los Angeles, (213) 748-5116. Tickets range from $20, $50 and $100 at www.fatalfemmesfighting.com or (877) 333-9381. Event begins at 6PM, doors open at 5PM. To see Sophie Bagherdai in action, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOXv2BvdCVk