If you haven't heard of Tara LaRosa before, shame on you.
Long before Gina Carano took the female MMA world by storm, or Ronda Rousey was hosting TMZ or being featured on the cover of ESPN: The Body issue, LaRosa was paving the way for women in mixed martial arts.
The female MMA pioneer started her career in 2002 and it was a 15 fight winning streak from 2004 to 2009 which included victories over Alexis Davis, Shayna Bayzler and Julie Kedzie that not only put her in discussion as the best female fighter during the time period, but perhaps the best female fighter of all time.
LaRosa hasn't had much luck lately finding fight, even having to take a year off to get a job in a warehouse due to bouts constantly falling through and with expenses on the rise.
The female MMA legend is hoping that situation is a thing of the past now that she's signed with both RFA and with the all-female Invicta Fighting Championships organization.
LaRosa will be making her debut with Invicta this Friday night (Oct. 6, 2012) when she takes on experienced Brazilian ground fighter Vanessa Porto on the main card in Kansas City. She spoke with MMAmania.com about the frustrations of the past year, how it feels to get featured again and how she'd like her debut in Invicta to go in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It's a big deal for you with this fight. It seems like the stakes have been raised with such a big event. Do you feel that yourself?
Tara LaRosa: Yes, there's some pressure. I really hope I don't puke. (laughs) I'm not a choke artist so I usually don't but oh my God. This just feels like, I don't know, like one of the biggest fights of my career. I don't know why. It's not for a title, it's a girl that's been around for a while and I know who she is, but maybe I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself.
I think after my last fight, I didn't think it was the greatest performance in my career and not making weight was a big deal. I'm really putting a lot of pressure on myself this time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about that last fight. It was a completely different experience. You hadn't trained for like a year, you ended up putting yourself through hell in the three weeks before the fight to get ready for it. Can you talk about that experience?
Tara LaRosa: Last time I got into the gym and I burned it hard. As hard as I could for three weeks with two training sessions a day and I honestly think that in three weeks I overtrained. I don't know how that was possible but I was dead. I was burnt by the time I got to the fight. I had all kinds of crazy injuries, both old ones and new ones which is weird which really sucked.
Not making weight, I'd like to blame it on someone else but ultimately it's always your fault. But there were nine of us that missed weight on that show and I seemed to be the only one that took heat for it. I'm the one that got criticized by the media. The sauna shut off and none of us made weight. There were like 12 of us shivering in the sauna, freezing, because we had been sweating one minute and then all of the sudden it's cold. What are you gonna do? I don't know. I fully intend to make weight this time and I fully intend to look a whole lot better this time than I did last time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you weren't pleased with your performance the last time, but do you think that despite all stuff you had to go through with the short notice, the injuries and the weight cutting situation, do you feel like you learned something about yourself gutting it out and getting a last second submission in the third round?
Tara LaRosa: Yeah, that's something that I've always had. It's funny. Somebody said something in the gym the other night like a pep talk saying "when you get to that moment in the fight and you feel like you're gonna quit and you can't do it anymore and your mind just shuts down," I'm just sitting there thinking to myself as the person's saying it, "That's weird. That's never happened to me."
I don't get that. I don't mentally shut down in a fight. I don't ever think, "Oh my god, I just can't do this! I can't get out of this submission" or "Their punches are too much!" I don't know. That's never happened to me. I've had 24 fights and that's never come over me, not even once.
The whole last second thing of my last fight, I can tell you exactly from memory what I was thinking and what happened. Jens Pulver and Ryan Jensen were in my corner and I heard Jens say, "20 seconds!" and I had her back and I was like, "Huh? I wonder. With 20 seconds left, if I miss an armbar, what's she gonna do? Nothing. She's not gonna knock me out or submit me or nothing like that so I'm gonna go for it." All this happened in a split second in my head so I swung for the armbar from rear mount and I got it. It took a couple second to fix and readjust and that but with one second left, I got it. It's more things that occur to me on the fly. I never panic about what to do next. It's like a strobe light going off in my brain.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Being such a staple of women's MMA. Do you almost feel like it was destiny that you'd be fighting for Invicta at some point?
Tara LaRosa: I really think so. I was really hoping that they would have me on at some point. I didn't know when it was gonna happen because I'm under contract with RFA and they'd been talking all summer about using me and they never got around to it, didn't have a place for me on one of their shows so when they told me they wouldn't be able to use me this fall, they gave me their blessing to go fight for Invicta. Once everybody got wind of this and it got all straightened out between my management, RFA and Invicta, it was a go. I'm elated. I'm happy and grateful for RFA for giving me the opportunity to fight in Invicta and grateful to Invicta for having me!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Throughout your career, you've had to deal with countless fighters backing out, fights falling through at the last minute, short notice replacements, short notice fight opportunities and more. How does it feel to have a "real" fight this time around, with a real training camp and finding out well in advance through Invicta?
Tara LaRosa: Honestly, it's kind of overwhelming. I really don't know what to do with it. I haven't had this type of opportunity for years to be honest. I really don't know what to do with myself. It's just training and it does give me a long time to really think about it and get nervous, get excited and get everything under control and then get nervous and excited all over again. It's like a cycle. It's pretty cool. I feel kinda bad because I think I was one of the last ones to get everything in to 'em because I'm just so used to doing everything at the last minute. I think I was probably the last one to get my medicals to 'em (laughs) and I feel bad about that but to be honest, it feels awesome. So professional. So professional! It's great. I love it!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Being such a prominent figure of MMA, especially women's MMA on the east coast. What was the motivation behind you moving out to Salaverry MMA in the Seattle area on the west coast?
Tara LaRosa: I needed to change things. I kinda needed to get out of Philly for a while. Things were just stagnant there. I loved all my teammates at Fight Factory and I'm telling ya, I miss Zach Makovsky a lot. He's my best training partner. I just need to make a change. I'm not really good at going places where I don't know people. I get uncomfortable. I had been out here in Seattle several years ago and actually I trained out here in 2006 so I knew Washington and I knew Seattle, had a bunch of friends out here. My manager Monte Cox was like, "You can go to Las Vegas, California or Washington" and I was like, "Oh Washington. Please yes please I'll take it!" I love it out here. It's beautiful. A bunch of my friends had been bugging me move down here anyways so I took the opportunity.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The past couple years, you've had a lot of frustrations with not being able to train and fight. Was there a moment where you were just overwhelmed with the frustrations of being such a talented fighter and not being able to showcase your skills?
Tara LaRosa: Yeah and that's one of the reasons why I kinda started drifting away. It was like, I'd done all this stuff. Shouldn't just my track record and my record in itself open enough doors for me? Shouldn't it be easier as I have more and more experience in the sport? It was really frustrating and upsetting. It was really upsetting because I've been seeing a lot of newcomers and everything get all kinds of opportunities and people were telling me, "Oh we don't know what to do with you. We don't know how to market you. We don't know who to put you against." and I'm like, "Shit. What the hell?"
Monte kept finding things here and there and it would always be last minute. It would always be people calling with two weeks' notice or a week and a half notice. I was just like, "Damn, this sucks!" I can't stay in shape constantly like this and just pick up fights and take fights like that. I get too many injuries when I burn it hard all the time I get too many injuries. I've got to have that rise and fall, that flux where I can take some time off and relax and then get back into it. I just really got discouraged and drifted away and just started working a couple other jobs to make money because MMA wasn't paying the bills. That's my career. That's what I do and when the money's not coming in, you've got to find a way to live.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of some of those extra jobs you've had to do, I've heard you did everything from a warehouse job to even recently a medical marijuana dispensary.
Tara LaRosa: Yeah, that's actually what I'm doing out here. I worked for a company called Green Ambrosia. They're a medicinal marijuana consortium and I deliver medical grade marijuana to older folks, cancer patients, AIDS patients, people who've had severe injuries or are in assisted living homes. All types of people. It's really interesting and really rewarding to meet these people and get to hear their story and help them out. It's very nice.
They let me take off the week of my fight and the week before as well so I can really focus on my training, my weight cut and get everything together to get out and go to Kansas. I'm so grateful. They've been really awesome and they're big supporters. They're big fans. Everyone's really excited about my fight so that's kinda cool.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about the state of women's MMA. It seemed like things were starting to trend down a bit after Gina walked away but with the emergence of Ronda Rousey with Invicta starting up and having so much success, do you feel like they're right back at that same level, perhaps even higher than it's ever been right now?
Tara LaRosa: Definitely higher for sure. It just seems like you hit that little plateau and it just climbs again and shoots up again. That seems to be how it's going throughout the years. Everybody was like all upset when Gina left, "Oh my God! What are we gonna do now? MMA is gonna go down in flames and aren't gonna be any more women!" Are you kiddin' me? There's more and more women coming out now than ever before. Women that hit the gyms years ago and now they're starting to emerge and they're good. We have a lot of talent coming out and you know what? When Ronda's gone, there will be someone to replace her. I guarantee that. There always is.
I think we have a bright future especially with Invicta putting on great shows. They're not oversaturating the market. They're doing like 3-4 shows a year and I think that's about right. If you do too many more than that, you'll start to run out of fights and good match-ups. It's nice that they bring in women from all over the globe. It's awesome. If you want to see all the best fighters and all the best match-ups, it's really exciting. It's an exciting time for women's MMA right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you see yourself as a role model at this point in your career, after 10 years on the scene and going through everything you have?
Tara LaRosa: What I've done and the things I've done that maybe I failed, I want people to learn from my career. I want people to look at what I have done and what others have done and see if they can do what I did or make it better. Learn from those that have gone before and make yours better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent Vanessa Porta. She's a very talented fighter with a great ground game and some solid stand-up. She's also coming down in weight to fight you. Do you feel like people are kind of selling her a bit short because she got upset in her last bout at 135 pounds against Sarah D'Alelio?
Tara LaRosa: Yes big time, definitely. I didn't see that coming, that whole reverse upside-down triangle shoulder lock whatever that was. It was pretty cool. I'm not gonna lie. I never saw that coming. I really thought Porto was gonna do her thing and tap her but it didn't happen. I do think that people are discounting Porto. Everyone's telling me, "Oh yeah, after you win this one, you should so and so" and I'm like, "Wait a minute. I've got to win this one first. This chick is really good and she's really tough. I'm not gonna knock her out or submit her in 30 seconds especially with my style. I just don't work that way. No one had better look at me as trying to top Sarah D'Alelio (laughs) because I'm not known for quick submission. I am known for exciting fights though. I'll tell you that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is an interesting stylistic match-up as well because just about all your strengths are her strengths too. It's gonna be really interesting to try and find those specific areas where you have an actual significant advantage.
Tara LaRosa: Exactly! That's what people are missing! The style match-up, we're almost like identical. It's scary. It's almost like I'm fighting myself. She's got really good jiu-jitsu and she likes to ground and pound, well I do that too. She has decent stand-up, not the best in the sport but it's decent. That's similar to mine too. She got the wrestling and judo and so do I. This should be interesting. They say if you put two grapplers together you'll get a good stand-up fight. Well, we kind of do all of it so I have no idea how it's gonna play out. I've got my gameplan but gameplans only go so far sometimes and you usually have to chuck it out and just go with the flow.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Despite being one of best female fighters out there, your weight class hasn't really been featured in Strikeforce of Bellator so most modern fans really haven't had any good exposure to you. Do you feel like this could be a defining moment for you considering there's gonna be so many people paying attention to this fight?
Tara LaRosa: Thanks for putting even more pressure on me! (laughs) Yes, I do actually because so many people have been telling me, "Tara LaRosa is finally coming to Invicta! We get to watch Tara LaRosa!" I'm like, "Oh my God. If I blow this, everybody is going to say, 'What the hell?" and everybody's gonna instantly write me off." So not only do I have to win, but I have to put on a really excellent fight and I have to pull out all kinds of crazy submissions and awesome stand-up and have this stellar performance. I'm trying not to let it all get to me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If you could picture a perfect victory in your mind for this fight, how would you like to see it play out?
Tara LaRosa: I'd like to see a submission. I'd like to get a submission and then have enough energy to get up and jump up and down for a minute, give her a hug, then wait for the ref to raise my hand. That's what I'd like to see.
Tara would like to thank her team at Ivan Salaverry MMA, her coach Pete Nicacio, all her teammates and her sponsors Fight Twisted, Anthony Hopkins, StreetMade and Tri Coasta. You can follow Tara on Twitter @TaraLaRosa
Do you think LaRosa will prove her status this Saturday night when she takes on Porto? What are your expectations for her Invicta FC debut?