Sarah D'Alelio definitely stands out in the crowd.
Maybe it's the tattoos, but most likely, it's the mohawk. You won't find many of them on females, even the fighters.
But it's not her haircut that makes her special, it's her skills. After a disappointing 2011 that saw her fight only once for Strikeforce (losing to Ronda Rousey of all people), she has burst onto the scene with the upstart Invicta Fighting Championships.
While D'Alelio hasn't been fighting for nearly as long as her peers (beginning her pro career in 2010), she's made up for it by being one of the few female fighters who live and trains mixed martial arts full-time. It's helped her improve on a massive curve.
That's why she's fighting in the co-main event of Invicta FC 3: Penne vs Sugiyama tonight (Oct. 6, 2012) against female grappling legend and prior Invicta FC 2 headliner Shayna Bazler with a potential title shot on the line.
D'Alelio spoke with MMAmania.com about her depressing year in Strikeforce, how she's turned it around with Invicta and gives the story behind the mohawk in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is a pretty big fight for you. Invicta President Shannon Knapp even mentioned that there are title implications for the winner. Did that raise the stakes for you at all?
Sara D'Alelio: Not really. I look at every fight I've been fighting, especially with Invicta, as important. I don't want to play favorites on one or another. I view all the fights as what they are, and they're all big fights.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That attitude seems to be working. I think a lot of people were counting you out in your last fight against Vanessa Porto and you opened a lot of eyes with your submission win.
Everybody was counting me out. It's hard to explain. What I'm fighting for is not for a title or to be famous or this or that. I'm fighting to prove something more to myself than anything else. The name you place on it doesn't really change the fight for me. I don't do this to get vindication from outside people. It's all about that feeling inside me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are you trying to prove to yourself with these fights?
That's a good question. To prove that I'm good enough to be here? To be on this stage? A lot of the girls that I'm fighting, most of them have been fighting for longer than I've been training or knew about MMA. I train six days a week and give it 100 percent when I can. I try not to let the pressure get to me and it's just to prove that I deserve to be here.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your last fight was a solid win over Vanessa Porto but this one, you're taking on another big name in Shayna Bazler. This is a really big deal. What's it like going against somebody that's so respected and even headlined the last Invicta show?
For me, it's like Shayna, Vanessa, Sara McMann, all these girls are in contention for best in the world and to be fighting against them just shows what other people think of my skills. It makes me feel like I'm actually doing something with myself. I'm proud of myself to even be considered in the ballpark with these girls.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were a new inclusion in the top 10 rankings for women at 135 pounds that was released last month. Did that make you feel like all your hard work is starting to pay off?
Yeah, well it did. I was like, "Oh, that's cool. Sweet!"
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your hairstyle, it's completely different than most female fighters out there. What goes into that?
Well, when I was in high school 10-12 years ago I did crazy stuff with my hair even back then. Just my friend, Miriam Nakamoto, she said, "Do something with your hair, dammit!" because I was sitting here with a mop on top of my head that I never take care of so I went to another friend and said, "Do whatever you think is cool." None of it is really my idea honestly. I just let her do with it what she wants and it's turned out pretty good so far. It's fun to just trust someone with it and let go a bit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any special symbolism with the phoenix for you? I've seen that symbol repeated time and time again when doing research for this interview.
Kind of yeah. A phoenix is a spirit of a bird rising from the ashes. It does kind of mean something to me. The year I was with Strikeforce, I didn't get to do a lot. Sitting around not being able to do anything is kind of depressing and then Invicta came along and put me to work so it does mean a little bit to me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): After the year with Strikeforce and the semi-controversial fight against Ronda, how does it feel that Invicta has featured you on all three of their shows and you're getting regular work with them?
It feels good to actually be doing something. For a while, it was just really depressing. I was thinking, "What am I doing this for if I'm not gonna be able to fight? Why am I training full time?" When you're not fighting and you're training 100 percent of the time, you're pretty broke and every single penny that you get is going towards training. There's no room left for anything else. It was frustrating but for Invicta to take me and put me to work has pretty much been the best year of my life. I'm having the time of my life right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent Shayna Bazler. What did you take out of her last fight for Invicta? Did you think she had beaten Sara McMann?
Uhhh, I was there and I watched the fight and it was a really, really good fight. It was really close but I can't really say who I thought won that fight. It was a really entertaining fight and I was just watching it as a fan. It was spectacular. It was really close and I'm glad I wasn't a judge for that. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your last two fights, you won after going to the ground either via strikes or with the that zany submission against Porto. Are you going to have the same confidence to go to the ground against Bazler, one of the best ground fighters in the history of women's MMA especially considering how we she did on the ground against an Olympic wrestling medalist in her last bout?
Well, I wouldn't say she manhandled McMann. Sara McMann didn't get subbed and she got out of it technically. I think it's almost a 50/50 battle on the ground. If it were to go to the ground, I think it would almost be straight up 50/50. You will definitely see some scrambles if it goes there, good scrambles. I'm not afraid to scramble if it goes to the ground. That's the fun part.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfect for you, how would you like the fight to play out?
Well that would be revealing the gameplan, wouldn't it? (laughs) It's no surprise I want it to stay on the feet but I'm not afraid to go to the ground. I'm not afraid to fight anybody anywhere. That's the fighter in me. I'll fight standing, I'll fight in the clinch and I'll fight on the ground. That doesn't matter to me. In a picture perfect world, it would stay on the feet.
Sarah would like to thank her coaches and training training partners at CSA Gym, Miriam Nakamoto, her sponsors Brawl and Maul and Mud Energy and her manager Alp.