Not many 13-year-olds know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Makaylah Mangundayao is different.
The Del Webb Middle School eighth-grader decided the moment she stepped inside Xtreme Couture, the gym founded by mixed martial arts star Randy Couture, that she wanted to become a professional fighter.
Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a full-contact combat sport in which fighters use striking and grappling techniques from several martial arts disciplines.
“I would watch TV and see women like Ronda Rousey when I was little, and I just asked my mom if I could try it,” Makaylah said.
She has been involved in martial arts for eight years, specializing in taekwondo for seven. She discovered martial arts through her father’s side of the family and was also drawn to fighting after watching movies and TV shows. When she found the urge to return to martial arts at age 12, she discovered MMA.
Although she tried other sports such as golf, volleyball and basketball, she knew fighting was her passion. She likes the physical contact of sports and felt golf was too boring.
“Once she saw women fighting, she just knew,” Makaylah’s mother, Carolyn Mangundayao, said. “She saw the different aspect (of MMA fighting) and wanted to learn everything in one place to use at the same time. That’s what grabbed her attention.”
Makaylah said she enjoyed “learning so many new things every day and getting discipline.”
Her middle school has no wrestling team, but Makaylah said she plans to join Liberty High School’s team next year.
Her parents said they support her completely. At first, her mother was nervous, but her attitude toward fighting has relaxed over the years.
“It was a little scary at first,” she said. “But because it’s her passion, I agree with it. In this day and age, it’s always good for a female to learn self-defense. I’m (definitely) not as strict as I thought I would be, simply because I know she will be able to defend herself,” Carolyn Mangundayao said.
Makaylah began competing again in September and reaffirmed her passion for the sport. She took second place in the Grapplers Quest 2013 at the Las Vegas Sports Center.
Carolyn Mangundayao said to continue fighting her daughter must hold up her end of their bargain.
“I did encourage her, but we made a deal,” she said. “I told her, ‘I’ll give you what you need, but you need to give me your education.’ ”
Makaylah told her mother: “Since you are allowing me to go pro and you said I have to finish school, how about I go to school and get my degree in business? Then later on I could open my own gym.”
Carolyn Mangundayao said she is proud of her daughter for thinking that far ahead.
Tim Lane, a kickboxing coach and a world-class striker in boxing, said Makaylah’s one of the best fighters in the gym.
“I’ve been teaching a long time, and Makaylah is one of the best I’ve had,” he said. “Her skills are absolutely incredible; she is well beyond her years. She moves, kicks and spars like she is 16. Even though she’s had training elsewhere, it has been a great experience to see her grow here.”
Makaylah is part of a growing trend. Although MMA fighting is not widely considered a women’s sport, the number of women joining its ranks is rapidly increasing.
“I feel that most women have more drive and more potential to show that they are as good as most men. Because of the demographic of the sport revolving around men, they want to prove themselves,” said Eric Nicksik, the Xtreme Couture gym manager and Makaylah’s grappling coach.
More often, Nicksik added, women are willing to work harder, listen better and do the extra little things to help them improve as fighters.
That’s especially true of Makaylah, he said.
“As far as competitors go, she’s been the youngest I’ve had compete,” Nicksik said. “I think she could be a world champion; she has the drive and work ethic.”
He said despite her young age, Makaylah prepares for her competitions just as seriously as a top-level fighter.
“That’s the kind of drive I see in her,” Nicksik said. “Makaylah and a lot of the girls I have (at the gym) are tough.”
After losing to a boy in her most recent tournament, Makaylah locked herself in her room for three days, he added.
Makaylah said fighting is her life and that becoming a better fighter will be her lifelong obsession.
“That’s what I love — there’s always (things) to work on,” she said.