July 21st 2016
Name – Leah Letson
Nickname – Nidas
Record – 2 wins 1 loss
Weight – 135 pounds
Team – Pura Vida BJJ/MMA
Where are you from ?
I am originally from Janesville, Wisconsin. However, I moved to Milwaukee 6 years ago.
How long have you been training ?
I have been training MMA for about 2 ½ years.
How did you get in to MMA ?
I decided to take a cardio kickboxing class my junior year of college to get in shape for Air Force basic training. It was then that I met Jake and Zak, who are now my coaches and the owners of Pura Vida BJJ. They invited me to come check out their gym and after a few months, I finally went. I immediately fell in love with the puzzle that is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I started training BJJ for about 4 months. I then left for basic training and tech school for the Air Force for 6 months. The very first night I got back to Wisconsin I was back in the gym again. After training 6 days a week for a month and a half, I got a call from my coach telling me to pack my bags because I was fighting in less than 24 hours. That call changed my life.
Tell us about your nickname and how you got it ?
My nickname is Leah “Nidas” like the Spartan King Leonidas from the movie 300. My coach, Jake, came up with it the night of my first MMA fight. It goes with my first name, Leah, perfectly.
What was the defining moment for you when you knew you wanted to become a fighter ?
The moment I knew I wanted to become a fighter was actually the moment I won my very first amateur MMA fight. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was caught off-guard with the last-minute opportunity to have my first fight. No matter how much training you have done, the moment you step in the cage, things change. No one knows how exactly he or she will react when they have their first fight. Fighting isn’t for everyone, but I knew as soon as I won that it was for me. There is nothing like the rush of adrenaline you get from fighting.
Were your family and friends supportive when you decided to enter the world of mma ?
Most of my friends thought it was awesome that I started fighting. My mom and dad were very supportive; however, my dad was a little more apprehensive about it. He was afraid of me getting hurt.
What is your current record ?
My professional record is 2-1.
What is your favorite strike or submission ?
My favorite submission is the arm triangle.
Who is your biggest inspiration ?
I think my biggest inspiration would have to be my sponsor and friend, Eloisa De Leon. She is a very successful lawyer with two kids and a wonderful husband. She has trained in martial arts for a very long time, and has become like a second mom to me. She worked extremely hard to come from nothing to being a successful lawyer who can balance a successful professional and personal life. She is constantly supporting me both financially and emotionally. She inspires me to be the best person and fighter I can be.
What team do you currently train with ?
I have always trained at Pura Vida BJJ/MMA in Milwaukee, WI.
Do you like to stand with your opponent or take the fight to the ground ?
I feel comfortable everywhere. I don’t have a specific plan with any of my fights; I just go with the flow.
What does being fighter mean to you ?
Being a fighter means having extreme discipline to eat right when everyone around you is eating delicious food, working out when you would rather sleep in, staying in and getting a good night’s sleep while your friends party so you can get up early and train. It also means having the courage to get locked in a cage with someone who is trying to hurt you. Getting to perform in front of hundreds of people, having an adrenaline rush that most people will never understand, and being able to engage in the purest form of competition: hand to hand combat. I think of it as a privilege. Most people only dream of getting paid to do what they love everyday, and having the courage to perform in front of people. I am lucky to be living my dream of being a fighter.
What weight do you fight at ?
I fight at Bantamweight, 135lbs.
What do you think separates you from other fighters in your division ?
I am the hardest working, and most dedicated person you will ever meet. I am also very well-rounded. Many female fighters have a specialty that they are particularly good at, but they are also particularly weak in other areas. I work extremely hard every single day to be able to perform well no matter where the fight ends up.
If you could have one dream fight who would it be against ?
I guess my dream fight would have to be Meisha Tate because she is the world champion at my weight class, and I want that UFC belt.
Who has been your toughest fight to date ?
My pro debut was definitely my toughest fight. I ended up losing a very close split decision, but it taught me a lot about myself and exactly what I needed to work on to become a better fighter.
What is your mindset going in to a fight ?
I am going to win. There is nothing she can possibly do that can defeat me.
Who are you fighting next ?
I am fighting Sarah Payant.
What holes or weaknesses do you see in her game ?
I can’t give away my secrets! I have watched a few of her fights, and I can see that she is tough, but there are several weaknesses I plan to exploit during the fight.
What promotion are you fighting for ?
I am fighting for Premier Fighting Championships.
Date and time of your next fight ?
Saturday July 30th.
What do you want to be remembered for at the end of your career ?
I want to be remembered for being the longest reigning female champion who used her fame to make a difference in the world. I want young girls to look up to me and know that they can be anything they want to be. I want people, especially young people, that if they are willing to put in the time, work and dedication, they can also make their dreams come true.
Who has been most influential to you in your career ?
I would have to say that Jake Klipp and Zak Ottow have both been extremely influential in my career. I wouldn’t even have a career if it wasn’t for them. They saw something special in me from the beginning, they took me under their wing, and since then we have become very close friends. They have always been mentors to me in this sport.
Who do you feel has had the biggest impact on the sport ?
That’s hard to say, but Gina Carano is considered to be the pioneer of Women’s MMA. Ronda Rousey also brought significant attention and change to Women’s MMA.
How would you describe your fighting style ?
I would describe myself as a very well-rounded freestyle fighter.
What drives or motivates you ?
I have always been motivated by proving people wrong. I have been underestimated my entire life, which really has driven me to be successful in everything I do.
What is something people might not know about you ?
I can play the drums.
What do you think you would be doing if you hadn’t become a fighter ?
I would be a Milwaukee Police Officer working towards becoming a Special Agent in the FBI if I hadn’t become a fighter. I just graduated from UW Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Psychology with a minor in Sociology. This was my career goal before I started fighting.
Do you have any pre fight rituals that get you ready to go to battle ?
Before a fight, I always need my pre-fight pep talks from my coaches Jake Klipp and Nick Trost. Nick is a full-time firefighter, so he can rarely make it to my fights, so I almost always give coach Nick a call in the locker room before I start warming up. He knows exactly what to say to calm my nerves and get me focused and ready to fight. Jake also gives me a pre-fight pep talk in the locker room that really gets me hyped and ready to go.
You’re backstage about to walk out your music hits what’s going through your head as you walk to the cage ?
At that point, I try to clear my head of everything. I am extremely focused on keeping calm and doing exactly what I was trained to do: fight.
Who is your favorite fighter ?
I really admire Holy Holm and Conor McGregor for their striking abilities. Holly Holm is my favorite of the two because she is down to earth, and doesn’t constantly talk trash to her opponents. I’ve always been a respectful person too, so I like that about Holly.
When you’re not training what do you like to do with your free time ?
I train a lot, so there’s not much free time. However, I do like to ride my motorcycle, play video games, go camping and rock climbing. I also like going to car shows with my dad.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the sport so far ?
I would say that going undefeated as an amateur as well as having 9 fights in a year, and doing well in all of them is a big accomplishment. However, I would have to say that my biggest accomplishment is being able to come back from having ACL surgery and winning my 2nd pro fight. Sitting on the sidelines in the gym for several months only being able to watch was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. However, watching and working extremely hard paid off because I came back with more skill, strength and heart than I thought possible. That injury taught me a lot about myself and just how badly I want this.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for women in MMA ?
I would say the biggest challenge for women in MMA is not being taken seriously. Women are often looked at as spectacles in this sport; the appearance of the woman is judged first, then her talent. That is unfortunately the case for many female athletes. Women being taken seriously as athletes is something that society is still working on.
What advice can you give to young female fighters ?
My advice is to not get discouraged. We are females in a male dominated sport, so sometimes we are treated differently. I am lucky to have a team that is like that. However, not all teams are as supportive as mine. We can’t let that discourage us from following our passion or nothing will ever change.
Where do you see women’s MMA in the next 5 years ?
I see more weight classes in the UFC and many more female fighters in the scene.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years ?
I see myself as the UFC Champion.
What are your goals within the sport ?
I will be the UFC Champion.
Is there anyone you want to thank or give a shout out to ?
I would like to give a shout out to my generous sponsors: Christopher & De Leon Law Office, Precision Pattern and Engineered Equipment, Big Revelry, Web Tech Solutions, Rosencutter Ultra Fitness & Performance II, Ultimate Sun Tanning, 360 Distribution, and Aromatic Blessings. I couldn’t do this without their support. I would also like to give a big thanks to my coaches Jake Klipp, Nick Trost, and Zak Ottow, and my teammates at Pura Vida MMA. They spend countless hours helping me become a better fighter. Jake, Nick and Zak, thank you for being the older brothers I never had, and constantly pushing me to do better.