MMA helped lift Ashley Yoder out of a dark place, and now her life is less chaotic

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
(R-L) Ashley Yoder and Amanda Cooper touch gloves to the start of round two in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on Nov. 10, 2018 in Denver. (Getty Images)
(R-L) Ashley Yoder and Amanda Cooper touch gloves to the start of round two in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on Nov. 10, 2018 in Denver. (Getty Images)

After a fast and successful start, Ashley Yoder sat in a locker room dealing with yet another tough decision loss. Then, the support poured in.

There were her coaches and teammates, of course, but also a referee who had officiated amateur bouts of hers years ago. All of them had great things to tell her about her performances, and her progress.

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It all made a huge difference for the UFC strawweight. Yoder had kick-started her pro MMA career with a 5-1 record that got her into the big league before losing three-straight decisions.

Her last loss was a controversial split-decision to former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Mackenzie Dern where Yoder could have justifiably been given the nod by the judges. Even in official defeat, Yoder managed to show the world what she is capable of and why she’s worth watching in the ring.

“I have a huge support team,” she told Yahoo Sports ahead of her UFC Singapore fight Oct. 26 against Randa Markos.

“I gained a lot of fans even in those losses. That support made a difference to me. Just being encouraged, even by the UFC, helped me push through. I had a lot of support and I’m really grateful for that. Every time you get a loss, even if you did everything that you thought you could, it takes a little bit of wind out of your sails. Having people who watched my fights come out and encourage me was big. Even referee Jason Herzog who reffed me as an amateur came up to me after the [Angela] Hill fight to give me his praises about how far I’ve come. He told me to keep grinding like that.”

Yoder did indeed stay on her grind and is now riding a two-fight win streak. The Team Quest fighter was happy to get her first UFC wins but perhaps even more proud of overcoming challenges before the bell ever rang.

Ashley Yoder celebrates her victory over Syuri Kondo of Japan in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on June 22, 2019 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Getty Images)
Ashley Yoder celebrates her victory over Syuri Kondo of Japan in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on June 22, 2019 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Getty Images)

“I was most happy to just overcome obstacles, especially in that fight camp [in preparation to fight Amanda Cooper in 2018]. I had a coach stuck in Brazil, I had family issues and a lot going on leading up to that fight. The hardest stuff mentally wasn’t even really from losses I just think that at the time my life was pretty chaotic.”

Life is a little less chaotic for Yoder these days, she says, though certainly not free from adversity. She is looking forward to mixing it up with her fellow “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Markos in Singapore after working through another training camp.

“I think we’re very similar in a lot of aspects,” she said of her opponent. “We don’t mind being anywhere in the fight – standing or on the ground – which will make it a really great fight for us. When she was on TUF I rooted for her. People didn’t seem to know who she was, she was this Darkhorse, and I respect her style. She just fights. She doesn’t talk s---, she just competes.”

It makes sense that Yoder doesn’t like to use her fights as occasions to manufacture artificial drama for show, to “sell” bouts. Yoder originally sought out MMA as a respite from the very real trauma of losing her older brother, who died tragically in a motorcycle accident when she was 18.

The anniversary of his death fell just days before her scheduled fight Saturday, and Yoder says that though this time of year is always difficult for her, she’s learning how to live with it.

“He is one hundred percent what got me started fighting.” Yoder recounted. “I had not stepped into a martial arts academy until I was 20. I didn’t do any combat sports growing up. I was a swimmer. We had 190 acres that we lived on growing up so we just rode horses, four-wheelers, and played paintball. I never had martial arts experience. But, after he died, training martial arts got me out of this really dark place in life and gave me new purpose.

“Over the years, it’s always harder around this time. When the anniversary comes up it is always not the best part of the year. I’m starting to heal in the sense of accepting instead of it just being a negative, sad funk, and where I can enjoy where I’m at, and where I can give praise for where I am and what I have.”

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