Give Cindy Dandois this: She’s probably the first UFC fighter, active or retired, to use “Frankenweenie” in a sentence.
Dandois will make her UFC debut Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., when she faces veteran Alexis Davis in a three-round bantamweight bout. Dandois is a highly accomplished grappler and holds a victory over Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson.
She’s also a high school teacher in Belgium, and will be back in the classroom on Monday, only minutes after touching down at the airport.
Many of her students are MMA fans who will be watching her compete and will cheer her return to the classroom.
“They are so great,” she said of her students. “They support me in every way that they can.”
Dandois, who said ex-UFC women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate is her best friend, is one of those positive, can-do people with the cheery, upbeat attitude that the rest of us only have on occasion.
And unlike many of her peers, who list athletes as diverse as Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Warren Sapp, Walter Payton and Pele as their idols, she’s not so much into the hardcore side of things.
Oh, she’s a fighter through and through, but she finds her inspiration in different places.
Take her idol. It’s not a fighter or even a pro athlete.
She’s studied the life of Walt Disney, who created the company that bears his name, and hopes to pattern herself after him.
She’s walked to the cage to Disney songs in the past, and wanted to do so on Saturday, but for some reason she wouldn’t explain, wasn’t permitted to do so.
She’ll walk to another song, which she promised, “will be a fairytale, as well, very similar” to a Disney song.
So fans in the arena might be disappointed to learn that there’s no chance they’ll hear, “Let It Go,” the lead track of the mega-hit Disney film, “Frozen,” as Dandois walks to the cage.
But her interest in Disney isn’t all fairytales and cartoons, even though she says she loves them.
She didn’t hesitate when asked why Walt Disney, who died in 1966, is her idol.
“Well, it all started with a mouse, and look where he took it,” she said. “Walt Disney started from nothing, but he always believed in his dreams. He had a lot of struggles and he had to overcome a lot of failures, but at the end, he had the big studio, everyone knew his name and a lot of kids looked up to him.
“His stories made people happy, and made them smile, and they maybe inspired them. He invested his life in making people happy by telling stories and making cartoons and being positive. I think that’s so delightful and in a world full of problems, that is something so nice. Walt had his struggles with money and getting his studio open and making people believe in his vision. He kept going and with a little magic, he changed the world.”
Dandois sounds a lot like Steve Jobs when she speaks of changing the world. Jobs changed it by creating great products that improved people’s lives.
She wants to change it one by one in her classroom, helping her students become the best she can be.
Dandois, who is 32, teaches geography, history and biology, among other subjects. Though high school students are often notoriously difficult to manage, particularly for a young teacher, Dandois insists she has no problem.
She treats her students as peers and says treating them with respect at all times is a must.
“If you can get into their brains and unlock the mind and help them learn about the world they’re going into, it’s a beautiful thing because they can go out into the world and make it a better place,” she said. “They’re so curious and interested about things and as a teacher, that puts us in a very influential position. If we as teachers, not just me but all of them, can help a student to find a passion and love it and pursue it, it has wide-reaching impacts.”
She’s got a tough test in her UFC debut, and knows that her striking is likely to be the key. If Davis, who has a jiu-jitsu black belt, opts to take the fight to the ground, Dandois would be happy to oblige.
But she knows her weakness has been her striking and she said she’s trained hard with Tate to improve it.
“I’m so blessed to have Miesha in my life as a friend and for her to help me means so much,” Dandois said.
If Dandois has improved her striking under Tate, she could quickly become a title contender because her grappling is that good.
And that will afford her the opportunity to spread her message of positivity and hope, her love for Walt Disney and the many characters he created.
“He created so much beauty and happiness for so many people and he left an incredible legacy on this world,” Dandois said of Disney. “It’s what we all would want to do if we could. Just like everyone else, I’m sure he had his doubts and maybe he second-guessed himself at times, but he never gave up and he wound up living his dream. That’s a great example of how to have a successful life.”