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By: Brad Walker, MMATorch Contributor
On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon yesterday, I arrived at Team Curran MMA to sit down and chat with XFC fighter and Team Curran member Felice Herrig, who is preparing for her next fight in April. I recently named her as one of my five candidates for the next face of women's MMA. She was beating the living daylights out of a hanging bag on the side mat with her muay thai and kickboxing, which is genuinely scary. I may be a very tall and generally large guy, but this tiny little girl would put me on my back with a single strike. After she is done laying waste to the punching bag, I head to the very humid and toasty sauna for a chat with the Little Bulldog;
Brad Walker: Let's start back at the beginning, you have a long and decorated history with kickboxing and Muay Thai, how did you first get into that?
Felice Herrig: My dad was a martial artist so I grew grew up watching him train, we had speed and bags in the garage; when I was seven my sister started dating a martial artist, so I watched them train. My brother in law took me to fights. I was athletic in school with five kids in my family, so we had no extra money for sports; when I turned 18 I knew it was something I wanted to do because I was athletic and could compete in it, and a lot of other girls didn't so it was an advantage.
Walker: How did you get the nickname "Lil Bulldog"?
Herrig: I've always had a very aggressive fighting style, straight forward, I never pull back. My first boxing coach was holding mitts, I did no lateral movement, no moving back, he knew I was strong, and he said "Sometimes you have to step back a bit, you're like a bulldog, you just want to go straight forward!" My boyfriend at the time said "She's like a bulldog but a little bulldog." Next time I fought the ring announcer asked if I had a nickname, and my ex-boyfriend shouted little bulldog. I told the Ring Announcer not to say it, but he did; I was kind of embarrassed, but [it was] very fitting, and I knocked out the girl in 58 seconds. It feels kind of cliché to have a nickname, but it fits.
Walker: In 2007 you landed on national TV with Fight Girls on Oxygen, and made a hell of an impression going to Thailand and defeating a well-known champion; how do you think that helped your career?
Herrig: It helped me as far as being in the spotlight, and working well under pressure, and then obviously every single thing that you do will better your career, and yourself, as a fighter. A lot of it is the mental game, and before Fight Girls I never had any Muay Thai fights, just American kickboxing - no clinch, just straight up kickboxing - so it was different, but I tend to do well when I'm put under pressure. I was really focused and it was nice to just be away and have all my focus on fighting and training. It was good, because it was easy to find fights, but hard to have start as a professional; people knew how to beat me because I was a straight up kick boxer. The girls I fought off the bat were good at my weakness (wrestling), so they would take me there.
Walker: It was in 2009 that you finally made the leap to professional MMA, how did you prepare for your first fight - both mentally and physically?
Herrig: It was different because it was hard searching for a new gym, and you don't know the difference between a good striking coach and everything. I started at a gym and it was to go in and wrestle, go and do BJJ, so I think I just missed out on all the basics. It was like a street fight kind of, I searched and knew that something was missing, so I went to California and trained at Alliance with Cali Vera who I was on Fight Girls with and did a training camp with Josh Barnett. I couldn't just pick up and move, because fighters don't make that much money, you live from fight to fight. Vince Ramos had texted me and told me to check out Team Curran, and I had interviewed Jeff Curran for Combat Wire, so I came here and I knew it was the perfect fit, where I could excel and grow as a fighter. And really learn technique, not just to brawl and be strong and tough. I didn't just want to be a pretty girl who is tough who could fight; I think that's what people tend to label me as, a pretty girl who can fight. I want to be the best. I don't feel like my MMA career began until I started at Team Curran.
Walker: Your first win - against Michelle Gutierrez in November of 09 - came via arm bar – what did you change coming off of two losses to go into the cage and take home such a decisive win?
Herrig: I came off of two split decision losses. I felt good, I was at Alliance for that fight, Phil Davis was cornering me at that time, I felt good; I mean like I knew that I was athletic and would be good on the ground, but people think I'm just a striker, so when I got a chance to fight another one I knew she wanted to strike. I knew her weakness would be the takedown and submission, so I took her down and submitted her. It felt really good having my first win be with a submission because it was so unexpected. I just picked her up and slammed her to so I got to wrestle and do jiu-jitsu; I got to do it all.
Walker: Getting a bit more recent, in your last fight you lost a very tough fight with a very talented and powerful wrestler in Carla Esparza - do you look back and wish you had done something differently in the course of that fight - and if so, what?
Herrig: I think she was just a better wrestler, and in MMA wrestling is key. The thing is, I could say "You know if I stood and traded with her," but her game plan was relentless; she wasn't going to strike with me, I could have beat her standing up, but that's not how it went. I could have done more movement, lateral movement and kept it standing more, but she's been wrestling since she was a kid, and I've been in kickboxing. And it's easier said than done, when you're in there. It's "coulda woulda shoulda," but you can't always physically do what you want. I watch the fight and I could've tried to get to my feet more, but at the same time getting back to your feet takes so much more energy and I might have been easier to submit.
Walker: Your next fight is against the very strong and well-rounded Patricia Vidonic - who has a knack for submissions - how do you feel about the matchup?
Herrig: I feel really good like it's a perfect match for me, she's going to do the same thing and try to take me down but I think my ground game is underrated because I'm a kick boxer, but that doesn't mean I have no ground game. I have two submissions, technically three from when I fought in Bellator, since the ref stopped it and let us keep fighting even though it should have been a submission. The thing is she's going to try to get me to the ground, and I'm not afraid of that; Carla was a two time all American wrestler, other than that I've never been taken down. I'm not easy to take down; I've fought bigger fighters at 120 and not gone down. She's not going to beat me on my feet, or the ground either. I don't feel like I have any weak points right now, but she's not really the best at anything in particular, so it's a good fair matchup.
Walker:Moving a bit off topic - can you tell us a little about your partner in crime, the infamous Sock puppet Sockem?
Herrig: It's actually random, my friend Jordan who's an amateur MMA fighter came out to do a training camp with me, and she loves monkeys, and I was picking out my fight outfit for my August fight, and I saw a little sock monkey beanie baby and took a pic, and started taking them with him everywhere. I got attached to him, then before my fight I was doing my rash guard, putting on the logos, some of the logos were really small, and I gave him the name Sockem and I thought he might like a tattoo, so I put the Heardrush logo on the back and my signature pose on him (arms out to the side, hands balled in fists), then I weighed in with him and he became a part of everything I did, he just became a part of my character; now he's my little buddy. Then I had to make Jordan one, and I actually made one. And now all my fans send me sock monkeys and gummy bears, I have tons!
Walker: You've become a spokesmodel for a lot of your sponsors, have you ever considered taking it up professionally, or going the Gina Carano route and dabbling in Hollywood in between fights?
Herrig: Yeah, actually growing up I wanted to be an actress, it's like a progression thing, it will definitely happen, because I always wanted to be a fitness model, a star - a celebrity, an actress - so when I got in I wanted to do figure competitions. I knew that this was a way to be an athlete and a rarity in the sport; a lot of pretty female fighters are breaking through now, so I knew I could get my name out there by being the best and fighting and I knew I could draw attention that way and it would lead me to other opportunities, because I have a personality and a look and I can do a lot. So I know that I'll be doing movies one day, I don't have a timeframe when it's going to happen, my heart is still in fighting and I want the fighting to lead me to those opportunities, it has lead me so far and it will take me to that place. I was in a video game, I teamed up with Battleware, and they are teaching me how to shoot guns so when I try out for the movies I know how to use a weapon and can do action roles; it's all falling into place how it's supposed to. People are seeing me more and more everywhere, and it's not happening over night because it gives me a chance to get a taste of stardom and keep me humble, because when people go from being nobody to a celebrity it gets to their head, and I want to stay grounded and rooted and humble and not act like I'm better than them. I've seen a lot of grounded fighters; Randy Couture is very grounded. But other guys they let it go to their head and it's just such an unattractive quality and I don't want to be that person.
Walker: Thanks again Felice, and good luck in your next fight!
Brad's Brief: This was hands down the trickiest interview I've ever done, because it took place in its entirety in a sauna, and I was sweating a small waterfall. Felice took time out of her rigorous training schedule to talk with me, and her professionalism and honesty is second to none. She may be small in size, but what she lacks in mass she makes up for in power; this is not a fighter you want to get hit by. She's extremely open and approachable, and if you ever have the good luck to meet her at an event, you should not pass on the opportunity. I wanted to thank Felice, and her manager Brian Butler for setting everything up even with such a busy schedule, and ask you all to tune in for XFC 17 on HDNet April 13th, to see Felice do battle in the cage against Patricia Vudinic.
You can also follow her on twitter @Feliceherrig
Surprisingly you can also follow her sock puppet come to life Sockem on twitter - @SockemLBD
You should follow me too - @bradmmatorch
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