Hannah Guy grapples with 16-year-old Jade Huff at the women's only jiu-jitsu class at Relentless, an east Columbus gym on Alabama Street. Guy, who is an amateur mixed martial arts fighter, recently began teaching the class so women could learn self-defense moves in a relaxed environment. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
September 23, 2017 10:03:08 PM
Standing in a Tupelo fighting arena in February with a crowd of hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of people cheering, Hannah Guy tried to take deep, even breaths.
The 21- (now 22) year-old with the small frame and sweet smile hadn't even known what mixed martial arts was until about 18 months before, when she started fighting at the east Columbus MMA gym Relentless. There, she learned and fought several different styles with people she'd gotten to know. But this -- facing one opponent in front of a huge screaming crowd with the eyes of her gym mates and hundreds of other people all on her as their cheers roared through the arena -- was different.
Even with an opponent who was at least 10 pounds heavier than she was -- though Guy didn't know that until after the fight -- the thing that made her most nervous was the size of the crowd, all of them watching her.
"That's what I was most scared about, I think," she remembered later.
But when the cage door closed, and she was alone in the ring with her opponent, all she heard was the voice of her coach, Jake Reeves.
Three minutes fighting, punching, kicking her opponent. One minute in the corner, getting advice and water from Reeves. Three more minutes in the cage with her opponent. One more minute break. Three more minutes. And then the judges decided -- Guy had managed to get her opponent on the ground every round. She had won.
Two fights -- and two more wins -- later, and Guy is the reigning champion in the amateur female straw weight division -- the class of female fighters under 115 pounds -- of V-3Fights, an MMA promotion organization that holds fights all over the Southeast. When she's not training for her next bout in Jackson or Memphis, she's instructing other fighters at Relentless. Most recently, she's taken on a jiu-jitsu class for women, training them to defend themselves against assault.
Guy had never been an avid athlete or had any history with fighting when she began taking classes at Relentless in 2015. Reeves, who had been running the gym since 2012, certainly didn't think the skinny girl in his classes would be an amateur MMA champion -- though she was immediately tougher than she looked.
"She was deceptively strong for her size and she had a really good attitude," he said. "She listened well."
She started with a fight-fit course, a kickboxing cardio workout wherein fighters strike punching bags but no people. She also took Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a type of ground fighting that involves grappling, but no punches. She liked striking, so took Muay Thai, which involves fighters punching and kicking while staying on their feet.
"I was just hungry to go to as many classes as I could," Guy said.
MMA, she soon learned, combines those styles of fighting. She could kick and punch, but also get her opponent on the ground if she wanted.
"It's really good to know both of those and be well-rounded," she said.
But she didn't expect to start fighting. That was all Reeves' idea. Relentless had trained women and sent women to jiu-jitsu tournaments but had never put one in MMA fighting cages before. But because female MMA fighters are so rare, they're in high demand. Promoters love to work with them and spectators love to watch them, Reeves said.
That goes double for someone like Guy who is a "sweet little girl who is also a beast," Reeves said.
"She is a draw, even to people who don't know her," he said. "People want to watch her fight."
Teaching other women
But Guy's doing more than fighting. For the past year, she's been trying her hand at teaching classes, starting with fight-fit and then adding mixed martial arts. Women's jiu-jitsu as a self-defense class is the most recent addition to her teaching repertoire. The first class was held Sept. 13. Guy plans to teach women 13 every Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
The women's self-defense class is an idea Reeves has had in mind for a while.
"Women a lot of times can be very (put off) by not only coming to an MMA gym but doing jiu-jitsu," he said.
Many women don't like a fighting style that involves wrestling and grappling on the ground if their opponents are men they don't know well, he said. But it's an important self-defense technique for women.
"Jiu-jitsu is the absolute best (defense for women) because it deals with a bigger stronger opponent on top of you," he said.
With a woman fighter to teach the classes, Reeves thought it was time to give it a shot.
"They've never had a woman (train) here as long as I have so it just worked out really well," Guy said. "And it's something I'm passionate about. It's exciting to start my own little program."
One of the basic positions in jiu-jitsu is submission from the guard.
"That's a really good position because there's so much you can do from there," Guy said.
The position involves the fighter lying on her back with her opponent on top of her between her legs. The fighter brings her legs around her opponent's waist. From there she can sweep her opponent, a move that involves using the opponent's weight and leverage against them to get them on the ground, or use other moves like choke holds and arm bars to overpower them.
It's good technique both for practice bouts in the gym and street fighting, said Guy -- though thankfully neither she nor any women fighters she knows personally have had to employ jiu-jitsu tactics to defend themselves in a real life-threatening situation. Reeves certainly isn't worried -- he's seen Guy take down guys a lot bigger than her when wrestling at Relentless.
"Good luck to any guy who tries to attack Hannah on the street," he said. "... She'll have them choked out in two minutes."
Jade Huff, who has been taking classes at Relentless for four months, is one of the handful of students recruited for the women's only class so far. The Caledonia High School junior started taking various fighting classes with her mom for self-defense about a year ago. She's done jiu-jitsu at gyms on the Columbus Air Force Base and at Starkville before settling on Relentess, where she says trainers are more thorough when making sure fighters understand different moves. But...
"It's mostly boys in (the co-ed) class," she said.
She has friends who have told her they want to learn jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts but won't attend.
"They don't come because they're scared of getting beat up," she said. "But it's not like that at all."
Instead of beating them up, Guy is making sure they understand basic moves -- some of which Huff had practiced in the past but which she is now getting the chance to perfect.
"It's really helpful," she said. "It's really fun. Mostly I come here just for the fun of it."
That's similar to why Guy keeps fighting. Between teaching and fighting -- and knowing she has the support of other fighters and trainers at Relentess -- mixed martial arts and jiu-jitsu has become a passion for her. It motivates her to stay in shape and work on perfecting more and more moves.
"Everybody likes being good at something," Guy said. "It's something I constantly have to work at."