Photograph Credit: Lance Emery Photography, XFS, Chris Stanley
Our one-on-one interview with local female MMA fighter Chris Stanley as she prepares for her August 23 bout at XFS “Tidal Wave.”
It is not uncommon for some of the greatest athletes, musicians and actors to benefit from the classic cliché of “right place, right time,” however, it is typically the hard work, dedication and willingness to learn, grow and improve that help justify what some would consider a ‘lucky break’.
For Chris Stanley (2-1), a local mixed martial artist who fights with Team Hurricane Awesome at S.D. Combat Academy, “right place right time” was just the beginning of a special relationship between student and teacher that is still developing and becoming stronger with each passing day.
“I met Manolo (Coach Manolo Hernandez) when I was at another gym. It was around the time he was starting off S.D. Combat actually,” Stanley explains. “I was coming off knee surgery actually and he sat down next to me and we started talking,” Stanley adds.
Stanley, who has been fighting most of her life while living overseas with her family in Taiwan, started martial arts at an early age in an attempt to control her aggression.
“I started tae kwon do when I was 7 years old in Taiwan. I did that most of my childhood because I really wanted to fight,” Stanley told me during our time together.
Unfortunately for Stanley, the idea of participating in martial arts without an opponent in front of her did not make sense to her. The idea of competitive fighting became the driving force behind her transition from basic martial arts to the then surging sport of MMA.
“When I came to the states around the age of 10 I took a break from [tae kwon do] and then around 17 I got back into it and received my black belt. I did a lot of competitions and it was fun, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. It wasn’t as hardcore as MMA and that is where I wanted to be,” Stanley explained.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Stanley seriously started to get into MMA. At that time, like most female athletes who appreciated the sport, it was Cris “Cyborg” Santos, who was fighting for Strikeforce, who was the face of women’s MMA. It was then that Stanley became enthralled with the sport and wanted to learn more.
“I remember flipping through magazines and seeing stuff about the UFC and I thought it was so interesting. But I didn’t know anything about the ground game,” says Stanley. She adds, “That is when I really got into jiu-jitsu because I really didn’t have any ground experience and I knew that was important in MMA.”
Circle back to the life-changing first introduction with Coach Hernandez and the story of Chris Stanley gets even more interesting. Little did Stanley know that Coach Hernandez himself was becoming head trainer at a new gym in San Diego that would include one of the sport’s rising female stars.
“I didn’t actually know who [Coach Hernandez] was, but we talked and he showed me a picture of Liz [Carmouche] who was fighting in Strikeforce at the time,”
If you have ever met Coach Hernandez, then you know he loves a good conversation. While he can talk about almost anything, the one thing that peaks Hernandez’s interest is the fight game…and learning about who wants to fight and why. Hernandez sought this information as his conversation with Stanley continued.
“I told him that is what I wanted to do and he said, ‘you can…’ Stanley tells me. “It was funny because here was this guy (Hernandez) I didn’t know telling me I could be a fighter…and it turned out he was the coach of Liz Carmouche,” Stanley explained.
For Stanley, her goals were clear: Heal up and train with Coach Hernandez. “Once I got better I started to train with him and we just hit it off. He is really cool and super funny and just a great coach,” Stanley explained.
Stanley may have walked into the perfect situation, but it is her drive and ability that make her the fighter she is today. As Coach Hernandez told us, Stanley has the tools. As her trainer, that fact creates a foundation only few fighters can lay claim to.
“Christine is one of the most amazing and natural strikers I have ever trained,” Coach Hernandez explained.
Couple hard work and ability with elite training partners and you have a recipe for success that Stanley appreciates on a daily basis.
“The talent here at SD Combat Academy helps me so much. With guys like Landon, who are so tough and are well-rounded in striking it is truly a blessing,” Stanley explains. She adds, “His technique is so good and it is something I have tried to mold my striking after.”
If striking was considered Stanley’s strength, then it was her ground game that she recognized as an area she would need to improve if she wanted to reach the top of the female MMA landscape. Thankfully for Stanley, S.D. Combat Academy also houses some of the best grapplers in the area.
“I love training ground with Walel (Watson). You get great jiu-jitsu training with him and now even more so with Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez who started training here regularly,” Stanley tells me during our interview.
While training with elite fighters such as Watson and Martinez has done wonders for her game, for Stanley, there is one person who helps take her game to the next level.
“Liz (Carmouche) is such a great friend and great teammate,” Stanley tells me with a smile.
But where does ‘great friend’ and ‘great teammate’ end when the cage door closes, the bell sounds and a training session begins?
“The one word to describe training with Liz is brutal,” Stanley says. “But it is also fun…she makes it enjoyable while at the same time she doesn’t go easy on you…and that is important when you are trying to improve,” she added.
The opportunity for Stanley to train with Carmouche, pick her brain and be pushed to the next level by the current UFC #7 contender is something Stanley doesn’t take for granted.
“She won’t let me get anything on her unless I put forth the effort. But that is great for me because it pushes me to a different level,” Stanley explained.
Carmouche, who currently fights in the UFC and nearly choked-out current bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey at UFC 157, is part of the recent movement in women’s MMA that has become must-see television for fans at every level. With the UFC making a commitment to women’s MMA, Bellator recently hinting at adding the 145 lb. division and other promotions already considering women’s MMA a staple on their cards, the present is proving to be a time when female mixed martial artists are truly getting the recognition they deserve in the sport.
For Stanley, being part of the movement is something she doesn’t take for granted. “I feel very blessed to be part of it. I really do,” she explained. “It’s great to see the girls get high level competition and get recognized. Now there is somewhere to go for women’s MMA and that is great for the sport,” Stanley added.
As for Stanley herself, there is a goal to make it to the next level. With the drive she possesses, the expertise in her corner and training partners who push her daily, it isn’t a matter of ‘if,’ but instead, ‘when.’
“I want to be a bigger part of MMA at a higher level and we are working our way up there,” Stanley said. “I believe 100% in my ability to reach that level, but right now it’s about timing…winning my fights and the right things happening at the right time,” she added.
Chris Stanley has a plan. Win or lose, she is doing what she truly loves and developing as a fighter throughout her journey. This Saturday, August 23 at XFS “Tidal Wave” Stanley takes the next step, looking for her 3rd victory inside the cage.
“I just think fighting is a great experience. I wish everyone would try it at least once because it truly shows you what you are made out of,” Stanley left me with.
For me personally, as a fan of the sport and someone who appreciates the fighters who embrace their craft, I cannot wait to see what happens Saturday night.
You can follow Chris Stanley on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/christine.stanley.80?fref=ts on Twitter @Twatsup125 and see her fight Saturday night August 23 at XFS “Tidal Wave.” Get your tickets now and support your local MMA fighters.
Chris would like to thank S.D. Combat Academy, Coach Manolo Hernandez, all of her training partners including Liz Carmouche, Landon, Walel Watson, Richie Martinez and her sponsors Happy Head Foot Reflexology and Massage and Bite Me Mouthguards.
Special thanks to Chris Stanley, S.D. Combat Academy, Coach Manolo Hernandez, Team Hurricane Awesome, Gregg Sharp, XFS and Lance Emery.