Cage Fighter Felice Herrig kicks, punches, grapples and clinches her way to victory.
A bell sounds at the start of the third and final round. Felice Herrig stares at her opponent, a redhead with tattoos covering her arms and chest, as they circle each other inside the caged ring. With her blonde hair in tightly braided cornrows and her white shirt spotted with reddish pink liquid, Ms. Herrig looks calm and focused. Her first jab throws her opponent off balance; the five-minute period flies by. “Forty seconds,” shouts a coach outside the chain link fence. In seconds, the redhead is on her back with Ms. Herrig straddling her with a solid under hook. “Take down!” shouts the referee. The final bell rings. In victory, Felice Herrig jumps to her feet and the referee pulls her right arm into the air.
In the women’s mixed martial arts world, LBD doesn’t mean little black dress. It stands for Lil Bull Dog, the fight name that Ms. Herrig received on her tenth fight. “My coaches say I have one speed – and that’s to move forward,” she says. “So it stuck. I love it.”
In fighting, names aren’t given. They’re earned. Currently ranked number two in the world in the International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) Pro Women’s Muay Thai Bantamweight Division, with six national titles in kickboxing and Muay Thai, and an actual Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 video game character based on her, it’s clear this fighter has worked hard for her title.
Naturally strong and athletic, fighting was a sport in which Ms. Herrig knew she’d succeed. But it wasn’t until age 18, with money saved, that she could try her abilities at kickboxing. Three shorts months later, she had her very first fight. “I’ve been non-stop ever since. I haven’t skipped a beat,” says the 27-year-old from Crystal Lake. “I’ve dedicated my life to this sport.”
Karate soon turned into kickboxing, then Muay Thai, and finally her current style – mixed martial arts, or MMA. An MMA fighter utilizes all the traditional components – kicks, punches, elbows, knees, clinches – but adds elements of wrestling and Jiu Jitsu, including submissions, take downs and grappling.
It also adds the ultimate stage factor: the cage. Instead of being surrounded by bouncy, elastic ropes like a boxing ring, fighters are enclosed in an unforgiving, six-foot tall, metal chain-link fence.
“When I was just kickboxing I knew, ‘Ok, I can kick and punch.’ When I do Jiu Jitsu tournaments, I know I can only grapple and work submissions,” Ms. Herrig says. “But in MMA, everything goes. You have to be ready for anything.”
Although she likes to fight, Ms. Herrig only averages about four fights a year. The higher a fighter climbs through the professional fight ranks, fewer opponents are willing to fight. And because fewer women than men compete at elite levels, it makes female fighters even harder to come by.
“It’s frustrating because it limits me,” adds Ms. Herrig. She also points out that women in the sport aren’t taken as seriously as men. “A lot of the bigger shows and channels don’t have female fights,” she says. “We don’t get as much exposure.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Herrig continues to train daily. When there’s a fight approaching, that means two to three times a day at the gym. “I don’t have much of social life,” admits Ms. Herrig. “Training is my job.”
When Ms. Herrig first started fighting, she told herself she’d retire after 100 fights. Nine years later, she has 40 fights under belt, and doesn’t see her goal becoming a reality. “My heart is in fighting,” she says. “I love to compete and strive to be the best, but the wear and tear on my body is starting to catch up.”
When the training and time in the ring ends, Ms. Herrig plans to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. “In the next few years, you’ll probably see me playing action roles in movies,” she predicts.
And of course, says Lil Bull Dog, “I’ll be doing my own fight scenes.”