With a population of more than 560,000 and residing comfortably on the east side of Australia is the country’s sixth-largest city, the Gold Coast. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, this would be where the life of Megan Anderson began.
Fast forward to October 2019, and the UFC featherweight returned to her home country at the biggest event in Australia and New Zealand MMA history. In doing so, it would be her first time competing on her native land since she last did four years prior.
As a kid growing up, Anderson never would have imagined herself as one day being able to say she was a professional face-puncher… but here we are.
An attendee of the private co-ed All Saints Anglican School, Anderson found herself trying to get into the sport of soccer during her youth. Something she admits to being terrible at accompanied by her being “extremely unathletic.”
Soccer was likely never going to be the sport for the Aussie anyway as the average height for female athletes in the sport is around 5-foot-7. Besides, she had other hobbies that captured her attention much more such as playing musical instruments like the piano and cello.
Now, the “extreme” maladroitness couldn’t be any further from the truth as she has transformed herself drastically over the years since finding her unexpected passion for MMA. A sport that demands overpreparation.
“There is no offseason in MMA like there is NFL, NBA, or baseball. There is no offseason, we are training all year round for maybe two 15 minute competition spots a year. That’s 30 minutes potentially in 365 days.” Anderson told The Body Lock.
“We put our bodies through so much and we train so hard to improve for such a little competition time that I think people can forget about the journey and it is so results-driven because a win, particularly in my division, I’m always one or two fights away from a title shot. But then a loss could be career-changing as well.”
Holding a 10-4 professional record to her name along with some hardware obtained during her time in Invicta FC, Anderson has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows in the sport from a results standpoint.
But for every outcome, there’s a path that takes the athlete there. And in Anderson’s case, before this last appearance, the focus seemed to be shifted on the wrong matter.
“There is a fine balance between being results-driven and being max effort driven,” she explained. “So I think people get so caught up – I say people and I’m talking about myself in particular – is I would get so caught up on the results. But I think one thing that we really have changed, particularly with this camp, is the people who care about me are going to be there for me whether I win or lose. That is never going to change and for me, it was more about… my biggest fear was always never fighting to my potential and the potential that I know that I am capable of. And James [Krause], my coach, we sat down before this fight, and he was like, ‘Look, if you go out there and you get knocked out somehow, it could happen, this is the nature of MMA, anything could happen, you have to respect the game. It’s fine. I’m gonna love you regardless, I’m here for you.’
“But you go out there and you put on a performance like I did in my Felicia Spencer fight, and I kind of wasn’t all there. I didn’t want to be there. He was like, ‘You have to live with that. All I’m asking is max effort. If you give me your max effort, and you still lose, I can’t ask for anything more.’ I said but if you give me your max effort and you live up to your potential then that’s more of a solidification for me that all my teammates who believe in me, and they see what I don’t, that they were right.
“If you train hard and you put in the time and you put in the effort… You know, winning is nice, of course. Winning is nice and losing is shit. I’m a sore loser, I don’t like losing,” Anderson expanded. “But for me losing has always meant more change outside of fighting than it ever was fighting. Because my skills are there. But my doubts were all about myself and how I thought about myself as a person that wasn’t a fighter. And that’s one thing that I’ve really been focusing on changing.”
Having witnessed the peaks and valleys inside the cage, Anderson has had to deal with them outside of it as well.
Prior to her introduction to MMA in her early 20s, an interest in boxing started to blossom as she and her friends would go and watch local events on the Gold Coast. But as your everyday person has their own personal struggles and battles, pro athletes aren’t always immune. After all, no one starts their life as a superstar sports idol.
During her school years, Anderson was often treated as the odd one out therefore leaving her isolated with few friends. Because of that, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression were developed, making everyday life all the more difficult. This led the Aussie to try and tackle her fears by joining the Australian army after graduating at 17-years-old.
The attempt to find some companionship the same way her father, a former Royal Australian Engineer, did in the army was unsuccessful, to say the least.
Times fell harder for Anderson as alcohol became something she leaned on for assistance and only got her into trouble with overseers. Eventually, a suicide attempt ended her time in the service as she was hospitalized and discharged in 2010.
Ahead of her fight with the aforementioned Felicia Spencer, a first-round submission loss in May of this year, past demons began to take their toll on Anderson. Directly before making the walkout for the fight, she had the feeling that she didn’t want to fight anymore at all. Following the loss, she knew things needed to change. Before going home and fighting at UFC 243, she took two months away from training to focus on herself and started seeing a therapist.
“I avoid things like tough conversations. I deflect from myself very well,” Anderson shared. “I think that’s why I have gotten to the point where it was, is because I was so good at just shoving all of these issues in like a box and just pretending that they didn’t exist but it got to a point where I couldn’t anymore. It was affecting not just me as a person, but it was affecting my fighting as well. My ability to, you know, just live in general and I think after my last fight I knew I had to make changes and I think one reason why I have seen such a massive growth in the last year is because I knew that I couldn’t run away from this. I had to just meet it head-on and it’s not going to change overnight and we’re still dealing with issues and working through them and I’m just like everybody else.
“I have issues, I get upset about certain things. Some things you know, piss me off, and I avoid issues and all this kind of stuff… I’m just a regular person that’s not just trying to become a better martial artist but be a better person as well.”
The military was now in the rearview mirror and Anderson was back in Gold Coast where she began working as a receptionist. Realizing along the way that no amount of medication or counseling was going to help, on one fateful night, Anderson and some friends went to a local MMA show rather than boxing.
By this time she had already started doing some weight lifting just to keep herself in shape. But the person Anderson and her friends acquired the tickets to the event from happened to be the owner and coach at a local gym. After some chatting and convincing to give things a try, Anderson took up the offer and the rest is history.
The inner battles are ongoing for the Gold Coast native to this day. But as she continuously strengthens her own body and mind, she tries to help others as best as she can too.
On July 25, 2019, it would be made official. Anderson was going to fight on home soil for the first time in years… and she was doing so on the biggest stage imaginable.
In front of a record-breaking UFC crowd of 57,127 on the most historic night in the sport for the hometown competitors, everything was just lining up perfectly for one of featherweight’s finest to find the validation she had been seeking.
At UFC 243 on October 6, Anderson would sink in a first-round triangle choke on Zarah Fairn to get the win via tap out. Coincidentally, this was her first submission victory since she last fought in her home country.
Immediately as the fight ended, all the bottled up and concentrated emotion erupted from the Glory MMA representative.
“That fight meant so much to me,” Anderson stated. “So many different things were not just about fighting, that it was a huge relief and it was just like, I’ve been very honest about saying I’m my own worst critic, I’m so hard on myself. But I’m so proud of my performance and I’m proud of what I did and how I did it and everything. How I came through everything that I did, and I got to that point, and you know, a lot of people when they deal with adversity in some form or another, I think they have the option to just run away from it. And a lot of people take that because it’s too hard. But I confronted it head-on and I changed so many things in my life that I think that night was a culmination of everything that I had been through and overcame. And it was solidification in my mind that I knew that I am doing the right thing.
“I think that [the fight being in Australia] kind of made everything all the more… I guess, magical, for a lack of a better word. I couldn’t have had a better performance for the venue and for the type of card that it was. It had been so long since I fought in Australia and that was a big goal of mine for a long time to fight in the UFC on home soil.
“And finally getting that chance, there was a lot of emotion coming into that just because it was such a big deal to me but I think we handled it really well,” she continued. “I didn’t let it get to me and I just went out there and one thing I definitely wanted to prove with this fight to myself is to fight to the potential that I know I have. And even though I showed a lot of things that I haven’t before I still don’t feel like I’ve shown a lot of my potential. Which is exciting because it means there’s more growth and there’s a lot more that I can show when I fight next.”
Throughout her career, Anderson has been known primarily for her lethal striking abilities inside the Octagon. Whether it’s a kick, punch, knee, or elbow… she knows how to deliver each with dangerous force.
Having a similarly styled opponent in Fairn, the vast majority of the community expected the fight to play out on the feet where strikes were free to fly. And they did for a few seconds.
After being pressured instantly by Fairn, Anderson would counter her opponent’s offense by finding a body lock takedown in the clinch against the cage. Slowly and methodically, she would work her way into the mount before raining down strikes and transitioning into the finishing sequence.
Anderson by submission was a +550 prop bet and one that surely earned some bettors a good chunk of cash. Obviously for the victor, however, the win along with everything that went into it was priceless.
“I didn’t specifically go for that [submission] just because I wanted to prove to everybody else. It was more of like I wanted to prove to myself that I am capable of so much more than I’ve shown,” Anderson said. “This is just one kind of part of it – like training and fighting live is so different. Obviously training, you have training partners who can take care of, you know, there’s no adrenaline, there’s no people watching, all that kind of stuff. So you have an ability to kind of do a lot more in training because there are no consequences.
“And I think for me, I was so nervous, and I was so caught up on the result that I didn’t put my best performance forward. And I think this time it was more about the journey and I think MMA is a very results-driven sport. But I think for me, I was so caught up on that, that it took away from what I know I’m capable of. I think I just wanted to go out and do what I do in training every single day and do it in a live setting. And for me, it was more of like getting confident to know, ‘Okay, I can do this live and it’s going to work.’
“It’s like every time you fight, you go in with a game plan and it’s like having the confidence to execute it and just kind of have it like, ‘fuck it, let’s just go for it,’ instead of worrying about getting hit or, ‘what if it doesn’t work? Or what about this?’
“You train for all these different contingencies, you train for all these different things to happen that like even if I didn’t get the takedown, I’ve been there a million times before in training, I know what to do, it’s just having confidence live to do it,” she continued. “I think that was more for me and it is a great feeling to kind of shut everybody up. Specifically, because everyone said I didn’t have a ground game, etc. And I think for people who didn’t know that I am capable of a lot, except for everybody else at my team, I think they were a little surprised because that transition was a high-level transition. If you don’t know a lot about jiu-jitsu or you’re bad at jiu-jitsu, that transition is never going to happen. So I think the way it kind of happened just… I don’t know. It was just a big accumulation of everything and it was just a big relief. I think I proved to myself more than anything that I am capable of doing whatever I put my mind to.”
On top of the personal conflicts such as depression, anxiety, or whatever it may be… As a woman standing at 6-feet tall competing in the largest women’s weight class in the UFC, body acceptance has also been an issue for Anderson.
Rather than just liking or disliking a certain something about one’s self, in Anderson’s case she’s been living with an actual physical hindrance.
Ahead of her big fight with Fairn, this was just another one of the many adjustments that were put into bettering herself.
“So a lot of people might not know I have lower lumbar scoliosis,” Anderson revealed. “Which it has made me strong in a lot of aspects but because of it, a lot of, like my hamstrings and my glutes and my calves, and like a lot of my lower leg [muscles] aren’t actually engaging properly. So [my trainer] Stefaan [Jefferson], has always been like, ‘it’s crazy that you’ve kind of gotten to the level that you have with the dysfunctions that you have.’ I’m like… why thank you (laughs). But that’s one thing that we changed up this camp.
“And I feel like I am such a stronger athlete in so many different ways. We kind of went into this camp looking at, ‘okay, where do I feel like I get taxed the most? Let’s work on building up our strength in those positions.’ And one thing I’m really happy about is my spine is actually starting to straighten out. It’s been like really kind of an issue for me… like a body issue for me for a really long time because my spine was like literally curved. And I would always get asked like, ‘Oh, do you just train one side of your back?’ In my head, I’m just like are you kidding me? You can’t just train one side of your back, you assholes!” she laughed. “But I’ve gotten so many comments about how straight my back is looking and the crazy thing is I’ve only been doing Functional Patterns with Stefaan for four months and I’m excited for what’s next.
“We started more of like a periodization of training. So instead of doing 100 percent of every session, one session of my day would be 100 percent and my other session would be like a 50 percent focusing on technique and making sure that I’m recovering for my next 100 percent session because you know, I would go in with the mentality that I had to like train 100 percent every single session. I would be dead by like Tuesday afternoon. So, that’s one thing I felt I’ve been able to push even harder in my rounds that I need to. I can focus on more game-planning and improving instead of just dying the whole time instead of not being able to train at my full potential as well. And I think that has helped so much with my confidence as well.”
The physical stress just led to emotional stress as she was tired all the time. And if her recent performance was anything to go by, the benefits of the shake-up are quite evident.
In MMA, results are something that are undeniably focused on greatly. In most cases, that’s for good reason. As the age-old saying goes, “You’re only as good as your last fight.”
Ultimately though, the surrounding factors aren’t quite always in one’s control.
In her lowest of lows, the girl from the Gold Coast controlled all that she could and got herself to where she needed to be. It’s the journey that mattered and helped build the strength she now possesses. Nothing happens instantly.
And as a competitor in the shallow waters of the UFC’s women’s 145-pound weight class, snap decisions are expected after practically every fight. Which just created more for the Aussie to think about. Now, she’s just going to keep on swimming.
“I used to stress so much about whether or not they were going to keep the division and I felt like I constantly had to win and put on good performances to keep the division alive,” Anderson said. “But that’s not all me. If they’re going to cut the division… It’s not going to be because of one person. I’m just doing me, training, I fight whoever they want me to fight. I know Faith [McMah] is in New Zealand and they’re going to Auckland in February. I think that would be a great fight so I would love that fight and I know my management have kind of spoke to me about when I want to fight next and I want to fight February, March, April-ish, anywhere in there would be fine and I always sign the dotted line for whoever and whenever the UFC want me to fight. I’m just doing me and I can’t worry about things I can’t control.
“I’m 2-2 in the UFC. And I’m only coming off a win and I definitely think that in my own mind, I would like another couple of fights just to solidify my claim for the shot. But if the UFC wants me to fight [Amanda Nunes] next, I’m not going to turn it down. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time to fight for UFC title and I’m not going to turn that down. All I can do is put my head down and work and train hard and the success will follow when it’s supposed to.”
A student, a soccer player, a pianist, a cellist, a member of the Australian military, a receptionist…
The 29-year old Lee’s Summit, Missouri resident, Megan Anderson, is and has been several different things in her life to this point. But through them all, she’s been a fighter. With each new day acting as a reminder to stand sure.