After debut loss, Australia’s Christina Tatnell improving one step at a time

There’s a saying that goes when opportunity knocks, you take it.

That’s how Christina Tatnell (4-1) felt in a grand scheme of things when she was offered a late replacement fight with her idol, Bec Rawlings, at a Nitro Mixed Martial Arts event in Brisbane City back in October 2012.

She wasn’t expecting it by a long shot, but she knew it was an opportunity she couldn’t afford to let slip either.

Now one could argue that Tatnell, then 18, presumably had little notion of what she was getting into. She had only trained in grappling for a mere six months, and had absolutely no striking experience whatsoever. She had never been on an airplane, and never seen a skyscraper for that matter as well.

As a result, on fight night, she naturally succumbed to major pre-fight jitters to the extent of shaking uncontrollably, knowing that for one, she was set to face someone who inspired her to become a fighter in the first place.

It goes without saying that the experience for her entrance into the pro stage was a tad bit overwhelming, and although Tatnell was stopped in thirty seven seconds that night, the Australian, now 20, has not once bemoaned about taking the fight.

On the contrary, she saw the experience as a humble eye-opener.

“That weekend of my life was surreal to say the least,” Tatnell wrote, in an exclusive interview with Fight Sport Asia. “I was offered good money by the promotion, more than I had ever earned to this day, and after some slight hesitation, I accepted the fight.”

“I was in awe over the cameras, the bright lights and the sound of the crowd.  I hadn’t even sparred properly at that stage, and there was no way I was ready to take any fight, especially against someone of her experience.”

“But I don’t regret taking the fight itself. It’s certainly helped my career in a variety of ways. I think even if I had a full camp, it would have been the same result.”

While that loss would have crippled many others, the Australian rebounded with four straight victories and has since established herself as one of the front runners in the country’s female Flyweight division.

The 20-year-old is still, of course, honing her craft with each passing day, in hopes of a chance to fight in the US in the near future.

Youth and Idols

In a town Tatnell described as ‘dull’ in Tasmania, Australia, she grew up suffering a great deal of self-esteem issues after being subjected to bullying. She was further ridiculed by her folks for her developing interest in martial arts too.

But that didn’t stop the Australian from realizing her passion for combat sports. She was stimulated to try her hand in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu  in 2012 after attending her first LIVE Mixed Martial Arts event the year before.

It started out as a hobby at first, however, after being put-down by her loved ones, she made up her mind to dedicate her life to cage fighting.

“My childhood was uneventful and I wasn’t really sporty growing up outside of compulsory school sports,” Tatnell continued. “I wasn’t really a fan of the sport (MMA) at the time. I had watched bits and pieces on television but attending the LIVE event really inspired me. I’m not so much into the martial arts aspect as I am in the entertainment side of things.”

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Picture credit: Christina Tatnell

“When I first wanted to start training and learning the techniques, most of my friends and family didn’t believe in me and in fact, laughed at me. This is what actually motivated me to fight.”

Of course, as with most fighters, she looked up to certain role models as she got into MMA.

The Australian was quick to single out Dan Hyatt and the aforementioned Bec Rawlings, two combatants that were fighting on the card of the first LIVE MMA show she attended.

Hyatt plays a huge role in Tatnell’s life today. He not only serves as her trainer. He has picked up the responsibilities of being the 20-year-old’s mentor and manager as well.

“Dan ‘Enson’ Hyatt and Bec ‘Rowdy’ Hyatt (now Rawlings) are two fighters from my home state that I had followed for a while,” Tatnell said. “They’re both minor celebrities in Tasmania and even though I wasn’t what you would call ‘an MMA fan’ before my first LIVE event, I still followed them and have been inspired by them at one time or another.”

“Dan is one of the more experienced fighters in the country. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had and easily the number one manager of female fighters in Australia.”

Career Progress

Tatnell’s debut loss taught her about the commitment and skills needed to become an efficient fighter in the landscape. Sure enough, through the course of her past outings, she has learned them well.

She now trains full time at a local gym named Riot Vale Tudo. Having started off mostly as a grappler, she has concentrated her efforts in developing her striking game by linking up with her current boxing coaches, Craig Tobler and Nick Millwood. Her training partners include Tammy ‘TNT’ Taylor, a multiple time international, national and state amateur boxing champ who will be making the transition to MMA soon.

As she continues to evolve in her abilities, she identifies the need to keep the momentum going as well, to continue her growth on a fast track.

But for that to happen, she knows she has to take the right fights first.

From her five professional fights to date, she’s only fought in her natural weight class at Flyweight just once. The rest have been at either Strawweight or Bantamweight – two weight classes, she says, her body type isn’t suited to at all.

“I’m a bit too big for Strawweight and I find it hard to make that weight,” she stated. “It’s physically very draining for me and not a fun time at all. I’m a bit too small for Bantamweight and I find that my opponents are a lot stronger than me in that weight division.”

Tatnell attempting for an Armbar.

Tatnell attempting for an Armbar.

“I don’t think it’s sensible to fight outside of my comfort zone but after my first fight and the performance I put in, I’ve been very hungry to prove myself and a lot of doubters wrong. Women’s MMA in Australia is still relatively niche. Finding opponents can be very, very difficult which is why I’ve fought mostly out of my weight class. I’m looking to be more sensible now though, but given my record and the opportunities I’ve been afforded so far I don’t regret the approach I’ve taken.”

Albeit her love for the competitiveness of a fight and the opportunity to entertain, Tatnell understands it’s not worth risking her career by fighting in a weight class not suited for her.

And well, the four fight win streak the 20-year-old currently possesses keeps her motivated to not make any hasty judgement with regards to her career path.

“I certainly haven’t taken safe fights either, four of my five opponents have been heavier and more experienced than me and four of them are names in the Australian Women’s MMA scene,” Tatnell said. “I just wanted opportunity and the chance to prove that I can actually fight.”

“Flyweight is perfect for me and my build and it’s the weight class I’m going to stay in from now on, even if that means I’m less active as a fighter. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity now. I’ll be on a four fight winning streak heading into my next fight. It will be important to make it five.”

Future

Before Tatnell ever got into Mixed Martial Arts, she had never traveled in an airplane, had seen basically none of Australia outside of her home state and above all, she was bored and disillusioned with life.

But since her career launch, her life has taken huge turn for the better. She has traveled all over the country within a couple of years and her fights, which have provided some spectacular action to the masses, has allowed her to etch her name on fans’ radar for sometime now.

Tatnell hopes to be the next Aussie star in Invicta FC.

Tatnell hopes to be the next Aussie star in Invicta FC.

Her ultimate dream, meanwhile, is to compete at Invicta Fighting Championship. And mind you, with the promotion’s Flyweight division looking shallow, and the fact that there’s isn’t a marketable Australian face on the roster, her chances of getting there is looking a distinct possibility.

“Make no mistake; Invicta Fighting Championship is my goal. I know for a fact that both Shannon Knapp and Julie Kedzie know who I am and have been watching me. I’m just waiting for an opportunity,” she said. “I want to fly the Australian flag and I’m prepared to fight whoever it is they put in front of me.”

She doesn’t have an upcoming fight scheduled but it would be practical to assume that multiple women are targeting this up-and-comer to derail off the hype train.

Tatnell, though, is only worried about two things – patience, and working on her weaknesses before a good opportunity materializes. She refuses to hit the limelight too soon anyway, wary of the bad circumstances that have burned fighters in the past.

“I’m still a baby in this sport that needs to be polished. Unlike most young fighters, I’m not hunting the spot light or fame just yet,” she concluded. “My mentality and motivation to fight is that this lifestyle is providing me with a journey I never thought was possible.”

“I wake up and go to sleep each morning and night happy and excited about the direction my life is headed in. I’ll admit that I’m very inexperienced, but I’m young and hungry. And I won’t hit my peak for another 5-6 years from now but when I do… watch out!”

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*Pictures credit: Christina Tatnell

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Be sure to follow Christina Tatnell on Twitter (@DaCreepyOne) and Facebook

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Categories: Australia, Interview

Author:Thinesh John

20, Asian MMA nerd in Singapore.

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