Road to the Pro’s: Helen Harper #6 – Preparing for the ‘TUF 20’ tryouts

As the waves crashed silently on to the shore, around 40 grapplers prepared to compete at the Sonkran scramble. This wasn’t just any grappling tournament. It was one of the most idyllic settings ever known in the history of grappling tournaments.

What do competitors usually do between rounds in other grappling competitions? Chill out in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs on the side of the mat, perhaps? Take a walk around the sports hall?

Or, how about loosening up in a beach front pool and work on your tan?

Fortunately for me, it was option three! Jealous? You should be.

The grappling competition was, in fact, perfectly placed for me to prepare mentally for the upcoming ‘TUF: 20’ Fighter tryouts.

The six girls who took part were split into two groups of three: Under 60kg/132-lbs and over 60kg. My group consisted of myself, Paulina Balboa (who also fights at 115-lbs/52kg) and a girl called Brogan, who had arrived in due’s course for the fighter trials at Tiger Muay Thai.

My first match was against Paulina. I sparred with her in the past so I knew roughly how she moved on the ground. My only issue was getting her there! Most of the girls I grappled with pulled guard, and I expected Paulina to do the same. However, when she did not, I had to get her there myself. We stayed standing for at least 90 seconds and my team mates were starting to wonder what was going on.

My first match with Paulina. (Picture credit: Tiger Muay Thai)

My first match with Paulina. (Picture credit: Tiger Muay Thai)

Finally, I plucked up the courage to get her to the floor, and from there, my confidence came flooding back. I took back control and submitted her with a Rear-Naked Choke. While it wasn’t my best performance overall, it certainly wasn’t my worst either.

As the female competitors grappled first, we could chill out in the pool whilst watching the men compete. Our second round came after all the men had fought. Although it was extremely nice to be able to relax this way in between rounds, it did ultimately cause my brain to switch off by the time it came to the second round.

It’s not an excuse. I am just telling it how it was. I was so relaxed that in my second round, I lacked any of the ‘fire’ I usually fought with. As I went to the mat and met face to face with Brogan, I didn’t even think of my game plan. Instead, I allowed her to take control from the beginning, a mistake that I sorely regretted.

Even though I defended Brogan’s multiple submission attempts, I never managed to take control of the match. Brogan took the decision win in the end, and rightly so, as her technique and power were far superior to mine.

Lesson learnt: Take control from the beginning, don’t forget the game plan and although it’s great to be relaxed – don’t be too relaxed!

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the positives that I’ll be able to take from this experience. When I step on to the mats at the ‘TUF 20’ tryouts later this month, every single girl there will be looking to prove their worth. And we will all be nervous, looking for that big break.

After a wrestling class at PTT.

After a wrestling class at PTT.

As grappling will be the first stage of the tryouts, it will be important to make a stand from the beginning. Obviously I will be looking to exploit my strengths here, so I have taken a great deal of advice from my various coaches. Olavo (Abreu), Donny (Carlo-Clauss), Andrew (Leone) and Anthony (Leone) along with a few other friendly faces, Charlye (Vivas) and Ali (Elazzabi), have been on hand to push me in the right direction. Most of them have been through the trials before so I’m grateful that I’m able to learn from their experiences.

Although grappling is by far my strength, I know how good some of the other girls are too. To proceed through this stage, I know I will need to be on top of my game and give the best performance of my life.

The next stage, meanwhile, is on pad work. I believe it’s a little more straight forward.

I honestly see no reason why I can’t do well as long as I am blessed with a decent pad holder.

I have been working closely with two Thai trainers, Kru Nit and Kru Chok, at Phuket Top Team over the past few weeks and I feel that I have come a long way with my pad work. Both my flow and reaction time have improved rapidly so I feel confident for this stage.

Known to be the hardest, the third and final stage will be the interviews. I have heard various different potential questions, so I’ve taken the initiative to prepare a few words of my own for this one. These words are, of course, strictly confidential but you will find out what they are when I get in the house!

Now, the million dollar question is, which team do I want to be on? From the media coverage I have seen, Gilbert Melendez certainly seems more enthusiastic for the coaching role, and has already named a few of his probable coaches – Jake Shields (whom I trained with last year here in Phuket) and the Diaz brothers.

Anthony Pettis, on the other hand, seems more interested in the coaches’ fight at the end of the series, so this may affect his ability to coach his team to their full potential. For this reason I will be crossing everything in the hope that I end up on Team Melendez should I make the cut.

With just a weeks’ training and an extortionately long plane ride ahead of me, all there is left to do now is to keep training and bring everything I have to those trials. See you in Las Vegas ladies!

*Helen Harper is a Mixed Martial Artist from Farnham, England. Her column on Fight Sport Asia, called ‘Road to the Pro’s’, focuses on her life as a fledgling MMA fighter.


Follow Helen on Twitter (@hhhellraiser) and Facebook


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Categories: Helen Harper, Road to the Pro's



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