Jessica Upchurch is the first person I saw and spoke with when I walked into KnuckleUp Fitness’ Midtown gym. Well, spoke with and then saw, since she gave me directions on how to get there. So, I suppose she’s partially to blame…to thank for my finding Muay Thai. She’s an inspiration, truthfully—supportive of and an integral part of our team.
Beyond her duties as a KUF employee, she showed a genuine interest in my getting into Muay Thai, sharing her experiences with the art, providing advice that helped me—all of us, I’d wager—develop. She wasn’t able to compete in our recent competition, but she was there, as vocal as anybody and louder than most! And if every woman fought like Jessica fights, “fight like a girl” would be a universal compliment.
“I’ve always participated in male-dominated sports. When I was four years old, my dad signed me up for t-ball, and he was my coach for almost twelve years. Football and soccer were always fun for me because of the contact involved, so I played on school and intramural teams as much as I could. My first exposure to martial arts was around 11 years old, when I took Judo classes with some fellow baseball teammates. I fell in love with it. I had always played team sports, but here was my first chance to learn a skill that I would be using in a one-on-one situation. Unfortunately, my parents got a divorce; and my free time was filled with only what my parents had time for, which did not include martial arts.
I began watching UFC back in college, and could not get enough of it. I don’t know if it was my previous exposure to Judo when I was younger, or if I just enjoyed watching people get destroyed on the Ultimate Knockouts DVD. I had never been interested in watching boxing, but this was different. Each fighter had a whole arsenal of moves at his disposal. Some were good on the ground, such as Hoyce Gracie. Some were powerhouses, such as Tank Abbott.
But I think my favorite fighter from the 90’s-era UFC was Pedro Rizzo. One look at his legs, and you knew that you were in trouble. Rizzo has trained in Muay Thai all over the world. At the time, I didn’t know what art was Pedro’s specialty, but I knew that I was jealous. He would literally chop down his opponent with each kick. Every time, chop! His opponent would collect huge red welts on their legs, and eventually begin to wobble and compensate for the pain that Rizzo was inflicting on them. It was beautiful, watching him strike. I still aspire to be as devastating as Pedro Rizzo when I fight.
Until last year, I had always admired Martial Arts from afar. I had followed UFC as it began to grow in popularity, and I attended local MMA fights and asked fighters about their experiences whenever I got a chance. When I lived with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Stephen, I got a glimpse into the daily life of someone who was training to be a Muay Thai fighter. Every night, Stephen would drag himself to the couch after getting home from a grueling practice. Bruised, but not beaten, he’d tell us about what fresh pain he had endured that day. I wondered what type of person would put himself through this over and over, but I came to respect the hard work and dedication that I saw.
Once I started getting more involved in the local MMA community, I knew that I wanted to learn Muay Thai. I read more about the “Art of Eight Limbs”, and yearned to be in the ring every time I saw someone compete. Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity when we moved back to Atlanta and I started working at Knuckleup Fitness. I’ve never been naturally talented at any sport, and Muay Thai is no different. I was always the hardest worker on a team, and it showed. I knew that it would take time, but the rewards so far have been encouraging. When training in Muay Thai, I feel strong and sure. My deepest desire to be the best at whatever I do will never fade, and Thai Boxing gives me the avenue in which to test myself. It’s one of those experiences that allow you to see what you’re truly made of, and so far I appreciate where it has taken me. My recent motivation has been to prepare for competition. Muay Thai has helped me develop as a fighter, but also develop as a person. I look forward to what I can achieve by continuing to practice this art.”