The notion of women in mixed martial arts is not something new. We are in the age of the sport where fans can catch a female fighter on a UFC or Bellator card almost every Friday or Saturday night . However, there will be at most only one or two women’s bouts scheduled. Currently, in the United States, promotions do not have many options available for women. The UFC has only two weight classes: strawweight and bantamweight; while Bellator has flyweight and featherweight.
Beyond the card arrangements, there is still a long way to go as far as respecting the fighters. As Bethe Correriaand Claudia Gadhela just described to Combate, female competitors have to combat lewd harassment from fans on the Internet. They are judged by their appearance on the red carpet over their prowess in the ring. Joanna Jedrzejczyk was recently blasted for her trash talk on The Ultimate Fighter, while Conor McGregor was routinely applauded. Being a woman in MMA is definitely hard. It takes tough skin, a quick mind, and a lot of heart to survive. Then there are a select few who thrive.
Meet Phoenix Carnevale.
A Muay Thai fighter under the famed Phil Nurse, Phoenix now works as a journalist, producer, writer, commentator, fitness professional, and personality. She recently commentated Friday Night Fight’s card as well as interviewed fighters at Triumph Kombat at Madison Square Garden. If you don’t live in NYC, you may have caught her on CNN discussing the untimely passing of Kimbo Slice.
Phoenix’s story began several years ago when she was learning Karate. She watched PRIDE and UFC, and watched the sport grow over time to include more weight classes, crazier fighters, and stories from all walks of life. As she continued to train and add different styles to her arsenal, Phoenix would come across big-name fighters or individuals whose personalities caught her attention. When others would meekly shy away or ask for a picture so they could post the meeting on social media, Phoenix did something different.
“I would ask them for an interview. I had a small handheld camera and I would just ask them a couple of questions. It was stuff that I wanted to know about them–who they were, what they liked, what interested them about fighting, and so on. I’d publish it online, and more and more people were liking it. It was something fun that I did, and it helped me learn a lot about not only the fighters, but the sport as well.”
Some of her favorite interviews included Cung Le and Matt Serra, but her Youtube channel “Everything Martial Arts” captures her interactions with Robbie Lawler, “Renato Laranja,” and Luke Rockhold. Phoenix is well-known and respected in the MMA community.
“Honestly, so many of the fighters and people I encounter are so open and gracious. I am treated with respect and have way more good experiences than bad. Sometimes people online are not so nice and leave nasty things on my social media, but I don’t bother to delete the comments. I’ve learned to take it from the source. These people overlook what I know and they aren’t out here doing the job with me, they are behind their keyboard and not being productive with themselves. I know when to take advice and who to take it from, and I don’t let anyone get in my head about myself. I know who I am.”
This mentality has served Phoenix very well. She had fought a few times herself, but it was when she was given the opportunity to commentate a fight that really changed things for her.
“I had never done it before and it wasn’t even something I had ever thought about, but when someone reaches out to you to do something cool, you do it.”
Doing “something cool” has led to press passes for UFC conferences and covering promotions in England. Phoenix’s reporting skills are sharp from constant use.
“I just go with the flow. It’s important to go where the story is. Do the fighters have animosity? Was it a vicious fight? I have to read the fighters and understand the background of who they are. I always stay professional and respectful when I question them, and value the fighter as an individual.”
She sees her work within MMA as constant improvisation, and focuses on remaining flexible. Phoenix has seen fighters hysterically crying after a bout, but still manages to gently walk them through the interview process.
“Fighters are super excited and have their own personality. It’s important for me to respect and highlight that, so the audience has an idea of who this person is.”
It is said that the hardest workers are in show business, and Phoenix exemplifies that. She works 7 (SEVEN!) jobs but is not distracted from her career. While she misses competing, her goal is to further what she has already started.
“I love reporting all kinds of fights. Getting to be at the Garden is the greatest, and I am so happy I get to do things like that. I have so many different roles and can play various parts, so every day is new and exciting for me. I see myself as a musician within this realm, and I continue to learn new instruments. I meet so many fantastic people and get to talk to them about their life. One of my best memories is speaking to Frankie Edgar, and I get to do that–talk to my favorite fighters about my favorite thing: fighting.”
It has taken some time for Phoenix to establish herself, but make no doubt about it–she’s here to stay.
“It is important to stay humble. Be confident in yourself. There are so many things happening and it can be overwhelming, especially when you have never done something before. But at the end of the day, take all the advice you can get it. Practice all the time. It’s okay to be nervous, but trust yourself to try. All that matters is that you don’t stop and always do your best.”
Good advice–not just for a fighter or reporter, but everyone in life.
Photos by Arnold Marzan (@marz1, arnoldmarzan.com)