Lizza Gebilagin went from Body Combat classes at the gym to cage fighting in a matter months. Here’s why she loves stepping into the ring.
Photo: Lizza in the ring /Nigel Lough
My squad is pretty typical in some ways: we’ve narrowly avoided being kicked out of the pub during karaoke after drinking too much wine, we’ve given each other pep talks during energy-sucking bouts of PMS, and we’ve been each other’s greatest fans.
Yet it’s my squad’s difference that piques most people’s interest. We’re female boxers. Our typical Tuesday night involves us practising our punches on each other’s faces (although our coach Ben Savva is trying to get us to do more shots to the body – not-so-fun when you have your period), then hugging each other afterwards. We’re constantly reminded of how lucky we are to have six female fighters at our gym. It’s unheard of in most places and probably why we’ve become so close.
That night when we had the close call at the pub? It was on a weekend away in a small country town that we were visiting for a boxing training camp. Those PMS rallying cries? They become even more important when nature has timed itself with your next fight; bingeing on Netflix and chocolates while wallowing in self-pity isn’t an option during those unfortunate synchronistic occasions. And every time we step out of the ring after a match, we can always count on one of the girls to give us our first taste of alcohol in weeks. My preference is a beer.
Photo: Lizza at the NSW Novice Titles /Warren Suen
From Body Combat classes to MMA
When I think about how much my life has changed in the last three years, it seems crazy for someone who started off by being embarrassingly enthusiastic in Body Combat class (I used to imagine I was Buffy, slaying away vampires). I eventually tried kung fu because I considered it a spiritual form of martial arts (there was no fist-to-face contact and I loved Uma Thurman in the ‘Kill Bill’ films). Now, come to think of it, girl-crushing on these strong yet gorgeous women likely led me to believe that I could be a fighter, too.
Like most women, I started boxing for fitness. The very first class I went to at a legit boxing gym was intimidating. I felt like a fraud walking in wearing my pink heels and work clothes before changing into my bright-coloured yoga tights and top. I could hardly lift my arms for a week after that.
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I kept on going, despite feeling stupid. Boxing was one of the hardest workouts I’d ever tried and such a great way to release work stress. It also helped that a few weeks into it I was forced to partner with a really hot guy (spoiler alert: three years on and we’re about to get married).
Eventually, I began letting trainers know that I wanted to fight. It was always something I’d wanted to try but was too scared to. They looked at me like I was adorable; No one was taking me seriously. So I took matters into my own hands and decided to make my first fight a work project. I changed gyms and gave myself six months to become a mixed martial arts fighter and I created an online documentary around it. Then people started paying attention.
Float like a butterfly (in cute yoga tights)
Honestly, it wasn’t the smartest idea to have an MMA fight after only six months of training. Knowing what I do now, I was pretty lucky I didn’t end up with worse injuries. I hadn’t even gotten used to taking punches yet, but ended up in a cage fighting someone with four years of experience. It was a shock having someone relentlessly come at me. My opponent kneed me in the head. I could only see out of one eye, not realising it was because the other had swollen shut. The worst thing was that my injuries lasted a whole month, and every time I saw my red eyes and swollen face looking back at me in the mirror, I was reminded of the short-lived failure of the cage fight.
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I didn’t fight again until almost two years later in July this year. And when I did, I focused on boxing. At the amateur level, it’s much safer than MMA as you wear headgear and thicker gloves. The worst injury I’ve had in my three fights since was a teeny bruise that could be passed off as smeared mascara. Fighting is all about resilience. No matter what happens, you learn to pick yourself back up and keep on going. It’s an attitude I’ve taken into my career and relationships as well.
I’m still comparatively new to boxing, but now when I walk into the gym, I no longer feel like a fraud. I train two hours a day, six days a week, to prepare for my fights. I don’t have my pink heels anymore (not a pair have been coveted since 2013), but I do still float around the ring in an array of brightly coloured yoga tights, and singlets with slogans like “I wear love”. Because if I’ve learnt anything in the past few years, it’s this: you don’t have to give up your girlie side to be a fighter.
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fitness | body+soul