FIGHTING WORDS: MUNAH HOLLAND INTERVIEW W/ INVICTA WMMA
By: Invicta FC
Training out of the well rounded and respected Tiger Schulmann School of Mixed Martial Arts; newly signed Invicta FC flyweight Munah Holland recalls her stunning run through the New York Golden Gloves competition, while walking us through her evolution as a complete Mixed Martial Artist.
Excited to face off against a deep and talented Flyweight division, Holland will bring her years of experience to bear in order to reach her goal of being the Invicta FC Flyweight World Champion.
Corey Smith: When and through what discipline did you enter into the world of martial arts?
Munah Holland: Definitely when I started I was more of a kickboxing and karate background with Tiger Schulmann’s. That was in 1994. It was all my sister, Rofiah, there are nine children in my family, but she is one of my older sisters and she was training with Tiger Schulmann for years actually. She saw that I was not really in a great place in my life at the time. I was fifty pounds heavier than I am now; I was really out of shape. I wasn’t really keeping myself fit, and nobody was really pushing me to do that either. Because I was sort of a good team player and really good at the game, none of my coaches were pushing me to be in better shape. So unfortunately I didn’t get that push then, and the best thing I have ever done was training with Tiger Schulmann because I got in great shape, and there is so much discipline, building your confidence, and you learn self-defense.
MH: There are so many great aspects to it; flexibility, and that just that feeling of empowerment of learning self-defense alone. I had a couple incidents in high school that were a little nerve wracking and early in college where I felt a little bit, threatened or unsure if I could defend myself. You never want to be in a position where you can’t, and luckily in those situations there were other people around to distract what could have happened. So I started thinking that I really needed to know how to handle myself and keep anyone away, etc. She (Rofiah) inspired me, I was watching her training, and she was getting ready for her black belt test. I saw her training with these guys and tossing them around, they looked physically scared to spar with her.
MH: She is a little thing, maybe 5’2, maybe one hundred pounds soaking wet, and these big men, 160, 170 pound men, looked nervous sparring her. There was something about watching her, the confidence, I don’t really know how to put it into words, just the sense that you get from someone that she was just so happy. I was watching this pretty vicious thing happening in front of me, they were actually trying to hit each other. I think that at the same time I was watching that and seeing how happy she was, it was such a contradiction. That sort of intrigued me. I enjoyed sports a lot, so I thought this was such a cool way to get in shape and learn something as a life skill as well.
CS: How long were you training before you entered into and won the New York City Golden Gloves competition in 2007?
MH: Let me go back, it was so long ago. The first time I actually got involved with Golden Gloves, was well before that, in 2005. It was the first experience that I had had with boxing, just boxing. It was around 2003 that I started having this interest in competition. I had done grappling tournaments, solely grappling and Jiu Jitsu. I had done a little bit of amateur kickboxing.
MH: But there was this interest in just not having to worry about your legs, or kicks, and all those other elements to simply focus on my hands to see if I had what it took to stand with these girls that solely trained for that purpose. So my coaches, Tiger Schulmann, said let’s do this. They believed in my strengths, my abilities, and so started getting involved in 2003 in New York Metro, and some of the other smaller shows. Kingswood Boxing Gym, not sure if they are still around, was the first time I was exposed to exhibition boxing. So there were no scores being kept.
MH: I remember the first time doing that, I had a girl who was probably a 130 or 140 pounds, and I was around 120 at the time, and I was so nervous. She was very tall, and I didn’t think I’d be able to fight, and it ended up only lasting about thirty seconds. I threw a jab, and the jab busted her nose. There was blood everywhere, and so they stopped it immediately. They were a little upset because it was an exhibition, but I wasn’t going to stand there and take her punches. I figured I had to get in there quick. That was my first experience boxing, and I thought since I could handle that girl, and she was really tough, then we started going into the New York Metros.
MH: I think I had had only one or two actually boxing fights, my boxing coach at Tiger Schulmann’s, thought I had great potential so we entered into the New York Golden Gloves. At the time I was living in New York, so it worked out easy. We set up the first fight, the preliminaries, to see if you had what it takes. I fought these girls, and I did much better than I thought I would do, so I kept moving on. All of a sudden it was the quarter finals, then the semis, and all of a sudden I was going to be in the finals!
MH: It was against this girl that had so much more experience than me, Alyssa Hernandez, the “Butterfly” I think was her nickname. She was this little vicious thing at 132 pounds, and I was little for that weight class at the time but we choose it because we felt it was a strong weight class for me. She had won Golden Gloves two or three times, I think she had also won Silver Gloves a few times, and I had never been in something quite that big in boxing. So here we go to the finals at Madison Square Garden, and there was a ridiculous amount of Tiger Schulmann supporters there, something like thirteen hundred.
MH: I don’t really remember if I was nervous, but for me it was more just that she had more experience than me to just put it all together. I did really well, but I certainly didn’t win. She won by unanimous decision. Midway through some of the rounds she threw a series of butterfly hook punches, and I came out sort of showboating, and threw a big right hand that really rocked her for a bit. I wasn’t really experienced enough to recognize those things, and didn’t know where to be at the in the ring so the judges could see all those things. She was really smart about her tactics with me, and where she should be so that all the judges could see her techniques and not necessarily see my techniques. So I learned a lot from her.
MH: I won Silver Gloves, which to me was an amazing feat anyway, to be in the shadow of all these amazing past boxers. I kept going with it though. I went to the national Golden Gloves tournament, I went to USA Nationals that same year, and I just kept stepping it up. I remember at the USA Nationals I met Caroline Barry in the finals, and she had 25 boxing fights at the time, and it was maybe my eighth or ninth. We just went to town on each other, it was a great fight. Again I didn’t win, but I remember walking out there and feeling proud that I could stand there with someone with so much experience.
MH: These things all added to my confidence, and we decided to go back to Golden Gloves. In 2006 we started getting ready for it, and I just this nice series of wins all the way back to the finals. So we went back to Madison Square Garden, and this time I knew I wasn’t leaving without the Golden Gloves. It was a great fight; I really took it to the girl and almost had a knockout in the last round. It was such an amazing experience. I’m reliving it, and getting excited about it now!
CS: With so much boxing talent, what prompted the switch over to mixed martial arts?
MH: Well I think I always wanted to do that. The nice thing I experienced with Tiger Schulmann is their evolution as well, transitioning very early on from mostly just Karate and Kickboxing, into adding the Jiu Jitsu and grappling, evolving into Mixed Martial Arts. I was so fortunate to be along for that ride, when Tiger Schulmann made that transition. I started seeing that there weren’t a lot of women in the mid 90’s, it just wasn’t heard of, women’s MMA, and there weren’t really fights available. So we looked into kickboxing and boxing events a lot more. Any grappling event we could get, we would go to.
MH: Right around the time when it looked like we might start getting some fights, the Chuck Norris World Combat League came by. We got this call from one of the promoters there, and they wanted me to be there, but it’s a Pro league. I wasn’t a pro yet, but I couldn’t really turn down this opportunity. Who gets to fight in Chuck Norris’ World Combat League? It was an amazing opportunity. So we jumped right in there full force.
MH: I miss the venue and the way it was set up, their urgency to sort of push the fight out of each person, and as a team event it was really cool. It was just so different from anything else that was going on in kickboxing or grappling, it was really cool to have it be a team event. I met some of the most amazing opponents in that league, and that really elevated my kickboxing. Terri Stietz had a world of experience, and I fought her in the last fight. I learned so much, a lot of back and forth, a really good battle. Jennifer Han was phenomenal; I got to fight her more than once. She came back and defeated me after I had knocked her out at the previous fight. Kudos to her on that.
MH: Jennifer Santiago was incredible, there were so many wonderful girls. Felice Herrig of course. I met Chuck Norris in person, which was you know, I didn’t even know what to say, I just sort of dumbfounded at that point. It was a really wonderful experience, and I relished the opportunity. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue.
MH: After that we really couldn’t get any fights. We had a really hard time. I had done really well in the league, and I guess people had seen the videos or something, and all of a sudden there was this mystique that I could pull these random knockouts out of nowhere. We had a hard time. We put out MMA requests, and then Kickboxing requests, anything. We couldn’t make anything happen. It was two years after WCL ended that it was like crickets, we couldn’t get anything.
MH: Finally Kim Couture comes along, and she needs an opponent for a Ring of Combat event, and I happened to be begging for an opponent at that point. She wanted to fight at 135 pounds, and I preferred 125. But it was such a good opportunity that we couldn’t turn it down. So here I am preparing to fight Kim Couture, who it seemed like had five inches on me, so much taller and longer limbed. I think her arms were like double my reach. I remember thinking we would have to get in, and stay in on this girl. She had this background with Couture, so we knew what to expect or look out for. That fight was so much fun; it turned out to be such a wonderful experience for me.
MH: And then after that, it was what I wanted to do, I wanted more fights. Ring of Combat was so happy and positive to have me there, which with women didn’t always unfold that way at a lot of the events that I would try to get involved with. It was nice to have someone to say let’s do this, and to build it up. So they kept trying to get me on every fight, every venue that they had.
MH: So after the Kim Couture fight, I fought three times in that year, all really great opponents. Then I get this random call from Bellator saying we need an opponent for Marianna Kheyfets, and they wanted me to come in and fight her. My feeling at the time to be honest, was that they looked at me as sort of fodder. She had a clean record, she was the next biggest thing at 125, and they had really made me feel as if even though they thought it would be a good fight, they believed Marianna would be the victor. I hate to say that was how I felt, but it was certainly the impression that I felt I was getting from a lot of people. I’m very good when it comes to being the underdog. And to have that impression of me, thinking that I’m not necessarily going to be able to do it, it really drove me to be motivated and to do my absolute to prove everyone wrong.
MH: It was a great fight. Marianna is no joke, very tough, well rounded, and it brought out the best in me. I think that knowing that she was going to be so tough, and so well rounded forced me to really put everything together the best that I could, and it was just a super fight. People asked if I expected to knock her out, and of course you don’t expect it, a fight is fight. Anything can happen, anything can go wrong, and anything can go right. Sometimes it’s just your day. I still remember it so fondly, I feel bad because when Marianna got knocked out I ran over to jump and finish and the ref threw me out of the way.
MH: She didn’t get up for a few minutes, and even though I was very proud that I did it, at the end of the day I don’t want to see someone not be able to stand up on their own two feet. She was fine, she got up eventually and was fine, but I was really happy and at the same time I was looking up to this girl and watching her fights I was sad about how she felt after the fight. It doesn’t take away from what I did; we go in there knowing these types of things can happen. It doesn’t stop me from going full force on someone, but I’m also a person. At the end of the day I want to see them get back in there, get back in the cage and keep on fighting.
CS: You are now a lead instructor at Tiger Schulmann’s MMA in New Jersey. What is the experience like teaching as opposed to being the student?
MH: Well I think that there is one really important factor, which is being a student makes me a better teacher. You can’t really teach people if you aren’t continually learning yourself. The more I train and the more I am a student, the more I am able to also dissect the student’s difficulty with something. I can sense it more, because frankly when I am training I might have similar frustrations. Teaching is very different obviously, you have to take yourself out of the student role and show them how to do things. I believe that it is one of the reasons that I left my career years ago in an advertising company to do this.
MH: I like that Tiger Schulmann is adamant that to be a teacher you have to be a student. You have to keep training with him at our headquarters in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. If you don’t, you can’t teach. Again if you’re not training yourself and you’re not learning, how much are your students going to know? How can they learn if you aren’t training anymore? Not to take anything away from people that teach and have a great deal of experience, but don’t necessarily do Martial Arts everyday. You can still be a great teacher, but that’s a very small percentage of our population.
MH: Teaching is an incredibly difficult skill that I think it requires a certain type of person to do it well. You have to be incredibly unselfish, very much in tune with people and their needs, very open minded, and I think for me it makes me a better student. I like having that responsibility. I like having students made to see what they are capable of doing. I like being the person that helps them achieve their goals. Someone might come in needing to lose fifty pounds so they don’t die of a heart attack, and I am that person that not only teaches them self-defense and how to do things well, but I also to get them in the best shape of their lives and I don’t let them fail. I make sure that they achieve that goal, that’s very important to me. That sort of connection, I carry that with me into training. I then become the student, I have to be open minded, I have to be accepting of criticism, I have to be reliant on my partners to help me, and I have to be a good partner. There is a lot of humility in both. If you can’t laugh about yourself, you can’t be a good student or teacher.
CS: You recently signed with Invcita FC, and will be competing in the Flyweight division. What are you most excited about in regards to signing with Invicta? What are your goals with Invicta?
MH: The title is my goal. Not for the physical belt, but because in all these years that I’ve fought, I’ve never had the opportunity to fight for the belt. With Bellator that never manifested. To me the physical belt is the least important thing, but it’s a goal to reach the pinnacle. In this case that’s Barb Honchak of course; she is the goal and the achievement for me. To get to that point with someone that is so well qualified, and an amazing martial artist. Someone that I have watched, and I have seen her grow and evolve, and to me that’s impressive. Being able to fight the best, and all the women along the way who are fighting to get to her, to me that is the fun of having women in my actual weight class.
MH: We can pair up and have actual fights, and I’m not going to get the phone call “Oh Munah sorry, but your opponent backed out again, and we are going to have to wait who knows how long.” There is this pool of women that are eager to fight. Women that are in it for similar reasons to me, we are all unique, but I have a passion for it, I love competing. There is nothing better than fighting the best. I’ve seen Invicta many times, and I know all the women in all the weight classes are phenomenal, and I know I’m not going to be disappointed. It will involve me as a fighter, and their knowledge and it is really thrilling for me. My goal is to get to that title fight, and hopefully fight Barb for it eventually. I’m sure I am going to have to fight my way up to that, which for me is really exciting. Getting through those first stages, to have that right to challenge her.
CS: Your opponent on December 7th, Nina Ansaroff, is riding a four fight win streak going into Invicta FC 7. What do you think is the key to your matchup with Ansaroff?
MH: The most important thing for me is to feel the fight and stick to the game-plan(s) my coaches and I have discussed and been working on.
CS: What do you think a promotion like Invicta, that only features women, does for the sport?
MH: Women might be catty with each other at times, but the one thing that women are certainly good at is pulling together to protect what they feel is their home. You to protect it and make it work, keep people coming out to the shows. And it because it’s new and evolving, I can see why the women want to protect their home. Women pull together, and yes we are fighting each other but we all want it to do well because it protects Invicta. It protects what has been their home. It is different from men in that dynamic.
CS: What are your thoughts on the Flyweight division in Invicta?
MH: Thrilling. You have Leslie Smith in there now, and that’s an exciting opponent. Vanessa Porto; who I have seen multiple times with Invicta. I can’t really say anything negative about any of them, because I am a fan! Maybe it seems a little strange that I have a lot of respect for these women, but at the end of the day when I get in the cage none of that matters until the end of the fight. It’s just such a nice pool of women that are so talented, and have such an incredible balance of things going on.
MH: I’ve not seen really anyone weak in any part, or element of the disciplines. I have seen all of these girls be able to strong on the ground, wrestling capacity, striking and kicking capacity, and that’s pretty impressive. I don’t see any holes or weaknesses, which for me is exciting. I am excited though, whomever I get to compete with. I have not seen anything that I didn’t think was impressive. So we will see.
CS: What is your mood on fight night?
MH: Calm, focused, and calculated.
CS: Do you have any routines or superstitions that you have to perform?
MH: No superstitions, my routine is to keep my nutrition/eating on track to continue to be the best me in the cage.
CS: Who generally accompanies you to the cage?
MH: Master Danny Schulmann, Master Ron Schulmann, and Sensei Paul Querido.
CS: What type of feedback and coaching do you prefer from your corners?
MH: My coaches know me and who I am very well, so I feel any of their feedback and coaching in my corner will be exactly what I need at that moment.
CS: Aside from fight preparation, how much MMA do you watch purely for enjoyment?
MH: Every time it’s on. Every UFC show, every Invicta show. As much as I can on the web because there are a lot of promotions that don’t get televised, like Ring of Combat. They are also on the GoFight Live network, and I’ll jump in there when I know their dates. Literally my family wants to get together, and if there is a show on, we have it at my house so we can have the BBQ and watch the UFC. It’s forced upon them sometimes whether they like it or not!
MH: But I think the only way to learn different ways of fighting is to watch other people, and other weight classes. You see stuff all the time that is just so cool and out of this world, and I get really excited. If I’m not training or fighting, I’m watching. There are times I don’t want the TV on at all; if I am preparing for a fight I may not watch as often because I like to keep my head in my own game.
CS: Outside of the gym, what types of activities do you enjoy for fun? What helps you to relax?
MH: I have a huge family, which is always a great distraction. My favorite activity is to be with my nieces and nephews. I don’t really get to see them that much because I fight and train so much, but the truth is nothing is more important to me than them. Even just taking my nephew to Dave and Busters and spending a ridiculous amount of money on video games, it makes him so happy and I enjoy it with him. Taking him to a movie, or going for a bike ride.
MH: A lot of time we do a lot of physical activities. I love hiking. I rarely get to do it, but I really enjoy it. I love scuba diving, I used to do it quite a lot five or six years ago, but in Jersey there really aren’t any places to go scuba diving. But mainly, if I’m not training or teaching, I want to be with my family, going out with them, hanging out with my nieces and nephews that are all different ages. Watching them grow up is really important to me.
CS: Lastly, MMA is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Who would you like to thank?
MH: Always I am going to thank my family first for all their incredible support and encouragement. They are never disapproving of what I do, always encouraging and wanting to see me in the best mindset that I can be.
MH: Tiger Schulmann, not just the organization, but Tiger Schulmann and his brother Master Ron Schulmann who constantly motivates me and reminds me that at no time or point should I get complacent. There is always so much more to learn, and that I am capable of learning it. Great coaches and great people.
MH: All my teammates at Tiger Schulmann’s, Jenna Serio, Sofia Gegovic, Jackie Nielson, Nick Pace, and I could go on. They are incredible people to train with and work with, and they make me better. They keep me humble, and never let me forget I still have a lot to learn.
MH: And my husband, for never ever in my life of fighting has he ever given me a hard time. Even when my patience is really thin right before weigh ins, he has never given me a hard time about any of it. He is very much my coach at that time, and he is very supportive and doesn’t try to get in the way of any of it, which is very important as well.
MH: Ben Hoffman who runs In Motion Meals, without them I don’t know what I’d do. They help me make weight properly, stay nutritionally sound with the best kind of food possible. It’s food that I normally would eat even if I wasn’t fighting. It really makes me incredibly strong and fast, so I value their help.
MH: Thai Gear, who supplies all my equipment and training apparel.
MH: Lastly, reach out to me on Twitter @Munah_Holland and we have a school Facebook for Tiger Schulmann’s North Plainfield.