Waking up early in the morning to surf the Pacific Ocean before school starts. Louisiana. A small town in Montana. Captain of the High School football team. An all-American college wrestler. Glorious San Diego, California. Training partner of Liz Carmouche. The common denominator, you ask? All places Annie DeCrescente has lived, hats she has worn, and barriers she has broken. At the age of 27, after having seemingly lived more of a life than most, she is now a mixed martial artist just a few victories away from a real shot at the big stage.
Although Jaime and I have enjoyed traveling all throughout Western Pennsylvania covering MMA and interviewing fighters, we just weren’t able to make the trek to Annie’s current home of Kennesaw, Georgia. I love a good road trip, too. It was a lazy Sunday evening in late June and my dining room table had to suffice for our interview with Annie. As Jaime dialed for the Peach State and turned on the speaker phone option, I hit record on my well-traveled iPhone. When Annie answered, I anticipated that her greeting would be accompanied by a southern drawl. But it wasn’t. Her voice came through strong and clear, free of any regional dialect. Although I couldn’t see her while we spoke, I quickly received the impression that she is already an old soul, calm and comfortable in her own skin. Politely, she started out by addressing me as ‘sir’. I immediately told her there was no need for her to do so, unless she really wanted to. We all shared a laugh. Annie laughed easily and effortlessly throughout our interview. As she answered my questions, I imagined how many friends she must have made during her stops throughout the States. True to her SoCal roots, she named Sublime as her favorite band and won me over just five minutes into our conversation. Later, I learned why I had heard no accent (she moved to Kennesaw for love), but more interestingly, I learned of Annie’s fascinating life’s journey.
In Ya Face MMA : Were your parents athletes?
Annie DeCrescente : I think my dad played some baseball growing up. But my mom wasn’t really an athlete. They’re both musicians. They met playing music, actually.
IYF : What was it like growing up in San Diego?
AD : Well, it was only one of the places I grew up. We moved a lot as kids. I’ve lived everywhere from Louisiana, I lived in Montana on and off for five years. I say San Diego was my home because I probably lived there the longest and was born there. It was awesome! I grew up in the outdoors, pretty much every day. When I lived in Montana, we camped and hiked a lot. Real small town. My dad would just whistle and we knew it was time to come home. San Diego as a teenager – it was just awesome. I surfed every morning before high school. My mom made me join the swim team because she didn’t like me surfing by myself every day. It was very outdoorsy, sunny, beautiful. I played A LOT of sports growing up there. I loved growing up in California.
IYF : You anticipated my next question! What were some other sports you enjoyed playing as a kid?
AD : Well, I kinda had some really big dreams as a kid. I wanted to be the first woman in the NFL. I watched a lot of football with my dad and also my stepdad. It was kind of our Sunday thing to watch the Chargers or the Packers. We watched Sunday football all day, and I was just completely enamored with it. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. At this point, I tried football when I was in middle school. When we eventually all transitioned over to high school, I was like, “you know what? Why don’t I try out for this high school football team and see what it’s all about.” So I played actually four years of high school ball and was team captain my junior year. It was such a blast! I finally found wrestling when I transferred high school from L.A. to San Diego, because L.A. didn’t have wrestling. I went to watch a practice with a friend and I asked him, “Wow! Can girls do this thing?!” And he said, “Well, I guess you can do it if you’re a girl.” So I said, “You’re telling me I can throw people around on a mat for six to nine minutes and no one is going to say anything about it? You get to be super-aggressive with somebody and no one is going to get mad at you?” I was hooked from the moment I saw it. I ended up joining my junior year, and I guess the rest is history.
IYF : That’s awesome! You’re a trailblazer.
AD : (Laughs heartily) Thank you!
IYF : What position did you play in football?
AD : I played defensive end.
IYF : Did you get into fights when you were a kid or did you pretty much play well with others?
AD : Never for myself. I was always a super nice kid, almost passive. But if someone messed with my family or friends, then I kind of lost it. If my sister was picked on. That struck a nerve with me. I wouldn’t stand for that.
IYF : What’s the atmosphere like in the deep south for women that are MMA fighters? You ladies aren’t dressed up exactly like southern belles.
AD : You know what’s kind of funny about it? It’s more welcoming than most sports you would think of. Football was probably the hardest thing I ever had to transition into. There was a much more machismo kind of attitude about it. Wrestling was pretty welcoming as well. You get some guys (within MMA) that are new to the gym and they’re like, “Well, I just don’t know if I can wrestle or roll with a girl. Or try to choke a girl, or blah, blah, blah.” But I think once they get into it they start to forget. My training partner, Victor Wilcurt, likes to remind me every day after we beat the crap out of each other. He says, “I forget you’re a girl all the time. I’m sorry, I’m definitely sorry.” And I say. “Thank you, Victor. Thank you.”
AD : Actually, MMA wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. Funny enough, I was coaching girl’s wrestling at Steele Canyon High School in San Diego. One of my old coaches, Luke Barker, came in and told me there was a girl down at San Diego Combat Academy that needed a wrestling partner. I said, “Well, I guess I’ll come down there and wrestle with her.” So I come in and Manolo Hernandez introduces me to Liz Carmouche.
IYF : No kidding! Really?
AD : I’m not kidding. (Laughs) Back in 2010, I used to wrestle Liz Carmouche. So that was my first introduction to MMA. I’d scored on her, but only with takedowns that are not traditional for MMA. She already had good hips. She didn’t really need a wrestling partner. She just needed a good, girl training partner. So, I’d come in there a few days a week and just train with her. Manolo would tell me that I needed to cut out the “coaching crap” and start fighting. And I’d tell him, “No, no, no. I don’t really want to hit people in the face. That’s not really my thing.” I started eventually taking some stand-up classes and then moved here to Georgia in that time period. I started training here, and then I realized how much I liked it. That it’s not about anger at all, and that it was honorable. It was kind of an interesting transition.
IYF : Can you take us through your training regimen, starting six weeks before a fight?
AD : Well, I’m in a fight camp right now. What I start to really do about six weeks out is the discipline things. Like, when I wake up in the morning, instead of adding milk or sugar to my coffee, I have it black. You start to cut out the little things because you want to make your weight cut as little as possible. You want your body to be at its peak, its best, on the day of the tournament. Right now, it’s little dietary adjustments. No candy. No sugar. I just don’t eat bread that much at all, anyway. So, just eating more clean. My portion sizes are coming down a little bit. Diet is always the first thing I start working on. Six weeks out, eight weeks out, I usually train the same way all of the time. I just train with a little more intensity. But I run about two or three times a week in the morning. I lift three times a week, but I will probably cut my lifting out two weeks before the fight. On the mornings I don’t run, I’ll throw in an early boxing class at Title Boxing out in Alpharetta with my friend Taga Haynie. She’s awesome! I also work full time, so when I’m done at work I’ll go right to Striker Fight Center for a Muay Thai or MMA class. I also teach wrestling at Striker. I train jiu-jitsu three days a week, but I roll for at least 20 minutes every day.
IYF : What goes through your mind on the way out to the cage just before you fight?
AD : Everybody has a certain amount of nerves. Of course, I’m a little nervous. But I’m not nervous because I’m afraid to get hit. I’m not nervous that I’m going to get beat up. I’m nervous about the way I’m going to perform. I want to make sure that I make my coaches proud. I want to leave knowing I put everything out there. That’s the only thing I get nervous about, my performance. But I’m excited more than anything. Every time I feel my nerves start to take over, all I tell myself is, “OK, we’ve done this a million times. We’ve done this a million times at practice. The crowd’s just a little bit bigger. That’s all it is.” I’ve been starting to watch my opponents as they walk out, as they get vasolined. I’ve always been the first, never the second one out. I’ve never fought in Georgia before. It’s this weird, overwhelming excitement. I feel excited. Because we get to do the things that other people dream about, every day. People say, “I want to do something like that one day. I want to cage fight.” But people have so much fear that they won’t get to do something like that, because they can’t push themselves to do it. It’s just so much fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s my dream. Every day that I get to go do it, I live my dream.
IYF : What has been your most challenging fight and why?
AD : I’m still a little sore about my last one. But that wasn’t my most challenging fight. It was the last time I fought in Columbia, against Dinah Barry. It was the weight that we weren’t sure about, the proper weight to cut. Because my coaches were trying to transition me down to 135. So I had to figure out where my body could actually go. I had never been below 144 since high school. So we were catching girls (agreeing to fight at a catch weight) at lower than 145. It was awful. I felt like I was going to die. I was like, “Coach, there is something WRONG. It should not be this painful.” I’m on my way to weigh-in at Columbia and I had cramping through my lower back. It was awful. Even to the point on day two, the day before the actual fight, I still felt terrible. And I was like, “OK, get a hold of yourself. You gotta perform. You gotta do this, you gotta do that.” I was super stressed because I was supposed to fight a month later at 135 in Texas. Here I am, cutting weight for this fight, and they’re asking me to go eight pounds lighter? I didn’t know if I could do it. And it was very disheartening, very rough. My roommate at that time was a very high level Judo fighter. She said, “I think you need to go get your body levels checked and see what you’re actually dealing with.” So, we did that after the fight, and I have proof that cutting the rest of that weight would have been absolutely crazy talk!
IYF : What challenges do you find as a female fighter in a male-dominated sport?
AD : I think being taken seriously is probably the first thing. First, you’re proving to people that you actually want to be there. That you’re not there for dating purposes. Sometimes, you do have girls coming into the gym for dating. It’s very frustrating, you know? It’s like one step forward, two steps back. I try not to gym date. That’s a pretty solid thing for me. (Laughs) Also, being underestimated or people thinking you’re weak because you’re a girl. It’s really frustrating, say you’re grappling with someone, and they’re just going super, super easy on you. Too light. Which is better than too heavy, don’t get me wrong. I think that all of us that stick with it really enjoy proving people wrong. I’m sure Jaime feels that way. (Jaime nods her head in agreement.) I love proving people wrong.
IYF : Where do you see yourself in one year from now?
AD : Well, we’re thinking about turning pro at the end of this year, so…
IYF : Awesome!
AD : I’d love to be part of some really cool fight promotion, like Invicta. That would be a dream. I’d love to be doing this in front of larger crowds of people. For my family to be able to see it live and televised. Because they’re always like, “How did your fight go? When can we see it?” And I have to send them super delayed videos, or tell them how it went over the phone. Also, I think that if you’re able to do your passions for a living, you’re never going to work a day in your life. Once this is all over, once I’m done with my MMA career, I eventually want to teach and coach. I want to teach high school Biology, actually.
IYF : So you’ve got a big brain on top of it all.
AD : If I can keep from getting punched in the head. (We all laugh.) I have a Biology degree, with a minor in Spanish.
IYF : Tell us about your next fight.
AD : I’m fighting at Conflict 19 in Columbia, SC on August 2nd against Mary Kate Hayes (4-1). She’s primarily a striker. I’ve seen a little of her video, but I’m sure she’s seen mine as well.
IYF : Anything or anyone you’d like to promote or give a shout out to?
AD : I really want to thank my coaches. Juan Guevara – Jiu Jitsu. Steven Broughman – Muay Thai and MMA. Frank Maryska – Muay Thai. Adam Pina – Boxing. Genaro Tena – Judo. Jimmy Fowler – MMA. Mike Israel – MMA and Wrestling.
IYF : (John) One last question, can you try and get Ronda Rousey in an armbar for me?
AD : I’d sure as hell try!
IYF : (John) Nice! I’m not her biggest fan.
AD : Here’s what I have to say about Ronda Rousey. I am not a fan of her personality. I have a hard time watching her interview, I really do. I am so thankful for her being in the UFC. No matter what you think about Rhonda, she’s very consistent with her attitude about people. She won’t smile to someone’s face and talk shenanigans behind their back. She openly hates Miesha Tate. Openly. She won’t shake her hand after the fight either, and you know what, she meant that shit. I like that she is true to her convictions. It took her for women to get into the UFC, and I think we all have to thank her for that. I’d like to see Sara McMann get a rematch. My soul cried when she lost!
Favorite food : Hamburger and fries
Beer – Flying Dog Pale Ale
Athlete – Sara McMann
Sports Team – San Diego Chargers
Movie – Aliens
Band – Sublime
Dream date – Manny Garcia
A place to travel for the first time – Australia
MMA Fighters – Sara McMann, Renen Barão
Heroes – Mother Theresa, Gwen Stefani, Sigourney Weaver, Lori Petty
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