Former UPEI hockey player Maria Clinton switches to MMA
Maria Clinton welcomed the challenge of trying something new.
Clinton, 23, a Stratford resident who grew up in Souris, played for four years with the UPEI women’s hockey team.
“When the coronavirus started, I finished playing hockey and was looking for something else to do,” Clinton said.
A conversation with his cousin, Ben Gallant, from the Tignish area who grew up wrestling, paved the way for Clinton’s next athletic adventure.
“I was interested in getting into another sport because it motivates me to go to the gym and be around a team,” Clinton said. “I thought maybe Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was something I would love to do.”
“I was interested in getting into another sport because it motivates me to go to the gym and be around a team. I was thinking that maybe Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is something I would love to do.
– Maria Clinton
Clinton and Gallant started taking jiu-jitsu classes in March 2020.
But about a month later, gyms closed due to COVID-19. Rather than using this as an excuse, Clinton and Gallant continued to train in their bubble outside.
“I loved it and kept going,” Clinton said.
Matt McGrath coached Clinton for 15 months.
“If there’s motivation and passion, it’s pretty easy to take an athlete and shape them into what they want,” said McGrath, who has appeared in 28 professional MMA fights. “That’s what Maria did.
“She’s definitely learning that there will be bumps and bruises along the way. She has an open minded attitude and has done it exceptionally.
Clinton defeated Summerside’s Abbie Wainwright by decision in her very first MMA fight in the fall. All three judges ruled on the three-round bout 30-27.
Two months earlier, Wainwright beat Clinton in a grappling match, which is primarily wrestling and competitors are not allowed to punch and kick.
“Everyone was like, ‘Why would Maria want this fight; is she just going to lose again? ‘ Clinton said. “But I knew that once it all came together, where we could kick kicks and practice full-fledged martial arts, I could showcase my stuff.”
The five-foot-five Clinton, who had to add weight to reach 130 pounds for her MMA debut, hopes to fight between 115 and 125 pounds in her next fight.
Clinton, who sometimes takes two classes a day while training four to five times a week at McGrath’s gymnasium in Fort Augustus, is considering a return to the cage in March 2022.
“Training is something that keeps me healthy and active,” said Clinton, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UPEI and hopes to pursue a career with the RCMP. “It’s either I’m going to the gym and lifting weights, or I’m going to do mixed martial arts and be surrounded by a bunch of people I love. I want to keep going, keep working hard and see where it takes me. “
MMA is not your typical sport. While there is always the possibility of injury in any sport, MMA athletes face the reality of being punched, kicked and thrown.
This is something Clinton is well aware of, and her previous athletic experiences contributed to the nervousness leading up to the cage entry. Clinton said playing hockey helped her mentally prepare for the mental side of the fight.
“I was like, ‘The cage is going to close, and I’m in there,'” said Clinton. “I know I’m going to get a punch, and I know it’s not going to feel right, but it’s either she’s hurting me or I’m hurting her.”
“It’s kind of like a life and death situation. It was scary, but I knew I didn’t have time to let go and give an inch.
McGrath said tenacity, fearlessness and trainability are a big part of Clinton’s early successes in MMA. McGrath said Clinton’s strength was his punching ability.
“At the end of the day, I want to bridge the gap between all disciplines, so she’s a complete fighter,” said McGrath.
Clinton said that one of the appealing aspects of MMA is that while the athletes compete as individuals, the entire gym creates a team atmosphere.
“I grew up playing hockey where you had to rely on your teammates,” Clinton said. “You also have to rely on your teammates for mixed martial arts because you can’t train or learn without another person.
“At the end of the day when I had my first fight, it was just me in the cage, and you have to be there for yourself. I liked the way I was alone in there, and it was up to me to decipher the result. “
Jason Simmonds is a sports writer for the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.