Every day, all over the country, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of men and women seeking to get in shape who walk into a boxing, kickboxing or jiu-jitsu gym. Maybe they played a traditional sport in high school or college and were injured or undersized to go pro, and now they want to find a new passion. Maybe they had a family to support and had to put their dreams of athleticism on hold, and they have now decided it’s time to get back in a game. Maybe they just want to get into better shape. Maybe they want to learn a little self-defense. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
In 2003, Rebecca Ruth walked into 21st Century Martial Arts and said to head coach Benny Voyles, “I am here to lose this baby fat. I don’t want to fight.” He laughed and pointed to the posters of all the champions on the wall and replied, “That’s what they all said, too.” Ruth meant it for a while.
“I don’t have a mean bone in my body. When people start to argue, my stomach turns,” Ruth told Combat Press. “I went to a couple of fights to support my teammates and saw a couple of girl fights and I thought I could do it. So I told Benny that I just wanted to do an exhibition fight.”
The rest is a familiar story to MMA athletes and fans. Ruth won her fight. She was hooked, and she decided this is the sport and the time.
“My school was so small we could barely field a girls’ basketball team,” she said. “Softball was out, but I did play baseball my junior and senior year in addition to the travel softball team. I played college softball at Merrimack Community and the Southern Il at Evansville, and even got to go to Canada to play exhibition games against some of the other countries’ Olympic teams. Of course, playing in the Olympics for the U.S. was my dream.”
That wasn’t to be, however.
Ruth got married, had two children, and then decided to “lose the baby fat.”
“I love fighting because of the sport of it,” she explained. “There isn’t any bad blood between me and my opponents. I love the training and the workout, and I love the fact that I can fight someone and hit them and not go to jail [laughs]. But seriously, even the self-defense aspect of it. I mean, I know, as a female my size, that I can’t fight a guy with bad intentions, but I know that I can at least do enough to get away or make him think twice. Plus, the confidence this sport makes me an unlikely target—criminals are looking for timid victims. I have the confidence to make eye contact, and that’s just basic self-defense.
“And I love the sport because it shows my boy and my girl if you want something, you can do [it]. I mean, here I am at 35 years of age, soon to be a single mother, and starting to rise through the ranks of my division. I tell my kids all the time, ‘What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve,’ and I tell it to myself when I am training and I feel like I can’t go on.”
It’s not easy working a full-time job and being a single mother. It is really not easy when you add training for an MMA fight. Ruth works as a security guard. She gets up at 4 a.m., works eight hours, heads right to the gym to train for four to six hours, and then heads back home to reset and do it all over again.
Her two children, 11-year-old Blane and seven-year-old Dani Ray, are active youngsters. They both play football right now. Ruth had always liked watching football, but she is now learning the rules and the plays from both son and daughter. Dani Ray seems to have inherited her mother’s feistiness and athleticism. She even likes to play in the mud in her dresses.
“There aren’t a lot of girls who play,” commented Ruth, “but I think it’s cute. And she is really good, but I think she is going to play another sport next year. Blane, on the other hand, is all in. He is also amazing, and he loves the sport.”
As proud as she is, it’s still not easy to juggle all the responsibilities and duties. But when you speak to Ruth, even in the middle of training camp, you can hear a certain joie de vivre. But how she is able to do it all?
“In the morning, I get up and tell myself, ‘Positive thoughts bring positive actions,’ and I tell it to my kids and we do everything we can to live it,” she revealed. “I’ve been told by a few people that I am too old—that I shouldn’t go for it. But I want it. I want to see how far I can go with this. I would love to do well for RFA and then make it into the UFC. Maybe I’m not in my prime, but I know that I can do it. I may not have an extensive record, but I am ready.”
And ready is how Ruth looks. She has one official loss as an amateur to Brittany Dugas by TKO, but in both of her pro fights she has dominated with first-round TKO finishes for the Shamrock Promotion out of Missouri.
“They put on some great shows here in St. Louis and Kansas City,” Ruth said. “Jesse Finney does a great job and it’s a great promotion.”
Now, Ruth is headed to Minneapolis, Minn., for her next fight. She is set to meet Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner at RFA 19 on Oct. 10 as part of a card that will air live on AXS TV.
“I am excited to make my debut for RFA,” Ruth admitted. “Jocelyn is a step-up.”
Jones-Lybarger has fought for the RFA before. She has a pro record of three wins and one loss. Ruth and Jones-Lybarger will both be moving down to 115 pounds for the contest, and this fight has exciting implications for the evolving and growing strawweight division.
“I prepare, not exactly the same, but the same for every fighter, in that I train to go all three rounds,” said Ruth. “And not just go the distance, but go hard the whole time. I know she goes the distance and has the stamina to go all the way, and I am prepared for that. We get it all in and prepare for everything. She covers her bases well and is not a one-trick pony. She works every angle and I know it. But I am ready.”
If you want to see what happens when a hard-hitting phenom with dynamite in her hands meets one of the best up-and-coming strawweights, then you really should plan on watching Ruth fight Jones-Lybarger on Friday night.