Transformation. It is described as a “thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.” The easiest way to describe it would be a caterpillar turning into a butterfly or a tadpole that grows into a frog. It’s something that can be applied to politics, religion and even human nature itself. The sports world has had its transformations over the years as well. Uniforms have evolved. Safety gear has been implemented and continues to be studied. Women are fighting in sports that used to be primarily the domain of men.
There really aren’t a lot of female mixed martial artists who were recognizable before the days of Ronda Rousey. There was Gina Carano, who competed from 2006-09 and has made her stride as an actress as of late. There’s also Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, the woman who dethroned Carano and inadvertently ended her fighting career. However, times have changed. The world was introduced to Rousey. Invicta Fighting Championships, an all-female promotion that breathed life into women’s MMA and showcased future UFC champions Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas, came along. Now, in 2019, GLORY Kickboxing is not only including women on the undercard, but also in a main event featuring Anissa Meksen and Tiffany Van Soest.
The undercard fight in question features Aline Pereira and GLORY newcomer Crystal “Bear” Lawson.
“I think it’s taken this long for women to actually do what they’re supposed to in this sport,” Lawson told Combat Press. “I’m not a feminist by any means, and I can be super honest about the fact that, a lot of times, women fights suck. I mean, they do. Girls just… They just throw them out there. A lot of companies will put girls on cards because they’re hot or they’re a smoke show or whatever, and they suck. They can’t fight. It’s literally just [that] they think it’s gonna promote, and it’s been such a sexist thing. So, just now, where companies are finally actually trying to get where women can actually fight, and I think with GLORY, they don’t care what you look like. It’s like all these chicks are badasses. They can all fight, and it’s not at all about what anybody looks like. So, I think with women, it’s just getting to the point where they’re learning now [that] you also have to have a skill set.”
Lawson didn’t want to just be known as some “hot chick.” She hasn’t put her social media account first. Instead, she’s worked on her skill set. Lawson has watched the sport evolve ever since she started competing in 2007. It didn’t take long for her to make the transformation from southern girl to skilled fighter.
“I grew up in Madison-Mayodan [N.C.], which is like two towns, but it’s one town,” Lawson explained with a chuckle. “Where I grew up is just a small little country town, and we literally didn’t even have a Walmart. There was a K-Mart, and there was one stoplight. By the time I got to high school, maybe they had made some more stoplights or something, and it was like a super big deal when Walmart came to town. So, the closest city to me was like an hour away, and we lived down a long dirt road. I never really went any of those places. It was very, very country life.
“When I was 18, I kinda started moving. I moved to Winston-Salem, which is close to Charlotte, and I was there pretty much forever, until I ended up moving up to New England.
“I just moved here in January. It was a huge change for me. I’ve always been in the south. I’m a southern girl, and I love the heat. As far as for my fighting, it’s been good for me because I’ve had to overcome the stresses of this crazy weather here, but it’s also for some reason helped me kind of find myself as a fighter, too. It’s just like a mental thing. When you’re from the south and you’re so used to being hot all the time and you come to a place with this, like, erratic weather, it takes so much initially for me to train.”
Lawson’s first fight, a Muay Thai outing, took place six months after she first started training. Even her amateur fights were a tough road. The women’s side of combat sports was still in its relative infancy, and many of Lawson’s opponents could have been pro fighters if there had been a larger pool of talent around.
“We actually were allowed to use elbows and stuff [back then],” she said. “I kind of did [Muay Thai] all over [and] did some MMA. I took a couple of years off. I had a couple of injuries, and, more recently, we had the Lion Fights thing that was supposed to happen, and there was just issues with airline ticketing, basically. After that, around a year later — I guess almost two years later — is when the GLORY thing happened, and I had torn my TFCC.”
Lawson’s first two scheduled bookings with GLORY never came to fruition. She was set to meet Bekah Irwin. First, the fight was postponed. Then, Irwin was involved in a car accident just before their rescheduled fight was to take place on Sept. 28.
“We literally found out that Saturday or Sunday,” said Lawson. “I found out through social media actually, and the fight was the following Friday or Saturday. And they couldn’t find a replacement last minute, so that was the second one that didn’t happen with them. And they offered me this one next Friday against Aline [Pereira], ’cause Bekah was still hurt. I’m not real sure what’s going on with her, so hopefully she’s OK. So now this one is set up, so hopefully everybody stays healthy.”
Staying healthy is one of the most important aspects of a professional fighter. Without precautions, a fighter cannot compete, stay relevant, or reach their ultimate goals. Lawson has dealt with injuries of her own, some more unusual than others.
“I was training with one of my friends,” Lawson recalled. “She fought on Lion Fights a while back against Angela Hill, but that’s been several years ago. [She]’s got like a bunch of kids now and she still trains, but she was a phenomenal training partner. I was in Atlanta training with her, and I didn’t ever really wear headgear.”
Lawson’s coach warned her to wear headgear. She did, but she forgot one thing.
“I didn’t put in my mouthguard,” said Lawson. “She didn’t have on headgear, so we were clinched up at one point and we just fell like a freak accident and then my chin hit the top of her head, and so I broke both joints in my mouth and had like three cracks in the front of my jaw.”
Usually, Lawson fares much better. She’s remained healthy despite training constantly. She has a new conditioning coach, too. She says she’s had plenty of time to prepare for Pereira and feels confident about their upcoming bout.
“I actually seen her last fight, because we still went out to GLORY,” Lawson explained. “I think I definitely have the advantage, in the way of it was nice to actually get to see her live compete, because it’s one thing watching someone’s videos and actually getting to see them in the ring. It’s a whole different world. So, I definitely think, in that way, I have the advantage, and we know what to expect from her. And she’s probably got a couple things she’s working on, but we have a very solid game plan, and I’m very confident in my coaches and my team and all of my training that there’s absolutely nothing that she has over me, at all, besides her height. In this case, that’s gonna be a disadvantage to her.
“I’m not taking anything from her. She’s obviously good. She’s gotten to where she is, but it is what it is. She’s not some magical unicorn because she’s tall. She’s a very one-dimensional, stiff fighter, and that’s not what I am.”
More recently, the women’s fighting scene has seen another new platform, hosted by Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, run by David Feldman. BKFC has taken the fighting world by storm. The company has signed former UFC and Bellator fighters, as well as signing some female talent, including Sheena Star, Bec Rawlings and Delaney Owen.
“I actually had someone post about that online, and I commented, which I usually don’t do,” Lawson said. “I think it’s really interesting. I’d like to do it one time, just to see what it’s like. Do I want to make a career of it? Absolutely not.”
Along with every fight come the nerves. Some fighters like to be pumped up in the weeks leading up to the fight. Others prefer to lay low and focus on the training and fight ahead of them. It is only with time that a healthy balance can be found.
“There used to be times up until now that, when it was this close to the fight, I would be so anxious and stressed out, and that was all I could think about — and not in a good way,” Lawson admitted. “Just since moving to New England, I’ve gotten to a point where I am training full-time, so I don’t have those same feelings. Of course, there’s still anxiety. You’re crazy if you don’t have any sort of anxiety.
“Fear of success is a real thing, dude. That’s scary. People don’t realize that sometimes your fear is actually being fearful to be the best. As a child, I always thought I was gonna be really great at something, and I just never knew what it was. But I didn’t grow up with a lot, so it was expected for me to really not have anything. So, for me to be at this point, sometimes it is really scary.
“You don’t understand that’s how you’re feeling inside, but yeah, you’re scared because you are rising above all of these things you weren’t supposed to rise above. You weren’t supposed to leave that small town. You were supposed to work at a factory and marry a man and have five kids, and you’re supposed to be happy with that life. That’s not the life I wanted.”
It’s always amazing to see the journey a fighter takes from childhood to adulthood. From amateur to professional. From bachelor/bachelorette to family life. Lawson has competed in Muay Thai, MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and kickboxing. She could really take her career anywhere. A fighter has to have a contingency plan for the future. There aren’t any guarantees in fighting.
“I don’t really have an interest in MMA [anymore], to be honest,” Lawson confessed. “I did it because, well, jiu-jitsu is kinda fun. I really do like wrestling. But, as far as me, I want to be really good at one thing and, for me, MMA just requires too much, and I don’t love it. I don’t love jiu-jitsu. I want to do something that I really love everyday.
“I had someone message me the other day offering me a fight, and I was like, ‘No, not interested.’ My plan is just to stay with GLORY and fight as long as my body holds up. I didn’t start until later in the game, so I feel like some people my age would… Their bodies are already worn out. I haven’t taken that much damage, and even though I’ve been in it for a while, I don’t have all that head trauma and stuff. I still have plenty of time to reach my goals. Like I said, I want to stay with GLORY and eventually plan to hold their title. I don’t expect that to be anytime soon, and whenever I decide to retire, I want to stay within the company and work for them somehow.”
Lawson is a new breed of fighter personality. In a world where people are beating around the bush or not saying what they really want to say, Lawson separates herself from the pack.
“I’m not really good at lying or sugarcoating,” she admitted. “One of my old teammates one time said to me that he feels like people are drawn to me in a way because a lot of times when I post, it’s not one-dimensional but it’s also you can probably tell if I’ve got some personal stuff going on or if I’m struggling. I’m not always posting about how great everything is. It’s more about maybe sometimes the way I want things to be or the way I want to be. So, yeah, I think that’s super important.”
At the end of the day, what is a fighter without their nickname. Roxanne “The Happy Warrior” Modafferi. “Thug” Rose Namajunas. Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza. And Lawson? Her nickname is “Bear.”
“My old coach gave it to me, still my best friend,” said Lawson. “I just started getting called that one day, and it just kinda stuck. It’s ’cause I’m kinda wild like a little bear, and messy, and I kinda leave a little hurricane everywhere I go — and sometimes I’m cute like a bear.”
On Friday night, that little “Bear” visits Chicago, where she’ll meet Periera at GLORY 71.