Flyweight Mariya Agapova, the first female UFC fighter from Kazakhstan, went 6-0 fighting in her home nation, Russia, and China. Then she was invited to fight at Dana White's contender series a year ago, but lost a decision to Tracy Cortez. Undeterred, Agapova signed with Invicta FC, where she earned two Round 1 stoppages, and finally got into the UFC.
In her big league debut at UFC on ESPN 10 on Saturday, Agapova submitted Hannah Cifers in the first, earning a $50,000 performance bonus. GNI per capita in Kazakhstan is $8,000. In the USA it's eight times that - $64,000. 50 grand is life-changing. Reaching this rung of The America Dream took extraordinary determination to stay here and keep training at ATT headquarter in Coconut Creek, Florida.
Agapova missed a scheduled fight for Invicta when she was riding to the gym (her only means to transport) and was hit by a car, causing a cut on her elbow so deep you could see bone. But nothing will stop her.
“There were moments when I was ready to stay on the street and live anywhere," she said recently to News.ru. "I even had a plan there to be homeless. I wanted to put my things in a locker, buy a tent, and live in it. Train, wash, and charge the phone in the gym, but the bed was the problem. Until the moment when I had sponsors and a contract with the UFC, I had fully developed a plan to live on the street. I was ready to kill pigeons and fry them on a stake, but I never thought to return home. When there was not enough money for food, I was helped by my teammates and managers. They were the only ones with me in this difficult time.”
Her manager Alex Davis spoke recently with John Morgan for MMA Junkie about her new life.
“It’s absolutely life-changing, and thankfully I have experience with these situations where somebody is as poor as anything, and then some water comes on the lettuce patch,” said Davis. “We’ll help her establish herself and use her money wisely and not spend it. She’s been biking to American Top Team from far away, and now we’ll get her a driver’s license and a car.”
Davis also addressed the sole loss on her record.
“We just did not have enough time to train her,” he said. “I was trying to train her to defend from the single-leg, which I saw that Tracy did. Mariya is like a sponge. You teach, she learns. You teach, she learns. She’s a sponge, but it just simply wasn’t enough time. I knew that given time – because I saw her sparring with Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Amanda Ribas and everybody; I saw her spar with Kayla Harrison. I knew that she was capable. It just takes time."
"She’s very young – she’s only 23, She’s got a ton of potential. Besides her boxing, which everybody saw, it’s her attitude. She has a fearless, go-for-broke attitude in her, and it’s a question of developing and evolving. ... Anybody that works as hard as she works and brings that fearless attitude to the ring has a very good chance to become a UFC champion, but to me, I’m not so much worried about her becoming champion as I’m worried about her changing her life. To me, that’s more important.
“It’s like with Thiago Santos from the City of God in Brazil, and we got him all the way to a title fight with Jon Jones, and I told him, ‘I want you to win, we all want you to win, but even if you lose, you’re a winner of having got here.’ To me, yeah, I want Mariya to be a champion, but to me, as important as being champion is to establish her and put both her feet down and get her where she can live a normal life.”