At last, Felice Herrig got her break. Beginning next month, Fox Sports 1 will air season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which features Herrig, a Crystal Lake resident, competing for the UFC’s inaugural strawweight (115 pound) women’s championship. In previous seasons, the reality TV show broadcast up-and-coming, amateur fighters vying for a UFC contract, whereas this season will feature Herrig, and fellow professionals, competing in the new UFC division. The 29-year-old Buffalo Grove native trains with coach Jeff Curran at Team Curran MMA in Crystal Lake. Herrig is ranked as No. 10 female strawweight fighter in the world, according to the August Unified Women’s MMA rankings.
I was always kind of wondering when the big payoff would be, when I would get my, quote, unquote, big break. Fighters have a shelf life. For me, I have gotten a lot of great opportunities and experiences, but sometimes, you need that big stage to take your fighting career to the next level. I’ve done really well for myself so far, but without the big UFC platform, you’re kind of going to be stagnant.
The UFC accelerated the rate of my career, because I don’t just look at fighting as the actual fight. I look at myself as an actual entertainer. Most fighters fight because they love it. They fight at the lower level for so long that you kind of need that big stage to kick your career in the next direction, and to even financially make a living. So with this opportunity, not only am I fighting in the UFC now, I’m fighting in The Ultimate Fighter house. That has been great. People get to see my fights, and my personality, the little nuances of the style that I bring to the cage, just all the little details. They get what I’m about, my personal background, my upbringing. I think this opportunity has let me connect me with fans even more.
Last year, I was thinking about quitting fighting. Dana White called me three or four days after my last fight. I lost. And I hadn’t lost a fight in a couple years. But I was just kind of over it. I really didn’t want to fight anymore, I didn’t want to put my body through it. Because of how much I had worked, I had gotten so many opportunities with sponsors, I thought maybe I’d go the acting route. I had started acting classes at Second City Chicago. I thought I’d try to do more of that. I thought, ‘What’s the point of putting my body through so much mentally, physically when there’s not that big payoff?’ When you don’t fight on the big stage, the rewards aren’t as great. Dana White called to give me the news about this opportunity, but I was already kind of done. I wanted to be super excited, but I wasn’t. My head wasn’t in it. My heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to fight anymore. I talked to my manager and my coaches, and they said not to make a decision now. Because I was going to call Dana White and tell him I wasn’t going to do it.
I knew this was what I wanted all along, but I had lost a little bit of my hunger, just because of all the hardships. I had put so much into it so far. So I needed something like this to relight my fire and motivate me again. And it definitely did. I don’t think about quitting now, or anytime soon. I needed this. It’s just the timing came when I was about ready to give up. But I had seven months to train for the show. I got a signing bonus. And I was like, you know what, I’m going to take this time, go back to the drawing board, sit down with my coaches, evaluate everything I need and put myself in a really good position going into the show feeling really strong.
• Joey Kaufman is a Northwest Herald sports writer. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.