As one of the most positive people on the planet, it’s no surprise that Ashley Yoder found the bright spot in her March loss to Angela Hill.
“I could get my ass beat for 15 minutes and still hang in,” she laughs. “A lot of people would have quit. If you were in my head at that time, there's a lot of people that would have just gave up.”
A lot of people wouldn’t even have the guts to step into an Octagon in front of the world and throw hands with an opponent trained to beat you. It takes a particular sort of person to live an uncommon life, and Yoder has no regrets about being one of those folks, win, lose or draw.
“I hear so many people say, ‘I couldn't live that life.’ But, at the same time, I'm like, yeah, but I don't want your life. There's no perfect world and you take what you believe is the better end of the bargain for yourself and go that way, and I feel like I've done that and I feel like I'm doing that.”
At 33, and with nine UFC bouts under her belt, it’s safe to say that the Indiana native isn’t going anywhere or changing course, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tweaks to be made heading into her Saturday meeting with Jinh Yu Frey. And after losing her rematch to Hill, she knew what needed to be addressed.
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“In this camp I focused on going back to basics instead of just going in there and banging,” said Yoder. “Yeah, I have technical sides to me but, at the same time, I also just want to cause pain, and I don't mind taking a couple punches to give a couple. So I really focused on getting back to basics and really being a smarter fighter. I love jiu-jitsu, as most people know, and we really focused on my wrestling, on my kickboxing, and I've just really taken everything back five steps to basic stuff and the coaches see the difference in my attitude and in my confidence.”
Wait, did the nicest person in the sport just say she wants to cause pain?
“It is the hurt business,” she laughs. “I am technical about it, but you get in there and it's you or them, right?”
Right, so there’s no place for “nice” on fight night, something Yoder hasn’t had an issue with during her career. What she has had to deal with was a series of close fights where she has either dropped disputed decisions or has been unable to pull away
A recent exception was her impressive November 2020 win over Miranda Granger. But when she got the opportunity to avenge a 2017 loss to Hill earlier this year, a postponement of the bout for two weeks due to COVID-19 protocols didn’t do her any favors.
“I'm the first one to tell you that was my worst performance to date, and I can't tell you if it was because we had to go back after a week,” Yoder said. “I just mentally couldn't check in. It was a weird feeling getting a fight taken away the day of the fight and then come back in two weeks and make weight again and fight.
"In those two weeks I felt like I blossomed in ways that I've never recognized, but when it came down to the actual fight day, I just kept it in the back of my head that something's gonna happen. And I was so worried on that side of it that I couldn't check into what I needed to do as an athlete for my job. There are no excuses for that. So, I went back to the drawing board. Mistakes were made, mentally I couldn't get focused, so what can I do to fix that?”
Part of it was visiting her sports psychologist. Another was continuing to strike the balance between being a fighter and being a “regular” person who has to deal with all the same annoyances the rest of us do. So while most of us deal with a trip to the dentist and plumbing issues, Yoder has to do the same while preparing for a fistfight.
“You can take the bad and go dwell on that or you can just be like, ‘Well, that's s**tty and then laugh about it and go back to practice and smile,” she said. “And it's something I'm really learning to do more, and it being more natural than forcing it.”
That can’t be easy, especially bringing that stuff into the Octagon on fight night.
“The part that I've noticed separates me from being able to shut that out versus letting that be the dictator of your emotions and where your mind's at is preparing before,” she said. “Everybody goes through stuff. If someone's not going through something, they're lying to you. (Laughs) But I feel as though you have to do the right preparation, and sometimes you don't know what those right preparations are until something bad comes from it.”
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Yoder has seen the bad, the ugly, but also the good, over more than seven years as a pro, but she continues to put in the work and stay positive, and if she has her way, the best is yet to come.
“I think one of the bigger things on the mental side of it is just learning and, for me, it was focus,” she said. “If I can get my mind focused on the right energy and the right things, I feel like my record doesn't dictate the fighter that I am, and I'm sure a lot of people would say that, but for me, it's a true saying and I feel that way.”
So, no regrets, then?
“I chose this life."