You can’t miss the hashtag on JJ Aldrich’s Instagram page.
Is that still accurate?
“Yes, I’m still chasing the dream, and living the dream,” she said. “Everyone always talks about the fighter lifestyle and it's really a blessed lifestyle to be able to live.”
It’s one the 30-year-old has been chasing for most of her life, and there’s no chance of her easing up off the gas anytime soon.
“I've been doing this for a while now, and I think the ultimate goal, obviously, is still to be the world champ,” she said. “But I live the dream by not having to go to a nine to five, enjoying every single day and just being my own boss.”
That does sound like a dream job if you take away the weight cutting, working out, and getting punched in the face parts, but none of that has ever made Aldrich shy away from combat sports, which she’s been involved with since her mother brought her to a taekwondo class when she was nine. And while she didn’t have an epiphany at nine that this was her career path, she did know that she found something she loved.
“Obviously, I'm nine years old, so I can't articulate that at nine,” she laughs. “But I definitely fell in love with it and, yeah, it's hard to say what else could fulfill that inside of me. I think just pushing yourself every day, you get caught up in fight camp and fights and hard situations, and why am I doing this? But it's really a blessing. I'm 30 years old. There's not many people in the world, except for top athletes, that have to wake up at 30 and be nervous about a training session or a fight or this and that. So having nerves and still being able to chase a dream at 30 years old after doing this for so long, it really is a blessing. And looking at it that way helps a lot.”
On Saturday, Aldrich will make her 13th walk to the Octagon to face China’s Liang Na at the Singapore Indoor Arena. It’s the Coloradan’s first international assignment since she decisioned Chanmi Jeon in New Zealand in 2017, and while that long plane ride and acclimation process could rattle some fighters, Aldrich – who left for Singapore on August 11 – has seen and done it all in the sport, so nothing gets to her these days.
“Women in the UFC wasn't even a thing when I started,” Aldrich recalls. “So I did taekwondo for a long time, fell in love with it and I started teaching. I was like, ‘I'm going to be a teacher at taekwondo and I'm just going to teach kids.’ And that was kind of the path I was on for a long time. Then I got introduced to jiu-jitsu and I really started falling in love with that, as well.”
Next up was MMA, and at 17, she was a year away from fighting in Colorado. Instead, she competed in Muay Thai, wanted to get in a couple MMA scraps, and that was it. But after her first MMA fight in Wyoming, that’s all it took for her to want to make this a full-time endeavor.
“At the time there were no blood tests, they didn't care how old you were, and it was anything goes,” Aldrich said. “So I had my first MMA fight in the back of a bar that I wasn't even old enough to get into and I was hooked. (Laughs) After that, I just kept training hard and I saw a couple of the women fighting in MMA and I was like, okay, so it is a thing that I could do.”
Aldrich turned pro in November of 2014, and nearly nine years later, she’s still at it, competing at the top of the game in the UFC’s flyweight division. It’s an inspiring story, one that isn’t lost on her when she teaches her students more than just how to throw a left hook.
“Honestly, I just hope that they could take away the fact that they could be anything they want to be,” said Aldrich. “They just have to work hard at it. As an MMA fighter, you don't need to go to college and get a degree, but if what you want to do in life requires that, then that's what you’ve got to do. So, any of the kids I help, I just hope that they see that there's other things out there, other paths. It's not just, you’ve got to go to school and do this and that. If that's what you want to do, then work hard and be the best at it. I always tell the kids that I'm around, I don't care what it is you want to be in life; if you want to be a McDonald's employee, be a McDonald's owner. Be the best of that you could be.”
Like JJ Aldrich, dream chaser.
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs The Korean Zombie took place live from Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore on August 26, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!