The Fight Life
Competitive fighting—it’s the oldest sport in the world. Although it is often misunderstood as brutal, participants describe fighting as both natural and honorable.
Meet two local fighters who are teammates in the sport: Jon Hill and Julia Avila. They are opposites in many ways. He’s a 264-pound male, she’s a 135-pound female. He’s a security officer, she’s a geologist. In both cases, they agree that the discipline required by a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete, also known as a cage fighter, has made each of them a better person.
“It’s obviously not the entertainment choice for everyone, but I wish people would take the time to learn about the sport before they condemn it as barbaric,” Hill said. “It’s a very patient, calculating sport.”
“It is hard to convince people to look past the blood and broken bones to see the art and science behind it,” Avila said, “but it’s really an art form, much like an interpretive dance.”
Avila and Hill believe that most fighters have a high degree of integrity—and neither of them is the type to trash-talk or generate a feud with an opponent. Hill is a quiet “thinker” who plans to continue building his reputation with wins. He’s currently the 6th ranked heavyweight in Oklahoma and also holds two world titles.
“It’s a sport like any other, but I’m not defined by the word fighter,” Hill said. “I believe the way you live your life and treat others is what defines who you are. I’m honest and loyal, and that’s mostly what you find in fighters.”
Avila, who has a cheerful personality, dislikes the perception that fighters have to be “angry, grumpy Neanderthals.” For her, the sport requires focused skill and quick thinking.
“It’s honestly beautiful to me. God has given me this linebacker body, and it’s my job to test it to its limits. Competition is in my blood—so I guess if it wasn’t MMA, I’d be doing something like competitive chess,” Avila said with a laugh.
Avila is currently preparing for her comeback, after having taken a break following a string of wins. Her goal is to continue toward an Ultimate Fighting Championship. She’s also gained the attention of the producers of the reality television show, “The Ultimate Fighter.” Of course, none of her MMA success comes without hard work. Avila wakes up at 4:30am to work out in her home gym. On her lunch break, she goes to her workplace gym or takes fitness classes. In the evening, she goes to another gym. In addition to weightlifting, she runs marathons, does yoga and competes in Jujitsu. She summed up her life by saying, “I like to move. It’s in my blood.”
In high school and college, Avila was the kind of girl who ‘hung out with guys.’ They poked fun at her, until she started beating them in various forms of athletics. After that, it became her ‘thing’ to be the girl who could beat the guys. “With a smile on my face,” Avila added. “But first and foremost, I’m a scientist. Education is important to me, and whether I win or lose, it’s always a learning experience. I sense both science and nature behind the sport.”
Hill attests that it doesn’t matter how many times Avila gets hit or kicked—she keeps going. The two are fairly new acquaintances at the Edmond-based gym where they both work out, American Elite Mixed Martial Arts. Their first meeting ended in a fight.
Avila recalls that Hill was watching her fight a few practice rounds. She invited him to spar against her. “I’d never trained with any of the other women at the gym,” Hill said. “At first I refused, but I was finally like, ‘Alright, beat up on me.’”
“So we started sparring,” Avila said. “He said he was impressed with my movement and that ‘for a girl,’ I could take a lot of damage. At the end, he said I fight like a dude. In this sport, that’s kind of a compliment.”
After that fight, the two formed a relationship of respect. They describe it as a camaraderie borne from being teammates at the same training facility and from having similar goals. Hill, however, entered the sport for a very different reason than Avila. For him, it was a way to gain control in a world that felt out of control.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life. I started wrestling as a kid, and fighting came naturally,” Hill said. “Now, they’re paying me to compete and do what I love.”
Like Avila, Hill has a rigorous workout schedule. He describes it as 10% physical and 90% mental. “It’s getting out of bed, eating properly, forcing yourself to go the gym multiple times a day when you feel tired and broken. No matter where you are mentally—it can be the worst time in your life—you can get lost in Muay Thai or Jujitsu. It just makes life better.”
Especially when it’s time to enter the cage. Hill compared the actual fight to getting a present at Christmas. “You wait a grueling month, training so hard. Then, the fight is the easy part, because you’ve been preparing for so long. The cage door shuts, the referee points at us to start, and I feel freedom. I feel free.”
Avila agrees that the training is the hardest part. “The fight isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, the glitz and glamour can get to you—but I could care less if I have an audience of one or one thousand. I don’t do it for fame or because I have animosity toward any opponent. I do it because survival is so fundamental and primitive. It speaks to my soul.”