Erin Toughill Interview

431_lgEveryone knows MMA is my favorite sport. Everyone knows boxing is my second favorite sport. Erin Toughill has competed in both. The kind of fighter I like is the one who always goes in the ring/cage and gives it all every time and shows heart. Erin does that. I like the kind of fighter who can rely on several different ways to win, a multi-dimensional fighter. Erin Toughill is that. I still remember the first time I saw her. Many years ago I was at a magazine store and saw this beautiful woman on the cover of a martial arts magazine. I looked and saw her name was Erin Toughill. Curious to find out about her and see if she was as interesting as she was beautiful, I bought the magazine. I took it home and read the article, and I have been a fan ever since. Erin is for sure a top-5 pound for pound female MMA fighter and is very accomplished at boxing, even giving Layla Ali a great fight. She also was one of the Gladiators on the recent American Gladiators show. She has acted as well. Pretty much she is an amazing woman with many talents. She recently signed with Strikeforce, and it will finally give a lot more fans to see what many MMA fans have known for a long time…….. Erin Toughill is for real.

Q: First, Erin, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this. You are one of my favorite fighters, and this is an honor for me.
A: Thank you so much. I always enjoy hearing that. 🙂

Q: First can you share a little about yourself….family, where you are from, where you train, things like that.
A: I am recently married to Neil Melanson, which I am so excited about. He’s the man of my dreams. I do not have family really. My sister (who was my best friend and we were inseparable) was killed drinking and driving a few years ago, then my father (who I was also EXTREMELY close to) died from cancer soon after my sister died. It still doesn’t seem real; losing two people back to back like that. Both deaths were VERY unexpected and have changed me as a person ever since. I’m not close to the two other immediate family members in my life, but my husband is my family now and the best I could ask for. I am from Huntington Beach, California, but the past 6 months have been residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. I train at Extreme Couture, where both me and my husband work and train. Neil is Randy’s head sub grappling coach, and he also trains top guys like Gray Maynard, and Akiyama, and has trained other greats like VItor Belfort, to name a few. I’m very happy with my life right now.

Q: Before you got into kickboxing and BJJ, were you always athletic. Compete in any sports?
A: I was always an athlete. I started playing soccer at 4 years of age and excelled in that. I played softball, basketball, a lot of sports. I would have received a scholarship after high school, but I went down the “wrong path”, which is what lead me to fight, actually.

Q: I believe you were 18 when you started kickboxing. What started your interest in that?
A: I needed an outlet for all my aggression and anger that was building up in me over the years. I was an intense kid, I’ll just say that much. LOL It’s not something I am proud of, but I was getting into fights….ALL THE TIME. I was getting hurt and hurting people, and someone suggested taking some kickboxing classes to release some of my pent up “negative energy”. I actually started BJJ around the same age. I love both, but for some reason my fights are always on the feet, not the ground.

Q: Was it something you picked up quickly or did it take time for you to excel?
A: I picked it up quickly, especially when I started taking it seriously.

Q: How long after did you start training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and what made you start with that?
A: I started BJJ around 18… but got “serious” when I was 20. So that’s typically when I started. I was basically introduced to kickboxing and BJJ about 15 years ago.

Q:You made your MMA debut on September 27th 1999 vs Irma Verhoes. What made you decide to fight, and what do you remember about the fight?
A: I don’t know WHY I took that fight. LOL I did not know women even did MMA! I had been watching the UFC of course, but it was much rougher and did not have the rules (it does now) back then. I recall thinking I was crazy for stepping in the cage with this woman that looked like a man. I was in Aruba, half of the card were Dutch fighters, as well as the ref, and a lot of the island. I was barely 21 years old and thought I was “so tough”, LOL, until I got to some island in the middle of nowhere, and then I felt pretty scared. I played it off good though 🙂 The men fought ONE 30 minute round and the women fought ONE 15 minute round. I mean 15 minutes? Do you realize how INSANE that’s is? I had never fought before, and was probably in no shape for that fight and I fought 15 minutes straight. This woman had a few MMA fights, but it was not disclosed to me she had 30 Muay Thai fights!! I knew I was crazy anyway, so I thought “just go for it”. I got a draw with her, and actually should have won because she was cheating. But I will always, always remember that fight and how it shaped my career to come.

Q: You also made your boxing debut on July 20 2000 vs Elizabeth Rumpf. What made you decide to do boxing and what do you remember about that fight?
A: LOL All I know is they said she was “my size” and I showed up and she was 6’4″. I ad never been in front of an “Athletic Commission”, done medicals, all of the things that MMA fighters did NOT have to do since out sport was not legal yet. It was a tough fight, and again, one I was thrown into WAY before I was ready. I was being trained boxing by a kickboxer, God.

Q: Can you share your pro record in each sport, and which fights is your favorite or stands out.
A: Off hand, I don’t know, but I have had nearly 30 pro fights combined. I have won WAY more than I have lost, of course, LOL, but those losses always stand out and have made me become a stronger fighter.

Q: You recently had to pull out of your fight on November 7th for Strikeforce. Had, or should I say, when you won, you would have been the top contender for Cyborg. How hard was it to pull out of that fight?
A: Well, no one has a crystal ball, LOL, but I feel I would have won. I could not begin to tell you the level of training I’m getting in Vegas or how great my coaches are; I am a very lucky woman. I have world champion fighters and coaches all around me and I still have to pinch myself when I remind myself who I am working with. Over my ten year career as a professional, I have pulled out of three, maybe four fights, over that span. One time I tore ligaments in my ankle, and then one time I had passport issues, and then for November 7th, I had a very serious health issue, and I was not going to hurt my body any longer if I did not need to. It’s always hard to pull out of a fight, but I have had WAY more people pull out against ME, then I have with them. My priorities in life are different now. I have been there and done that so to speak. I have to keep my body healthy for myself and my husband, and the future family that we are planning to have. I am turning 33 in 2010. I have been fighting and training almost HALF my life. I know when to push and not to.

Q: Is Cyborg still the main goal, or is there someone else you would really like to fight?
A: If Cyborg is still the champion after she fights Marloes, then yes, she is the goal. I have always fought the best competition in boxing and MMA that were available to me. My goal is to have the 145-lb belt, and I KNOW I will have it. I’m patient and everything happens for a reason. Look, I could have kept fighting 160 or 170-lbs. I could have said I’m not gonna kill myself and lose 20 to 25-lbs to make 145-lb division, but I DID. I started fighting for a much different reason than a lot of people, both men and women. In 1998 and 1999, you weren’t watching fights on CBS or getting the same type of money and exposure athletes are getting today. I did not fight for money, because I was NOT making any. Before I retire, I want to say I was the best Erin Toughill that I could be. I want to make sure I have no regrets and that I did THE best I could. Gina Carano helped women’s MMA exponentially, and I’m forever grateful for her bringing female MMA to mainstream fans. The average fan does not know who I am, and that’s a goal for me. And if people are saying Gina is the “best”, I wanna fight her. If they’re saying Cyborg is the “best”, I wanna fight her. If people are saying Jane Smith is the “best”…well, you get the picture.

Q: What do you consider your biggest strength in the sport, and is there anything you feel you still need to improve at?
A: I am not above saying I can always improve. You can always be a better fighter. if you are complacent, then problems will arise. My experience and my mental strength are something you can not teach – you have it or you don’t. I can tell when fighters are mentally weak; it’s easy to see, whether someone is a “Champion” or not. The women that are mentally strong are the ones that are more dangerous.

Q: Being a female, what did it mean for you to have Cyborg and Gina main event a big show like that?
A: It worked both ways. There was A LOT of pressure on them, and I understand that, but that’s part of the deal they had to overcome. Gina is a great fighter, with the potential to be so much better. I think Cyborg looked the same as she does in every fight, but Gina was not herself. Gina could have won that fight. At any rate, from a fan’s point of view, it was very exciting and people would LOVE to see a rematch – I know I would. From a fighter’s point of view, I was not too happy about SOME of the technical abilities that were displayed.

Q: Are there any fighters you are personally a fan of or enjoy watching?
A: Sure. I am friends with lot’s of women and those are the ones I like to support. I like Megumi Fuji, Shayna Baszler, Satoki Shinashi, Hisae Watanabe, Roxanne Modafferi, Meisha Tate, Seo Hee Ham, among others. I think they all put on exciting fights.

Q: Leaving yourself out of it, who do you think are the top five women pound for pound right now?
A: LOL. Well thank you. I don’t know about a particular order, but Megumi Fuji, Shinashi, Carano (she could be even BETTER if she committed herself 100%), those are just the ones I can think of off hand. There’s other girls I think are good too, but they are still weak in other areas. When they start displaying improvements in those areas, there would be more I’d name.

Q: Do you ever see the day where there is a major U.S. women’s fighting company?
A: Women’s only? Like Women’s UFC or something? HMMM, I don’t know. In my opinion it would not work. There’s not enough women (yet!) that are so highly skilled that we could have several weight divisions with deep talent in each of them. One day, I believe there will be, but right now, I would not want to see it. There have been several companies that have tried all women promotions, and they have not done well. Combat sports will ALWAYS be male dominated, and I just don’t think it would peak enough interest in audiences to stay strong. They have women’s soccer, basketball, softball and they’re just not as successful as the men’s, even though it’s the “best of the best”. Women’s volleyball is highly rated, but it might be the bikini’s. LOL I’d support it either way though. I just wanna see great talent – male or female. I’m tired of seeing men and women taking a couple cardio kickboxing classes and then thinking they can be the next champion. Promoters have to start implementing standards or women will never be taken seriously. Everyone is a “fighter” now – it’s so mainstream that any person who did any sport thinks they can fight. I don’t know why, but it will eventually destroy the sport. Anyone who has 2 or 3 fights can be on a main event card, co-main, or fight for a title. It sickens me. I worked hard to get where I am, and so have a lot of other women. I wanna see the one’s who deserve it – not wanna be’s who love the “fighter lifestyle”, whatever the hell that is anyway.

Q: When the time comes for you to quit fighting, how do you want to be remembered in the sport?
A: Good question. I want to be remembered as one of the best female fighters ever. I want people to say “So and so is a great fighter, but I don’t think they could have beaten Erin Toughill”, even if it’s five, ten, or fifteen years later. I am sure I will finish out my contract and then be ready to move on. I have not reached my full potential yet, so I really can’t wait to see what 2010 brings for me.

Q: How did you get the job on American Gladiators, and was that something you enjoyed?
A: I loved it and I miss doing it. I had an agent, and when the first season was being cast, I got to go straight in and meet the casting crew. They really liked me, but in all honesty, I did not think Gladiators would become what it did. LOL. I came in 2 weeks before the show was to start shooting. They asked me to come for a second interview, but I did not. And right after that, Gina was hired! I was like “maybe I made the wrong decision”. LOL. Anyway, my agent told me they were hiring new Glad’s for season 2 and that they specifically asked to see me. They did a HUGE casting call again, but I just got to go right in. It came down to a group of ten women and ten men, and from those, they only picked a couple of each. It was a very hard auditioning process, an I’m very lucky they liked me and I was hired. The funniest thing is when “someone” knows “somebody” that “auditioned”, and they tell people they “almost got hired”. HA. Thousands of people “auditioned” and only 14 or 15 were “almost hired”. They were very strict and very specific with what they wanted, but I guess people wanted to seem like they got farther than they really did.

Q; You have also acted. Can you share what you have done, and is it something you would like to do more of?
A: I have done some acting, print modeling, but what I really enjoy is commentating or doing pre/post fight interview for MMA shows. I have done a half dozen of those, and it’s something I’d like to pursue after I’m done fighting.

Q: Outside of training, any other hobbies or activities you enjoy?
A: I love spending time with my husband and very close friends. Neil and I have two dogs: I have a 5-lb Troy Yorkie, and Neil has a 10-lb Toy Poodle. WE LOVE our babies and they are our family. We all spend lots of time together and relax. Neil and I are homebodies; we love to stay home and relax or go to dinner and watch movies. We work and train a lot, so we enjoy sleeping, eating, and more sleeping and eating. LOL. I got all of the partying out of my system, thank God. I still like to go have fun, but I have been going out since I was 16 or 17 years old. I’m ready to relax and I’m so lucky I found someone on the same page as me.

Q: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Erin Toughill?
A: Right now…. training. I train a lot and work a lot. I have a decent balance right now, so I enjoy it.

Q: When someone says they are a fan of yours, what does that mean to you?
A: It means so much. The fans are what makes it possible to have the careers we have.

Q: Are you happy the women are now getting five minute rounds?
A: Yeah, sure. I have always fought five minute rounds. I fought three minutes round for PFC, and that was just three times. It goes way too fast. You actually have to work HARDER and FASTER to make an impact on the judges or go for the finish.

Q: Favorite actors, TV shows, movies, or musicians?
A: Oh, there’s too much to name, but right now, my guilty pleasure is watching reality shows. My husband laughs at me, but I just think, “Thank GOD my life is not like that!” It’s all in good fun.

Q: OK, you are the matchmaker. Name two fights you would pay money to see.
A: I’d like to see Frankie Edgar fight BJ Penn – that kid deserves a title shot. And if GSP and Anderson Silva could have a catch weight? That would be pretty amazing. There’s more, but I’d have to think a while.

Q: Describe Erin Toughill in five words.
A: Driven, Funny, Committed, Loyal, and Sensitive.

Q: Any plans for 2010 as far as fighting or any other projects?
A: Winning the 145-lb Strikeforce title. That’s the main short term goal I am after.

Q: Sponsors are always nice for a fighter. Are you looking for any, and how can they contact you.
A: You can’t give a blanket statement, all sponsors want different things from their athletes. But if they are interested in me they can contact fightcoach@gmail.com.

Q: Erin, again, I want to thank you for doing this. It has been an honor, and I along with a lot of fans can’t wait to see you in the cage again, and showing why you are among the elite at what you do. Any last words before you go?
A: Thank you to all my fans and people who support MMA. I’m striving to be the best I can be, and show women have a place in this sport. I will be fighting soon and they can follow me on Facebook, Myspace, and my website www.erintoughill.com. It’s under construction right now, but will be up shortly. Thanks again.

**You can read more from Jason Adams’ blog, “Promoting Real Women – A blog to promote and show respect to women in bodybuilding, fitness, figure, powerlifting, and MMA” at

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