Mind, Muscle and Motivation – Mayra Conde

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Mayra CondeAt 5′ 4″, 160 pounds, Mayra Conde has built herself up from solitude to solid muscle, conquering every challenge in her wake. She’s a dead ringer for actress Maria Conchita Alonso, but her bodybuilder physique and Brazilian jiu-jitsu background have prepared her for a different kind of performance. Hook n Shoot: Revolution will give Conde her first major showcase after years of competing in smaller and lesser-known shows.

Born in Guatemala City, Conde grew up on a farm with her grandparents. She enjoyed the peaceful nature and warmth of her rural setting. “My grandfather was my source of strength and he always gave me the will to succeed at anything I set out to do,” said Conde, who developed a special bond with him when she was learning to ride horses. That sense of comfort was disrupted when Conde’s parents asked the nine-year-old to move to Toronto, Canada to be with them. Her grandparents knew it was the right thing for her to do, with more opportunities and a better education.

In Canada, Conde was thrown into a harsh world she could not understand. “I was constantly picked on because I couldn’t speak English and I was very small,” she said. To make matters worse, her parents insisted that she speak Spanish at home and English at school. Without a tutor or special arrangements, Conde took class just like everyone else and had to learn a foreign language as she went along. Remarkably, Conde never failed a grade and was able to speak and understand English within two years. Today, she’s bilingual and happy her parents wanted her to know both languages.

Having few friends, Conde counted on the one person who couldn’t let her down-herself. When her father introduced her to sports drinks and nutrition, Conde began to read bodybuilding magazines starting in the sixth grade. “I was infatuated with nutrition and being stronger and bigger at such an early age,” said Conde, who began bodybuilding at age 16. After seeing results, Conde gained a newfound confidence in herself and overcame the negativity that had surrounded her. For once in her life, she was in control of the situation and “trying to challenge my personal best all the time.”

Now in high school, Conde found her results paying off in other ways. “I remember going to the weight room and people were amazed at how strong I was and I started making friends,” she said. “I started doing heavy bench and guys would invite me to work out with them.” Before long, Conde was fending off dates and getting compliments about her muscular figure.

After high school, Conde obtained her labor card and made a living in construction. As a welder by trade, she even worked as a foreman and enjoyed the ease of availability for work. Ironically, her family was not supportive of her physical transformation at first, as Conde pointed out that “in Latin America, you are supposed to be pregnant by age 20.” Competition was at the heart of her physique. In August 1998, without any grappling experience, Conde won first place in the women’s heavyweight division in the Canadian Grapplers Challenge. She defeated both of her opponents quickly, the first one by guillotine choke. “It was a natural movement when she shot in on me,” said Conde. “People asked me how long I had been grappling and I said that I needed to get started.”

But bodybuilding was something she could always rely on and in late 1998, she moved to California to be closer to Venice Beach-the Mecca of bodybuilding. She left Canada with Olga Bakalopoulos, a friend whom she had met at a bench press competition. Bakalopoulos was the perfect roommate, since she didn’t mind the bodybuilding lifestyle of egg whites and crazy shakes that mere mortals could hardly stomach. Conde trained her and before long, Bakalopoulous could bench press over 200 pounds and leg press over 800 pounds.

Yearning for something new, Conde walked into Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu Club and marveled at Mark Kerr’s explosiveness while being so massive. She decided to take some lessons not realizing where it would take her. After only seven weeks of classes, her trainer Bas Rutten asked her to compete in the Bas Rutten Invitational, a feeder MMA show held in Denver, Colorado. Conde eagerly accepted the challenge.

In February 1999, Conde went into the Bas Rutten Invitational with an open mind and the determination to win. Her opponent, Kelsey Beard, reportedly had three years of kickboxing experience. “When I fought, I had my guard down the whole time because I wanted to find out what it was like to get hit; I wanted to find out if this was for me or not,” said Conde. “When she finally hit me in the face, I remember thinking, ‘This is nothing.'” Conde took Beard to the ground and pounded her out. “Once I get into a fight, perhaps that darkest moment in my childhood creeps back and tells me to not let ‘them’ get the best of me now. I want to have control over my opponents; I want to have control over the challenges that face me,” she said.

In June 1999, Conde returned to Bas Rutten Invitational III to fight Jennifer Howe in MMA, but Howe didn’t show up. Conde, who had gone to Denver on her own dime and slept on wrestling mats at the gym since she couldn’t afford a hotel, was devastated. “I told the promoter to put me in anything. I didn’t care if it was boxing or kickboxing; I just wanted to compete,” she said. Without any standup experience, Conde faced Melissa Hutcheson in a kickboxing bout and completely dominated her. The referee stopped the fight in the second round-only the altitude gave her a hard time.

The win gave Conde the confidence to continue and Rutten turned her on to Marcus Vinicius, Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu Club’s resident BJJ instructor. “I learned so much more than just grappling from taking BJJ and like the fact that I can close the distance between me and my opponent,” said Conde, who still sees Rutten as her mentor. “Bas has taught me a lot more about how to be a great fighter and how to judge your instincts.”

In 2000, Conde competed in four events. After winning first place in the California State Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships in March of that year, she fought her second MMA bout in Mark Hall’s Cobra Challenge against a 5’9″, 210-pound Samoan. Using her strength, Conde took her opponent down, maintained control and punished her with rib shots. As she turned over, Conde choked her out.

Taking 1st place in the heavyweight and absolute divisions in the U.S. Open Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships in California prompted Conde to once again test her personal best. She traveled by herself to Lamia, Greece to compete in the first World Wide Pankration Championships. Under pankration athlima rules, competitors wore gi-like uniforms and were not allowed to strike to the face, but kicks and punches to the body were allowed, and so were submissions. Conde thought she would fight over a dozen times, but many of the competing countries did not have women in her weight class. She ended up fighting three times and took home two gold medals. “One girl I fought was the captain of the Israeli police force who had 18 years of martial arts experience,” said Conde. “She did absolutely nothing; I took her down and that was that.”

The following year, Conde flew to Brazil to compete in the World Wide Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships. Competing in the absolute division, Conde faced a much heavier and more skilled opponent. “She had already won the Pan Ams and she was awarded the purple belt after she beat me on points,” said Conde, who returned home with a bronze medal.

Conde finished 2001 with three more 1st place tournament victories in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now focused on MMA, she sees her fight in Hook n Shoot as her reawakening. “I was very happy that someone out there believed in women for this sport because there are enough women out there that people can get interested in and do something with,” said Conde. “If we, as the fighters, give the public a good show, then we’ll get the respect we deserve.”

Conde will be facing AMC Pankration’s Angela Restad on the April 13 event and says: “She has some skills and hopefully she can keep up with me. I have to test myself against everyone in my weight class.” Training with roommate and fellow Hook n Shoot competitor Olga Bakalopoulos, Conde feels that with her trainer Marcus Vinicius, both will be ready come fight time. She also believes that the spirit of her grandfather is still with her; he passed away last year but her fighting career is dedicated to him. “He’s been a major inspiration to me and he brought me up to be the person that I am today,” she said.

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