BlackEye Entertainment put on another exciting and well-organized event this past Friday featuring one of the first legal pro women’s MMA events in North Carolina. Ashley Nee (1-1) faced Linda Cunningham (0-6), winning via RNC at 4:40 of the First Round. Both women came into the fight with strong stand-up skills. Cunningham, originally from Scotland and now training with Team Huskey in Asheville, NC, is an accomplished striker with pro boxing and kickboxing experience. Nee has trained primarily as a Muay Thai fighter with Scott Shields and Team COMA near Charlotte, NC. After some back and forth trading and clinch work against the cage, Nee took it to the ground and unleashed her strikes from mount, forcing Cunningham to give up her back and locking in the RNC for the win. Both women showed amazing sportsmanship in and out of the ring and represented WMMA with true skill and class.
Nee was gracious enough to answer some questions for us after the fight.
FG: Who are you currently training with?
Nee: I train with Master Scott Shields at Scott Shields Martial Arts Academy in Matthews, NC. I train in Muay Thai, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, American Combat Jiujitsu, Brazilian Jiujitsu and also the Filipino Martial Arts (Kali/Escrima/Arnis).
FG: When did you start training and why did you get into it?
Nee: I never really trained except for a few kickboxing lessons up in Massachusetts until I moved to Charlotte in 2005. My dad, Frank Nee (who passed away suddenly in May) was a tunneling expert and he moved down here to work on the Southwest Water Main. We had always talked about moving South so it wasn’t a big deal for me to come down. When I got here, I didn’t know anyone, wasn’t in school and wasn’t involved in anything. I had always wanted to be a kickboxer. I come from a South Boston family of boxers: my dad fought some amateur fights; my grandfather, Peter Nee, was a Navy and Golden Gloves Champion; and my cousin, Sean Mannion, is credited as one of the greatest boxers to come out of Ireland. He actually fought Mike Callum in a World Title fight. Coming from that kind of background, my dad was very supportive and he encouraged me to find an instructor. After a few emails with Master Shields, I started taking private Muay Thai lessons 3 days a week and that soon progressed into training in all the classes that were offered at the school as well as working privately with Master Shields.
I was really lucky to end up training with him. He is a World and National Jiujitsu Champion and also a Muay Thai Champion and has trained with the best in the world in so many different systems. He is also an instructor under Guro Dan Inosanto in Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino Martial Arts, among many other ranks. He is such an amazing instructor and his students benefit more than I can explain from all his knowledge in different areas. Training at his school is like getting a bug and then you don’t want to do anything else. Every technique and every art leads to something else and there is so much to learn and so much to play with that the more I learned, the more hooked I got!
FG: How did you prepare for this fight?
Nee: I prepared for the fight against Linda by training 2-3 hrs a day repping out drills under Master Shields supervision with my training partner and cutwoman, Tina Steiner. She was such a great training partner, she came in every day and let me work on whatever I needed to, I think she was as sore through the whole training camp as I was! Somedays it was takedowns, some days submissions and counters and some days sharpening kickboxing and working on combinations and getting into the clinch. We did a lot of clinch work. Since my Muay Thai is my strength, my opponents always try to take me down and I am working on becoming more well rounded. It also coincided with one of my goals for this year, which is to earn some stripes on my blue belt, so it was good for two reasons. I also trained in jiujitsu classes 3 times a week and rolled with a lot of the guys from the school and trained a little bit even in the classes I was teaching where I could squeeze something in. I also started a Women’s Cardio Kickboxing class at Scott Shields Martial Arts Academy at the beginning of January, so that gave me extra time outside training camp and my regular classes to work on cardio in a lot of different and fun ways.
FG: Tell us about the fight?
Nee: First of all, Linda is such a great sportsman. Sportsmanship is really important to me and I think a lot of times, people forget about the “martial arts” part in MMA. There is a lot of smack talking and a lot of grudge matches and I hate to see the respect in martial arts going down the drain with the rise of MMA. When Linda and I did the pre-fight interview at Hickory Tavern, I got the feeling she is in it for the same reason I am, for the sport aspect. To test my skills. I am not out to really hurt anybody. So going into the fight knowing Linda had a similar mentality was great. I always bow before I get in the cage and I noticed Linda did as well and after the ref had us touch gloves, we bowed to each other, so I really enjoyed that aspect of it, the sportsmanship and camaraderie.
As far as the actual fight went, Linda was a little taller than I thought she would be, so that changed my game plan a little bit and we decided I should try and stand up and kickbox and see how it went, going for a takedown if it presented itself. Linda hits hard and I knew after the first few blows we exchanged I couldn’t eat a lot of her punches. I tried to work techniques and then get out instead of going straight in and brawling. I slipped once and almost fell and she got a nice Thai clinch so I didn’t want to stay there. I noticed her circling a lot and I didn’t want to try and go 3 rounds exchanging blows so I used a technique Master Shields taught me to cut off the ring and get her against the cage. From there on out, all the techniques we had repped out just came into play, I was swimming for underhooks, circling her away from the cage, going for the take down. It was really nice to have a game plan come together as much as it did. I felt a lot calmer during the fight and just trusted the techniques I have been taught. It was really a great feeling to finish with a submission, which I’ve never done before and finish it during the first round. I am very proud of the way the fight turned out.
FG: What’s next for you?
Nee: Well, I think I have a fight in Washington DC at the end of March with Operation Octagon and possibly one in April in Virginia, but you can’t count on anything until you sign the contract and even then, things can change so I try not to get too excited. My ultimate goal is to get a Strikeforce contract in the 135 division, so we’ll see. I am going to take a little time to work on some of the other arts like Kali that I’ve been neglecting lately, I love stick and knife and double stick. I am also going to be working toward my gi related BJJ goals and then of course keep up the Muay Thai and MMA training. I do a lot of teaching and am very involved with the school so I’ll be working on our plans to improve the school in 2011.
FG: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us! Anything else you’d like to add?
Nee: I want to thank my awesome sponsors, Beast MMA who has been with me since I was an amateur and Roman International Fight Gear who has been extremely supportive since my pro debut in October. I am proud to represent such great companies and great gear!
FG: Congrats on the win and we look forward to seeing your next fight! And big thanks to Michael ‘Cornbread’ Allen and Scott Crosby of BlackEye Entertainment for supporting and promoting women’s MMA in NC.