Three years ago at age 17, Hillary Williams was looking for something to keep her fit between Volleyball and Softball seasons. She walked into Westside MMA in her hometown of Littlerock, Arkansas and like most of us, she quickly noticed she was the only female there. That first day they began working moves and when she rolled her partner into mount position and their eyes locked, she became cognizant of her position and had to take a moment. It is a defining moment, “ can I really do this? Do I even want to? ”
A tough competitor who combines technique, natural athleticism and an indominatable heart, Hillary went on to win her first Pan Am victory in the white belt Division by arm Bar in 2007. She won again at blue belt in 2008 (three wins by points , one by armbar). Then she topped herself by winning it again this year at purple belt (two wins by triangle) but this time added an Absolute win as well (one by triangle, three by points). Fighting two matches in her division and four in the open class, Hillary fought six matches that day, exhausting by anyone’s standards. But this is a young woman who by all rights should be exhausted all the time. I asked her to describe a typical weekday and it starts like most top athletes at 6am. First is Cardio/yoga/gym, but then there is the 7-8 hours Hillary spends at University in the Honors College Biology-Pre-Med program. This is followed by the 40 mile drive to the Westside MMA gym where she teaches a children’s BJJ class. After she has conquered the controlled chaos that is training children to do anything ( my words not hers)she has two to three hours of BJJ training. Finally, there is a forty mile drive back to the Dorm , and studying, lots of studying. Somewhere in that day she also has to eat! As impressive as these achievements are I was really struck by how gracious, well spoken, and funny this young woman is. As the mother of a 12 year old girl I was hopeful.
With this year’s Pan Ams finished, Hillary is now preparing for The New York International Open, The World Jiu Jitsu Championship, and Abu Dhabi. So I asked her, “Where do you see this taking you?” thinking she would talk about opening a gym, fighting professionally, basically I was thinking money. She just said, in the true spirit of the Martial Artist, “ I just want to be better.” Relating a story to me about a friend being happy as a purple belt she reminded him “ that’s only 50%, when has that ever been enough?” Demonstrating that commitment to constant improvement, she has travelled to Brazil to study BJJ in its birthplace, 9 gyms in Rio De Janiero alone. That drive makes me believe that a 20 year old purple belt could take Abu Dhabi.
When interviewing a fighter I like to ask two questions, “ how do we get more women on the mats, and have you ever cried at your school?” The first question is intended to learn how we see other women, and get them into the combat sports. The second is a curiousity about how we see ourselves and the roles we take among our fellow students who are sometimes mostly men. On the former, Hillary stressed patient persistence, noting how doors have been opened to her and kindness extended, here and around the world. She also pointed out that there isn’t a lot of money to be made by women in MMA so there has to be a deep love of the art of the sport, a desire to always learn, and also a willingness to teach the newcomer. Your basic pay it forward. Some helpful sponsors like MTX and Casca Grossa help keep her head above water and six matches at one event sounds like they get a lot for their support.
As to the second part of the question,the answer is yes, she has cried in the gym. No big show, just a quiet moment in the bathroom. We can all relate to the cause. Frustration , your mind has all of the technique, and you can see the moves but your training partner who can easily be 50lbs heavier can hold you for 5minutes and claim victory. This can sometimes be too much to bear. Nevertheless, Hillary has grown into the role of Den Mother to her classmates. As one of the higher ranking belt holders in her school and with maturity beyond her years, I am sure the title falls on apt shoulders. As we wrapped up our conversation Hillary shared a favorite quote, “whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.” –Charlotte Wilton-
Boasting a record of 54-4 against women, and 9-8 versus men, I can see what she means.