Abuse as a kid forced Alysa Delaney to leave her biological father in Tennessee, where the MMA fighter is from, and move to Northern Virginia to live with an aunt and uncle who were devoted to her.
“It hurt because I really like my dad,” Delaney said. “I was so upset about not having him in my life. I cried at his funeral, but I still respected his existence.”
But the continued abuse made her determined to be the best at anything she set her mind to, from boxing to martial arts. She always knew she wanted to be a champion.
That drive and discipline ultimately led to a South American title and helped her get a scholarship to fight in Brazil as a welterweight, finishing her collegiate career with titles in Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2013 and the Women’s Invitational Strikeforce Fight Series last year.
“To have those struggles, they can motivate you, but there’s no reason why you should use it as an excuse,” she said. “I’m so much stronger than I ever thought I could be.”
Delaney, 23, is another example of the intense combat sport’s cross-cultural appeal in a number of ways. She’s also one of a growing number of black women in the sport that work in a male-dominated arena. She says a notable reason for her success is because her father raised her to be smart, smart enough to analyze the men around her.
“I knew immediately from watching him that he was dealing with drug addiction,” she said. “He wouldn’t be able to do anything if he had to use drugs. He had to start working in the fields. And when I was in grade school, he was eating sausage and beans. I thought that was ridiculous.”
Since being fired by Ultimate Fighting Championship, she’s started her own agency, Team Flight Path, and is now training with Strikeforce in Las Vegas. She’s still training out of the DC Armory, and put her mom on the phone on Wednesday afternoon for an interview. After a lengthy call, Delaney walked away from her mom’s apartment to switch her phone to speaker mode. As her mom yelled through text messages, Delaney gave her mom a call. When she had finished, she became patient with her mom while continuing to take calls.
Delaney’s mom said she’s not surprised at the progress her daughter has made.
“I’m not surprised at all,” she said. “I’m amazed. People that don’t know her they think she’s just another fighter. She’s so smart and she’s so determined. She’s tough. She’s strong. I remember that her dad was going to divorce me because she was acting like a child. I was like, ‘I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.’”