Why you should care
People who stand on principle fall for very little.
You hear her before you see her. The report of leather on flesh echoes from the rolled-up hurricane door of an industrial space in Mountain View, California, that housed the Serao Academy in 2012. And despite the name, the sounds come not from grapplers grappling but from gloved fists on flesh, and shin-guarded legs arcing into the side of poorly placed thighs.
The hapless kicked? Leopoldo Serao, the gym’s owner and a world champion in Luta Livre, or Brazilian catch wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The kicker? No one you’d ever want kicking you. You see, 5-foot-9-inch, 143-pound Germaine de Randamie was the WPKL European kickboxing champion in 2003, IMTF world champ in 2005 and WIKBA world champ in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Spelled out numberswise, that’s 37 fights, 37 wins, no losses and 14 of those wins by knockout.
I want to die with memories, not dreams.
Germaine de Randamie
De Randamie, then 27, and Serao circle each other. If you have eyes, you can see she’s pushing the pedal at about half-speed. And then? World champ pride kicks in — Serao’s, not hers. She’s here to improve her Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since in her first mixed martial arts (MMA) match back in December 2008, she got beaten for the first time ever, and resolved to not let that happen again. And Serao? With an MMA record of 18-8, he needs the extra work to stay over .500.
So he pushes it. Maybe by swinging a little too hard — or forcing the action by crowding her. She pushes back, and drops the 183-pound Serao. Then helps him up. And they continue.
“Germaine? She hits hard. Hard,” Serao repeats for emphasis. And not just this day. YouTube has videos of her dropping men in the ring. Which is why it seemed like MMA, where the money and the eyes are now, made sense.
“I want to die with memories, not dreams,” says the Dutch Surinamese fighter from her home in the Netherlands. Besides, after 37 wins, ”why not test yourself?”
Her next two MMA matches were six months apart — in late 2010 and early 2011 — and de Randamie won both. The first by decision, the second by knockout. Which is to say, the trendlines were promising.
“There are three things that you need to be an effective fighter,” says longtime trainer of champs Kirian Fitzgibbons from his Combat Sports Academy (CSA) in Dublin. “You need to inflict damage, avoid inflicted damage and do both without needing surgery.” A curious calculus considering that as you’re improving technically, the asset you most use to improve — your body — diminishes.
So smart money professional fighters do what smart money does. They strive to maximize the remaining years, and in de Randamie’s case, that has meant being in lockstep with the ones that brung her: the Combat Sports Academy (CSA) Holland. Phone calls were made, and de Randamie’s coaches got her to Fitzgibbons, who brought her up through the Strikeforce fight promotion before Strikeforce was acquired by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). And in short order, her first UFC fight kicked off on July 27, 2013. On July 28, she woke up a winner. Again.
Critics cried coward, the UFC stripped de Randamie of the belt and the rumor mill cranked into high gear.
“What makes Germaine so tough is not just that she’s tall, for a woman, and rangy,” explains Fitzgibbons. “But her read on the mechanics of what’s happening while she’s fighting? That’s either naturally gifted, or you have just worked really hard. Or both.”
Or to hear kickboxing champion Jenna Castillo tell it: “Part of how good a champion is has to do with passion, persistence, discipline, consistency and good coaching.” Or maybe it’s just an aversion to losing — until four months later, when de Randamie lost, to Amanda Nunes, the current UFC bantamweight champion. The bantamweight division, 126 to 135 pounds, can feature fighters who drop as much as 10 to 15 pounds to get there. The idea being the muscle of a 145-pounder slimmed to a lighter weight division.
Though she won her next bantamweight fight via a TKO, de Randamie jumped at the chance to jump up a weight division — to featherweight at 136-145 pounds. And this is where things started getting sticky. De Randamie’s decision win over Holly Holm on Feb. 11, 2017, had Holm claiming her opponent hit her after the bell following the second and third rounds — bells de Randamie insists she never heard — and left a bad taste in the mouths of fans and critics alike.
Then in a surprise turn, Cristiane Justino, also known as Cris Cyborg (yeah, for a reason) — a 20 win, 1 loss destroyer with one steroid suspension and a Therapeutic Use Exemption for a second catch — gets slotted as her opponent on July 29, 2017. Only de Randamie refuses. She will not fight a “proven cheater,” her manager, Brian Butler, told MMAFighting.com. And the fight world exploded.
Critics cried coward, the UFC stripped de Randamie of the belt and the rumor mill cranked into high gear. The UFC was disorganized and hadn’t left her enough time to prepare; she was studying to be a cop, on account of not being able to earn enough in fighting; her hand was broken, and she needed surgery. This last theory quite possibly the closest to the truth, as she recently had surgery after pulling out of another fight.
“If she had surgery, where are the X-rays?” asks sports commentator Kid Nate. Or as a professional athlete, who asked to remain nameless (“the fight community is not as big as you think”), said, “Do you think this would be the first steroid cheat she fought? Then so why draw the line on this one?”
Asked on The MMA Hour about being stripped of her belt and title, de Randamie said bluntly, “I don’t regret anything.” OK, but what’s the path ahead that’ll allow de Randamie to inflict damage and avoid undue inflicted damage? “The future is a surprising thing sometimes,” she mused in an interview after sparring with Serao. “But I will be part of it.”