Each new generation of mixed martial artists is supposed to bring with it small steps in the evolutionary chain. For example, gone are the days when every fighter comes from a single combat sport -- say, freestyle wrestling. Most learn MMA as a collective, free-flowing art. The newest crop of hopefuls also brings with them all of the observations that have come from watching the sport grow up in the limelight. The good, the bad, the noteworthy, it's all been parsed and digested. And when the opportunity comes for this new group, the lessons are applied.
And that brings us to Bec Hyatt, a 23-year-old Australian who went from relative unknown to Invicta signee to main-event championship fighter in the span of two months.
The whirlwind rise may appear to be some fluke of luck. It is not. It is in fact the product of a very deliberate series of actions taken by Hyatt and her husband/manager, Dan, who charted and executed an aggressive plan for her career.
It wasn't long after Hyatt debuted in October 2011 when she realized the long odds she was facing in getting anywhere. With a small pool of fighters, Australia hadn't really produced female MMA talent of any renown, but she and Dan decided there was no reason she couldn't be the first to make a major international splash. This would require two things: winning and publicity. The former was unquestionably within her control. And the latter? Well, it was, too. At least, more than others believed. Bec and Dan had learned enough from history to know that if a fighter can make a connection with fans, promoters would notice. Soon, they began building a social media network for her which included a Facebook page, Twitter feed, video blogs, and frequent postings on popular MMA forums.
"That's what we knew we had to do to really get noticed," she told MMA Fighting. "It's the path we wanted to go down, and I think my personality kind of helped with it as well. I'm not boring. I'm a mom, I compete in sports. I think I catch people's attention and they can relate to me somehow. I think that's worked well for me."
On a pure sporting front, the plan got off to a rough start when Hyatt lost her first pro fight by head kick knockout. These days, Hyatt says it's "one of her favorite fights," despite the outcome, largely because of the overall experience as well as the lesson it taught. She overcame that loss to capture four straight wins, including three by way of finish. Meanwhile, her bond with fans continued to grow. And that bond was crucial in getting her noticed by Invicta, as her fans bombarded the upstart women's promotion with a flood of requests to sign Hyatt.
"We just pretty much hassled them until they noticed me," she said. "You just get in their sights until they can't ignore you any longer."
With short-cropped, bleach-blonde hair sometimes accentuated with a pink streak, and heavily tattooed, Hyatt is probably not used to being ignored. And anyway, that's not her style. She earned the nickname "Rowdy" because of her willingness to say what's on her mind and to stand out from the crowd.
Given that, it's no surprise she ended up in this unexpected position, even though it is fairly amazing she got this far at all.
Hyatt was born in Tasmania, and grew up playing basketball and participating in gymnastics. It wasn't until two years ago when she fell into mixed martial arts, initially envisioning it as a method to losing weight. But from the opening moments on the mat, it was clear she was smitten.
"First class that I went to, I fell in love," she said. "I loved the rawness of it. It's pretty much as real as you can get to a street fight, and that's what I like about it. I don't like street fighting, but I like the realness of it. You've got free movement to do anything."
Though combat sports were new to her, roughhousing was not. From her youth, she was used to getting picked on as the youngest of four children and the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed sibling among them.
These days, the family is supportive of her career choice, even if her mom and dad can't bring themselves to watch her fight. Saturday night will be no easier for them; her strawweight championship opponent Carla Esparza is easily the most experienced foe she has faced. Adding to the degree of difficulty, Hyatt accepted the fight on just over one week of notice after Esparza's original opponent Claudia Gadelha was forced out due to a broken nose.
As it turned out, Hyatt was not the first choice; others were approached about taking the fight but declined. She had no hesitation in accepting.
"These girls are crazy," she said. "It's too big of an opportunity to pass up. I don't understand why they don't take it. I guess they're trying to protect their records and worry too much about what's on paper. 'Records are for DJ's,' that's what I always say."
The days since have been a whirlwind. Hyatt's trip is not only her first to the U.S.; it's her first out of Australia, period. She's spent a huge chunk of her free time doing media interviews and cutting weight. And occasionally, in a private moment, she'll consider what happens if she can buck the odds and win.
In a short time, attention has come. That was always part of the plan. But a championship this quickly? That's something that couldn't have been foreseen two months ago when Bec Hyatt was an unknown who had to tenaciously lobby the promotion just to get noticed.
"I think I'll be overwhelmed," she said. "It would mean a lot for an Australian to come over here and prove how tough we are. I think I'll be lost for words. And that doesn't happen often."