That’s the word that keeps coming up when you ask Alex Chambers about her Nov. 19 fight at UFC Sydney. It had been two years since Chambers last made the walk to the Octagon, two years of careful rehab on a blown out knee, and it was to be a fresh start in her home country against fellow Australian Nadia Kassem.
Chambers had gone to school in Sydney and trained there before making a move to the American Top Team camp in Florida, so there was plenty of added motivation for her to put on a strong performance fighting in the city for the first time ever. She came out fast and pushed the pace for the most part, but the younger Kassem matched her in the standup and aggressively pursued submissions on the ground. It was a close fight, one that would end in a unanimous decision win for Kassem.
Were it not for a bloody tussle between Damien Brown and Frank Camacho that will go down as one of the best battles of the year, Chambers and Kassem likely would have been in the running for a Fight of the Night bonus (especially considering the dearth of memorable action outside of those two bouts). Just going to a decision after such a long layoff should have been a point of pride for Chambers.
However, she’s not exactly jumping for joy.
“Obviously, I’m pretty hurt and disappointed. I wish we could be doing this interview under different circumstances where I’m coming off a win and I could be all cheery and happy,” Chambers told MMA Fighting. “I’m not going to lie, I’m very disappointed and it hurts a lot.
“How am I feeling? As you know, it was back and forth, it was a close fight, to be honest I thought I did enough to win the decision. But the decision’s been handed down, I can’t do anything about it except - you know, I’m happy that I could get back into the Octagon again after those two years off and I felt I did have a little bit of ring rust as to be expected after a bit of a layoff like this. There’s nothing that can prepare you, even training three times a day in the gym with the top of the world in my weight division, nothing can prepare you for actually stepping into the Octagon.”
There were improvements in her game, to be sure, and she allows herself to acknowledge that “the old Alex Chambers” might have succumbed to Kassem’s submission attempts. She credits her work with ATT teammates Gezary Matuda and Luanna Alzuguir, both world class jiu-jitsu champions, with helping her to step up her game.
One could also point out that Kassem came in at 120 pounds, well over the strawweight limit, but Chambers refuses to use that as an excuse and says there was “never a question” on the part of herself or her team about taking the fight.
The bottom line is that when the scorecards were read it was another loss for Chambers, her third in four UFC appearances. Her professional record fell to 5-4. For someone who has always had grand ambitions, that kind of slump is unacceptable.
Nicknamed “Astro Girl,” Chambers was killing it in the classroom before dedicating herself fully to MMA, and the question has to be raised as to how long the 39-year-old plans to continue fighting given her qualifications outside of the cage.
“The plan was world domination, that’s why I was doing a double degree in mechatronic engineering and physics,” said Chambers. “I do have an astrophysics degree from Sydney University. I completed the majority of my mechatronics degree, but my love for martial arts took over and I knew martial arts was something I wanted to be part of my life for the rest of my life.
“And I do love teaching, but I love martial arts, I like to inspire others the way mixed martial arts has inspired me. If I can continue to do that, then that’s the plan. That’s what I want to do right now.”
Chambers also noted how studying star charts and tinkering with robots isn’t all that far removed from manipulating limbs or timing double legs.
“I like to look at martial arts on a technical level, it’s a very technical sport, a lot of skill involved,” said Chambers. “Science is everything, physics everything. So I definitely do like to think in those terms when I’m doing martial arts. There is a correlation, there’s a very intelligent side to martial arts.”
That methodical approach led Chambers to a 4-1 start in her MMA career, which included a first-round submission win over Jodie Esquibel in Chambers’ lone Invicta FC appearance, a finish that gave her enough cred to earn her a spot on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter. That cast included current strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (who knocked off Chambers in the opening round), Carla Esparza, Tecia Torres, and several others who have found success in the UFC over the past few years.
Seeing her housemates continue to thrive was “big motivation” for Chambers to stay focused on a comeback while she rehabbed from the knee injury she suffered in a September 2015 loss to Paige VanZant.
“It was all about rehabbing myself after my injury,” said Chambers. “It took a little bit of time to rehab and come back and I’ve been training at American Top Team since March, so I’ve been feeling good and ready since then, it’s just the way the fight game goes and obviously they wanted me for the Sydney show, which I was excited about. I’m thankful Sean Shelby respected the fact that he wanted me back strong and he gave me the fight in my hometown.”
That’s the other word that keeps coming up when you talk to Chambers about what’s next for her career.
According to Chambers, she has at least one fight left on her UFC deal so it’s back to the drawing board for now. She has a budding online presence as a streamer on Twitch, the same video platform on which UFC champions Demetrious Johnson and Max Holloway can be found, something that provides a distraction from the rigors of fight training.
“Gaming is a great way to forget about your day and go on and kill some time and kill people in the games,” Chambers explained, adding that it’s also a way for her to connect with fans who tune in to her channel.
And there’s always the chance that Chambers decides to turn her attention back to academia and put the finishing touches on her mechatronics degree, or even put her intellect to use as a coach. For now, Astro Girl is still shooting for the stars and looking to land back in the center of that Octagon as soon as possible, this time with her hand raised.
“I’m still focused on fighting. I’m more motivated than ever now after this last fight,” said Chambers. “I’m still quite hurt, but I’m more determined and motivated than ever. To get that taste of being back in the Octagon after a layoff of two years, I realize now I loved it more than I thought and I can’t wait to get back in there.
“So no, I haven’t thought about what’s going on after, right now it’s been a difficult time this past week and I know it’s going to continue to be difficult, but what’s going to get me out of it is looking forward to that next fight, getting back into the gym, and working on the things that I need to.”