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Where has Barb Honchak been the last two-plus years? The answer isn’t such an easy one

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Former Invicta champ Barb Honchak tried out for The Ultimate Fighter 26 on Tuesday, 2-1/2 years after her last MMA fight.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — There were youngsters in their early 20s. Women who sported records like 0-1 and 2-1. Neophytes who have only been pro for a few months.

And then there was Barb Honchak.

The last time Honchak stepped into a cage she was the Invicta FC flyweight champion, consensus top 125-pound female fighter and one of the best pound-for-pound women’s MMA competitors in the world, period.

That was nearly three years ago, though. Honchak has not competed since Nov. 1, 2014. On Tuesday, she joined 45 other women in trying out for The Ultimate Fighter 26 at Palace Station Hotel & Casino.

The season of the show will crown the UFC’s first-ever 125-pound women’s champion. Honchak should be considered one of the fighters to beat if she makes it into the house.

Honchak was once considered the best 125-pound female fighter in the world.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Before tryouts, though, Honchak said she was going into the day just like her peers with far less experience and fewer accolades.

“I’ve been out for 2-1/2 years,” Honchak told MMA Fighting. “I’m technically over the age limit. So I’m coming in with literally zero expectations. I’m just gonna come in, do the best I can in tryouts. If they want me, great. If not, my life is good, too. So it’s whatever.”

Honchak, 37, disappeared off the MMA radar in late 2014 after an undefeated run in Invicta and more than a year as the all-female promotion’s flyweight champion. The question went from “would anyone beat Barb?” to “where did Barb go all of a sudden?”

The answer to the latter question is not so easy. There wasn’t just one reason why Honchak went away, she said. She and her husband left Missouri for Washington, where her husband got a new job. It took Honchak, a veteran of Miletich Fighting Systems, some time to find a new gym where she was comfortable. There was also an injury she was dealing with. Life just got in the way of MMA.

For years now, Honchak’s social-media notifications have been flooded with people wondering why she hasn’t fought and asking what happened to her. “Little Warrior” says she understands why that has been the case.

“I get some of that, but I also don’t really like to explain myself,” Honchak said. “And I don’t necessarily feel like I need to. I don’t feel like I really have a simple answer. People want a simple answer, like, ‘Oh I had a big injury.’ I did have a bit of an injury, but that’s not the end of it. I don’t really have a simple, easy answer. I’ve thought about putting statements out or stuff like that, but every time I’ve gone to write something it just doesn’t cover it.”

In March 2016, Invicta held a fight for the interim flyweight title in Honchak’s absence. Honchak said she gave the promotion her blessing to do that. But when Invicta stripped her of the belt last September with what she says was no prior knowledge, Honchak thought she might have been done with MMA right then and there.

“A lot of things went down over the course of a couple years,” Honchak said. “I asked Invicta to go ahead and do an interim, because I knew I was going to be a little while getting settled here. And then my title got taken.

“That sort of broke my heart for a little while and made me wonder if I was even going to do it again.”

But then just a few weeks ago the UFC announced it would be holding tryouts for a season of TUF to crown its first flyweight division. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision, but Honchak was on board.

Honchak takes the back of Christine Ferea at TUF 26 tryouts.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

“I feel like my life has stabilized a little bit,” Honchak said. “We’re settled. My husband has a good job and he’s good where he is. I feel like it’s time to kind of do it again. I’m ready. I’m healed, my body feels good. Years of chronic inflammation and injuries has subsided. I feel good, I feel healthy.”

Honchak (10-2) doesn’t know if she’ll be selected for the show, nor does she have any definitive plans past Tuesday. There is a possibility we never see her in a cage again if she doesn’t make the TUF house, though that seems unlikely. Honchak looked impressive in her time on the mats and hitting pads at tryouts. And she still has not lost a fight since 2010.

“One step a time,” Honchak said. “I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself. Today I’m focused on today. We’ll see what happens after today, we’ll see if I still feel the drive and the hunger. If I feel satisfied however this goes. I’m not sure.”

The UFC is attractive to Honchak, because though she liked her time in Invicta she wasn’t as active as she wanted to be, fighting just five times between 2012 and 2014. It’s hard to make a consistent living that way and she feels like there would be a better opportunity to do that in the world’s biggest MMA promotion.

Honchak, a former scientist with degrees in ecological genetics, is working as a wellness coach at a YMCA and training out of Catalyst Fight House in Everett, Wash.

“Once you’re done fighting, what’s then?” she said. “There’s not a retirement plan for us. There’s not a healthcare plan for us. Once you’re done, you’re done and you don’t get taken care of. I feel like at least with the UFC, they try and take care of their fighters, for sure. At least while you’re in.”

Whether she’s in or not is in the hands of matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard and UFC president Dana White, who were in attendance Tuesday. Honchak has the résumé, to that there is no doubt. But she understands nothing is a done deal and after spending so long away from the world of MMA, Honchak said she wouldn’t feel too badly about life re-fitting a sailboat with her husband to take out on the Puget Sound.

“My future has changed so many times,” Honchak said. “I never would have predicted myself to be a fighter once upon a time. And not considered one of the pound-for-pound best ever. That’s not something I foresaw. Who knows what’s gonna happen?”