Once a promising soccer player diagnosed with a debilitating leg illness, Brooke Mayo turned to combat sports to handle the pain.
The 25-year-old flyweight prospect fights Kaytlin Neil at Bellator 183 on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., and her MMA career may never have started had it not been for a turn of bad luck when she was a teenager.
Mayo lives with compartment syndrome, a lower body condition that can cause extreme pain and numbness in the legs. Those symptoms all but removed Mayo from the soccer fields and she realized would have to take her competitive fire elsewhere.
The answer to Mayo’s dilemma turned out to be Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Though her condition limits her in some ways, the decision to go from goals to graps has been a boon both personally and professionally.
“It definitely causes a little bit of an obstacle when it comes to my training at times, just because I’m not able to do everything the average person can do,” Mayo told MMA Fighting. “There’s always ways around your injuries and there’s always ways around obstacles. I’ve made it work for me and I’ve learned how to listen to my body, and how to structure my training so that I can get maximum output and maximum work in. I think I’ve been doing a really good job of restructuring my camps and my workouts so that I can be the best fighter I can be, the best athlete I can be.
“But compartment syndrome is definitely a challenging thing. It’s funny, after I first came out and said that I had that injury, I had a lot of people messaging me and talking to me about their day-to-day struggles. It’s a daily battle, it’s not easy to deal with, but it’s something I’ve been dealing with since I was 18.”
Whatever struggles Mayo is experiencing, they weren’t enough to stop her from giving MMA a go starting in 2014. She’d long been a fan of the sport, mentioning a UFC 115 matchup between Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin as one of the bouts that paved the way for her current career path.
“My high school graduation, all I wanted was the Chuck Liddell-Rich Franklin fight and I wanted my parents to purchase it on pay-per-view,” said Mayo. “We watched that for my graduation gift. So I’ve been into watching it for quite some time.”
That Liddell vs. Franklin bout ended in Franklin’s arm being broken and “The Iceman” suffering a grisly KO, but that didn’t deter Mayo in the slightest, even if her mother needed some convincing.
“My dad was very supportive of my fighting right from the get-go because my mom was very upset,” said Mayo. “She was really trying to fight me on it when I first started training, but eventually I think it took her maybe five amateur MMA fights before she realized it wasn’t a phase. She looked at my cousin and she’s like, ‘This isn’t a phase, is it?’ And he’s like, ‘Nope, she’s doing this.’
“So they dealt with it and they’re awesome about it and super supportive now and totally get it, but at first starting out it’s tough to try and explain that to your parents.”
Mayo went on to compile an 8-2 amateur record before turning pro in 2017 and she was immediately given a prime opportunity in terms of exposure. Her pro debut aired on the main card of Bellator 172, live on Spike, against a tough opponent in Veta Arteaga.
The bout ended in controversial fashion after almost three rounds of back-and-forth action when a growing hematoma on Mayo’s left eye prompted referee John McCarthy to pause the action with less than a minute remaining in the bout. Upon inspection, the ringside physician deemed Mayo unable to continue, fearing that she may have suffered an eye injury.
Mayo’s impassioned plea to continue and the thrilling battle between her and Arteaga drew a lot of praise, so even in defeat Mayo’s profile grew. And once again she finds herself turning a negative into a positive.
“Yeah, it definitely got me a lot of fans and it gave me a lot of exposure and now I am using social media to reach out to other people and talk to them about how jiu-jitsu has helped me at times with my compartment syndrome,” said Mayo. “That’s something that I can do for hours and hours and hours in the day and never really have my lower leg be aggravated from it.
“So I’ve been telling people with compartment syndrome if you’re having major lower leg issues, jiu-jitsu is great. It keeps you moving, it breaks up that scar tissue if you’ve had a fasciotomy. It gets you moving in a healthy way, it makes you feel more confident. Because when you go through any surgery or any injury, there’s a lot of psychological stress too that you’re dealing with. Martial arts is one of the best things to help with that.”