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Kay Hansen passed on Harvard to pursue MMA career

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Kay Hansen (pictured) fights Erin Blanchfield at Invicta FC 32 on Friday in Shawnee, Okla.
Invicta FC

In another world, Kay Hansen would be spending her summers fielding grounders on Soldiers Field and getting ready for a packed academic schedule. Not grinding away on the mats at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu in Fullerton, Calif., preparing to inflict physical punishment on another human being.

But that’s the choice Hansen made at the age of 16 and she hasn’t looked back since. Now 19, Hansen is getting ready for her fourth pro MMA bout, a flyweight bout with fellow 19-year-old Erin Blanchfield at Invicta FC 32 this Friday at Firelake Arena in Shawnee, Okla.

Given the passion she’s shown so far, it’s understandable that Hansen is all in on her fighting career, but it wasn’t long ago that she was a student at Whittier Christian High School with top grades and a spot on the Harvard University softball squad awaiting her.

Rather than represent the Crimson, Hansen chose to spill crimson inside the cage.

“I was pretty close,” Hansen recently told MMA Fighting of almost ending up at Harvard. “I’d been talking to the head coach, I had her cell phone number, it was what I was going to do, softball. I was looking at a lot of Ivy League schools, but that was my No. 1.

“But then when I found fighting, that didn’t matter to me anymore.”

The decision was made during her junior year, when Hansen was juggling school and competing in travel softball, which involved playing against the best teams from around the country and being watched by college scouts. It was during this time that Hansen caught the attention of several Ivy League schools and she thought her path to Harvard was set.

But once she discovered jiu-jitsu, her full attention rapidly shifted over to the world of MMA and just like that, she made the call to abandon softball, drop out of high school, and focus on becoming a full-time fighter. With the staunch support of friends and family, Hansen made a successful amateur debut in September of last year and then won her first pro bout via first-round submission three months later at Invicta FC 26.

Disappointment reared its head in Hansen’s second pro fight, where she fought Kalyn Schwartz and lost via second-round TKO. That setback did little to shake Hansen’s resolve.

“Losing, it wasn’t too crazy,” said Hansen. “I think everyone was just kind of disappointed. I’m held to a really high standard, especially by my family, by my Dad. A lot of them were disappointed just because they know what I’m capable of. It’s never really been like, ‘Oh, I feel bad for you,’ because they expect so much out of me, so I think that’s the reason why I am being so successful at such a young age because I always do have high expectations.

“There was no pity or cry parties, it was just, ‘You messed up. You got beat. It’s time to get back to work.’ And I got back to work right away.”

Looking to rebound from her first loss, Hansen sought another fight as soon as possible and she contacted various promotions looking for that opportunity, including Invicta, Bellator, and Legacy Fighting Alliance. Hansen would end up booking a trio of boxing matches instead, which proved to be a valuable experience for the budding grappler.

The side journey proved to be a humbling one for Hansen, and not just because she lost her first two boxing matches before winning a four-round decision in her third try. Hansen discovered that female fighters were not as popular in the boxing world as they are in MMA, and she approached her next MMA fight with even greater appreciation for the sport as well as some improved stand-up skills.

Kay Hansen drops an elbow on Helen Peralta at Invicta FC 31 on Sept. 1
Invicta FC

Hansen got back in the win column with a TKO of Gabby Romero at a regional show in Campo, Calif., earlier this year, then returned to Invicta in August and scored a second straight victory by finishing Helen Peralta with strikes in the final minute of the third round.

Now 3-1 as a pro, Hansen is staying level-headed. Having idolized Ronda Rousey when she started, and later spent time training with Cris Cyborg, it’s easy for her to envision where her career might go, even as she remembers to temper her own expectations.

“It is hard to not get ahead of yourself,” said Hansen. “I think that’s what happened when I lost. You’re focused so much on what you want to do and what your ultimate goal is that you don’t realize that the only thing that matters is the task at hand. If you don’t win this fight, then what you want in the future isn’t going to be possible. So especially as a young fighter — I was the youngest to fight and win in Invicta — now what other records can I break? What else can I do?

“And it’s like, how about you just focus on the task at hand? I think that’s what that loss taught me. It taught me to grow up, it taught me to be a realist, and focus on the moment that’s right now and not try to skip ahead because when you do that, it comes back and bites you.”

Competing primarily at strawweight, Hansen is moving up to 125 pounds for her matchup with Blanchfield, a recent Eddie Bravo Invitational tournament winner who is unbeaten in two pro bouts. Hansen isn’t intimidated by Blanchfield’s accomplishments (she actually called Blanchfield out after beating Peralta), instead viewing this as the perfect opportunity to separate herself from the pack of young fighters blossoming in Invicta.

“For me, I just want to challenge myself with the best people,” said Hanzen. “If you look at my resume, I don’t take easy fights. I’m fighting the people that no one else wants to fight.

“Kal and Peralta were both last0minute fighters that Invicta called and asked if I would fight them because they couldn’t find opponents for them. Both of those fights weren’t made for me. This is the first fight that’s actually been made for me, so it’s pretty awesome. It was just another person to challenge myself. I’ve fought a lot of people who were older than me and now I’m challenging myself with someone with a good resume who’s my age and I’m ready to prove that I’m on another level.”

Hansen is still in the process of developing as a fighter and making a name for herself, so it sounds like there’s little room for the concerns of a typical person her age. Asked if she plans to continue her education at some point, whether its in between fights or in the far future when her career is wrapped up, Hansen restated her desire to focus solely on MMA.

“I’m 100 percent in on my fighting career,” said Hansen. “All my eggs are in one basket for this. It hasn’t failed me so far, so I think it’ll work out good.”