A former boxing champion, Ava Knight has aspirations of capturing MMA gold and she’s already received a pep talk from one of Bellator’s top stars.
Knight’s debut at Bellator 228 four months ago was an eventful one, to say the least. The pugilist’s ground game was immediately tested by an aggressive Shannon Goughary, but she slipped out of some dangerous situations and eventually found a finish in the third round with a devastating body punch. Just like that, her cagefighting career was off to a winning start.
It was the first finish Knight had in any athletic contest since March 2012 and afterwards, she had a relatively subdued emotional reaction. That was thanks to a chat she had with Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane at the weigh-ins for Bellator 236.
“I was happy,” Knight told MMA Fighting. “I think that’s the only main thing I can say as a fighter and a former champion. I always know that I can do better and do it faster and you expect more of yourself in the future. So the happiness is there and [Macfarlane] had given me some really good advice before my fight. She said never celebrate bigger than your opponent and knowing that, that’s the best thing I could have learned.
“I didn’t go in there fighting a world champion. So I know the fight that I had was something to learn from, not to just be glorious about.”
Knight has had her fair share of glory in the boxing ring, compiling a 19-2-5 record with no losses in her last nine bouts. Five weeks after her fight with Goughary, Knight competed in her primary discipline, winning an eight-round unanimous decision in a rematch against Luna del Mar Torroba.
Her busy schedule continues this Saturday when she fights Emilee King in a strawweight bout on the main card of Bellator 238 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. It’s an immediate bump up from her previous preliminary booking, and Knight is making her second walk to the cage with plenty of added motivation.
The 31-year-old serves as a coach for Merging Vets & Players (MVP), an organization established by her friend and coach Jay Glazer and former Texas Longhorns long snapper Nate Boyer that allows veterans to spend time with professional athletes to help them transition back to civilian life. Knight—whose father served in the navy—and fellow MVP coach Adel Altamimi will both be competing at this weekend’s Bellator show.
“It’s great for athletes to meet up with veterans,” Knight said. “We work out together, we talk about our lives, talk about our careers and what has changed—You know, as an athlete changes when you’re in a fight and when you come home; when you’re on the field, the football players that are there, or the basketball court, and everything changes. Just like the veterans do when they go to war when they’re deployed and they just come home and it just feels different.
“And the whole point of us coming together is that we know we’re different and we get to embrace that.”
Looking ahead, Knight hopes that with a few more wins she can help to build a 115-pound division in Bellator. As of now, the promotion only hosts two women’s weight classes with a world champion, flyweight and featherweight.
Knight is ready for the backlash that could come if she has a rapid ascent up the ranks and fortunately for her, she’s had help keeping things in perspective.
“I know with my background and the people around me there’s going to be a lot of hate the way I’m moving up in this division—even though there is no division—and the fights that I’m having,” Knight said.
“It’s just great that this fight is for a good cause, veterans and MVP, and I am a coach for MVP, so it’s really good so that I get to be part of the main card and showcase the people who are coaching the people we’re representing, which is great to me and I’m glad I get to be part of this main card.”
For more from Knight, check out her fight week interview with MMA Fighting: