There aren’t many couples who can say they’ve had a date night quite like that of the De La Rosas and the Kings.
Then again, their recent appearances at UFC Rio Rancho and Bellator 238 were more like business trips, and precedent-setting ones at that. Mark and Montana De La Rosa were the first pair of married fighters to compete on the same UFC card; Jason and Emilee King the first to do so for Bellator.
MMA Fighting caught up with the history making duos to get their insight on what it’s like leading up to a fight, competing, and dealing with the aftermath of a show where you’re just as—if not more—focused on your significant other as you are on yourself.
Fight preparation is a balancing act under the best circumstances and it can only help when you have a reliable support system to push you further on your best days and pick you up on your worst.
But what happens when a key part of that support system has their own business to worry about?
For the De La Rosas, their actual training for the Feb. 15 show was affected greatly due to the fact that they both compete at 125 pounds. Typically, Mark will act as a training dummy of sorts for Montana when she has a fight scheduled, and Montana will do the same for Mark when it’s his time to compete. On this occasion, they both had to have their game faces on and that led to some heated and competitive moments on the mats.
“It was a little different because usually if I’m in fight camp, I’m using Montana and we’re just moving around slow,” Mark said. “But since we’re both in fight camp, we did a bunch of one-on-one sessions with our coaches and stuff and we were using each other, so usually whenever we do that I’ll just be a good body for Montana, let her beat me up, let her work her stuff, and try to act like her opponent.
“But it was a little bit harder this time because in my eyes all I’ve got is a killzone, so I’m imagining my fight, but yet she’s imagining her fight. She’s going hard, I’m trying to go hard, she’s trying to be a good body, I’m trying to be a good body, nobody really wants to get beat up or surrender so it makes it a little bit rough. Usually we’re just flowing and moving and I’m just trying to be a good body for her.”
The Kings didn’t face that dilemma as Emilee was booked for a strawweight bout, while Jason tips the scales at 170 pounds on weigh-in day. They’ve always had a clear working relationship, with Jason acting as Emilee’s mentor for much of their careers since they first met back in 2013 at Knoxville Mixed Martial Arts and continuing to this day following their marriage a little over a year ago.
For Jason, one concern that was brought up to him was how the two would coordinate their weight cuts. But given how well he and his wife know each other, it turned out to be a non-issue.
“I think the biggest question that we get is how do we cut weight together,” Jason said. “In all honesty, I think it’s easier to cut weight together just because you have somebody that knows what you’re going through. We know the things that are good to say to each other, the things that are bad to say to each other, we know how to work the diet.
“I’m a [George] Lockhart-certified nutritionist so because I spend so much time with Emilee, I can tailor a diet here or there based on the needs of the day. All that was really easy.”
If anything, most of the pre-fight drama occurred for the Kings during the signing of their fights. While Emilee’s fight with boxing champ Ava Knight for Jan. 25 was announced well in advance, Jason was preparing for a Valor Fighting Challenge bout when his coach asked him if he essentially wanted a free ticket to see Emilee’s fight in the form of a fight booking.
This was during an emotional holiday season when Jason was dealing with the passing of his grandmother. She never watched Jason fight, but he wonders if she had a hand in landing him his Bellator opportunity.
“We kind of just said maybe my grandmother is in God’s ear now trying to pull favors,” Jason said.
This wasn’t the first time fighting on the same card for either couple.
Mark and Montana had twice shared the spotlight on the Texas regional scene; while Jason and Emilee were appearing together on the same show for the fourth time.
The circumstances couldn’t be more different for the two couples as Montana and Mark’s UFC Rio Rancho fights were to take place hours apart while Emilee and Jason were in back-to-back fights to open the Bellator 238 main card. It led to some odd, anxious moments, for differing reasons.
“He fought at, like, 3 o’clock, so I stayed back at the hotel and watched him on my phone,” Montana said. “So I was really nervous watching him, but I think it helped me get all my nerves out before my fight, so I could kind of, like, relax and just focus on me. I’m glad there was a big gap in between.”
Montana had to watch from a distance as Mark lost by second-round knockout to Raulian Paiva. With his wife not even in the building for his fight, much less in his corner, it was a new experience for Mark, though he found humor in the situation.
“It sucks that the fight didn’t go my way, but it ended up working out very well because usually—don’t get me wrong I love having Montana in my corner—but sometimes I can just see how nervous she is and she doesn’t do a good job of hiding it,” Mark said.
“She’s just super nervous, I’m trying to get pumped, but I look over there and I know she’s just sh*tting bricks.”
In the Kings’s case, Emilee has never cornered Jason and Jason wasn’t planning to corner Emilee even before he found out he had his own fight. Like Mark, Jason is aware of how much added pressure there can be knowing that your loved one is just a few feet away.
“I have cornered Emilee and I think in a pinch we can, but ideally we try not to,” Jason said. “Emilee knows that I’m very proud of her, that I love her very much, and that the outcome of a fight will never affect that, but—and I can say this for myself too—despite knowing that having each other in the corner right there, it puts a little bit of undue stress and tension, like I have to make her proud or she has to make me proud or something like that.
“It’s something that we know is bogus, but it’s something that you still can’t feed off of once you get in there.”
Given the close proximity of their fights, Jason and Emilee didn’t have much choice when it came to how much they could help each other on fight night; Mark, on the other hand had to deal with medicals and take whatever time he could to mentally recover from his loss, then move on to cornering Montana against Mara Romero Borella.
Montana—who went on to defeat Borella by unanimous decision—knew there was a chance she could be the lone winner on fight night.
“I guess I knew [Mark’s fight] could have gone one of two ways,” Montana said. “And I had to be prepared for that. I was prepared for whatever was gonna happen in his fight and I knew that I had to go in and do what I had to do to win my fight. So after my fight I was just kind of past it and I had to focus on my fight.”
At Bellator 238, Emilee fought first as she had every time her and Jason were on the same show and pulled off an upset with a first-round submission of Knight. Then, she turned all of her attention to her husband who was set to compete in about five minutes.
“I think I might have been a little bit princess-y with some of the Bellator people and if I was, I apologize,” Emilee said. “I was just like, ‘What do I have to do because I want to watch my husband fight.’ So I was just trying to check off the list of seeing the doctors, going through the interviews and stuff, and I was like, ‘Can I just watch my husband? He’s up next.’ Everyone was very cordial and very gracious to me, which I am very grateful for.
“The only thing that was going through my mind was just roll in, roll out, and then I get to watch Jason. And that was kind of what happened. It was very fast paced and the next thing I know Jason’s walking out and I’m watching him and that’s the feeling that I’m used to, having all the focus on him in that moment. So my moment was done and it was time for his.”
Just moments earlier, Jason could hardly stand to watch and it was only through the eyes of a friend that he was able to celebrate Emilee’s win.
“So I turned my back to the TV and I asked my wrestling coach to turn it on and tell me what time and what round we were in, don’t tell me anything else,” Jason said. “And he turned it on and [a cornerman] was holding mitts for me, he kind of looked over my shoulder and he said, ‘Well, I might as well tell you.’
“I looked at him, he had this big cheesy grin on his face and I kind of knew what that meant, so I gave him a hug and I experienced this really big high of, ‘Yes, she did it! I’m so proud of her.’ But then you’ve got to rein it back in and get ready for your go time.”
Jason didn’t fare as well as Emilee, losing in the first round via strikes to Raymond Daniels. Just like that, the Kings went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
Or at least that’s how it would go for most couples. For Emilee and Jason, they chose to stick to the positives and their post-fight pizza tradition.
“We’re usually the couple that after fights we don’t normally hang around too long,” King said. “We’ll say hi and love you to our people and then we usually go home and we a have a post-fight tradition of a pizza party, if you will.
“We just get a pizza and win, lose, or draw, we know that we get to come home to each other, wherever home is. If it’s a hotel room, that’s great. If it’s actually at our home, that’s great. And we just enjoy each other’s company and eat pizza and hang out with our coaches. Pretty low key, to be honest.”
“I focus on more on other people and that’s just the way I am,” Jason said. “Obviously, Emilee isn’t just other people, she’s my other person, she’s my wife. So the fact that she won was—Had we both won, I still would have been talking about her fight. That meant the world to me, that meant the world to her, just the fact that she was able to go out there and show the world everything that I knew that she could do. I was so proud of her.
“Obviously, I’m going through my own hard struggles at that time, but at least at that moment of that night, I could push all that aside for a little bit and see her and be like, ‘She did it. It’s her moment and I’m so proud of her.’”
The sentiment was shared by the De La Rosas. While Mark saw a losing streak extended, Montana rebounded from a loss and has now won four of her last five, putting her in the thick of the flyweight contender picture.
“It felt great to finally just be done with it and just relax and have a couple of drinks and just look back on the last three months and how hard we trained and everything finally paid off,” Montana said.
“For sure, we invested a lot of time into a fight camp, it would have sucked if we would have had two Ls,” Mark said. “But I’m happy she pulled it off. I got super excited when she dropped the girl because Montana’s still so super new. She’s getting ranked higher and getting all this experience and stuff, but she’s still learning every day. She hasn’t even hit her full potential yet.”
The De La Rosas have no qualms about fighting on the same card again, but the Kings would prefer not to repeat this process if they can avoid it. Emilee was sympathetic to Jason having to watch her fight and then immediately make the walk to the cage himself.
“I came in with the mentality of just go to work, get in, get out, and then I can focus on Jason,” Emilee said. “Whereas Jason had to carry the bigger burden of watching my fight, going through that emotional roller coaster, and then fighting himself. So if I can avoid that scenario for myself, that would be most ideal, but like Jason said, if an opportunity comes we’re not going to turn it down.”
As the first two couples to share a fight night on a major league level, the De La Rosas and Kings are now officially qualified to give their advice to other married pairs who could wind up going through the same experience.
So what’s their advice?
“That’s a hard one because every relationship is different,” Emilee said. “We do actually at KMMA have other fighter couples within the gym and it seems to be a common theme that yourself or your significant other may be harder on you than seemingly everyone else and it’s just because they expect the most out of you and they see the most potential in you.
“So when you’re in those times where it would be very easy to take every rub as, like, such conflict, take it more as a compliment that they have that much faith in you, they believe in you, and just be sure to tell the other person as well that you believe in them just as much.”
“The biggest advice that I would give is remember that no matter what your relationship is at the gym, whether you’re both just teammates or you kind of have what we have as more of a mentor and a coach, there is a time to be teammates and a time to be whatever that is in the gym,” Jason said. “But once you get home, you’ve got to check a lot of that to the side. You’ve got to make sure that somewhere in there, in the majority of your life, it’s husband and wife. You don’t want to spend the majority of your life in the terms of being teammates.
“I think being teammates is great, but you should be husband and wife, teammates in that sense, and make sure that you spend the time to really enforce that relationship and to check all other relationships you might have at the door and just be with each other as a husband and wife once you get in the home.”
Asked the same question, Mr. De La Rosa went to an old adage:
“Happy wife, happy life.”