The Cheerleader Turned Empowered Fighter

By Jason Burgos Apr 26, 2019

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Mixed martial artists come from all sorts of backgrounds ranging from traditional martial arts like Brazilian jiu-jitsu to athletes that transitioned from sports like football. In Kyra Batara’s case, she was a former cheerleader and hip-hop dancer. That’s certainly not the traditional route, although, they all became fighters. At Combate Americas “Reinas,” Batara will look to continue her unbeaten run for the promotion.

Long before she was traveling around the country as a competitive cheerleader and dancer, Batara was an admitted tomboy as child. The Portland, Oregon, native spent her youth hanging around with her brother and male cousins. All her best pals were boys. Because of this, the self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl” played every sport she could. However, martial arts were never an activity she took part in.

Like any protective parent, her father wanted her to learn to defend herself. An avid fan of Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championships, he took a then 13-year-old Batara to one of the most prominent training centers in the region, the vaunted Team Quest gym. The facility was the training home for some of the best fighters around. Fighting legends like Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Matt Lindland. Batara rubbed elbows with all of those stars during visits for the shared no-gi submission wrestling classes she took with her dad.

“I was around all of them,” Batara told Sherdog. “That was when everybody was there.” Despite being a burgeoning athlete who enjoyed physicality with boys, at this particular point in her life Batara had transitioned to discovering who she was as a young woman. Meaning sports had become less of an interest. “I was kind of like a brat at that age. I was a teenager [and] I was trying to figure out who I was.”

However, with her father’s insistence, she stuck with martial arts. Plus, since her father often worked long hours, this was the rare chance to have one-on-one time. Something she cherished. “This really forced us to have quality time with each other,” says Batara. “I just loved being able to see his eyes light up every time we got on the mats together.”

A bond was formed and the pair would even sit down and watch grappling videos on YouTube together. In the end, because of her athletic abilities, and the flexibility she had gained from also being a cheerleader at the time, she quickly turned into a pretty good grappler. Three months into her training, she was competing in tournaments and beating older boys that were sometimes 30 to 40 pounds heavier then her. For a young girl trying to figure out who she was, the training became very empowering.

“It was a feeling that I never got from any other sport,” recalls Batara. “I was very insecure [and] I was self-conscious about my body. I felt like I didn’t know who I was, and what kind of person I wanted to be [but] every time I stepped on that mat it was a burst of confidence that I couldn’t get from anything else.”

Fast forward 11 years later, and Batara now gets to be a part of something that can help to empower new generations of young women. Combate Americas “Reinas” will be the first nationally-televised MMA event to promote an all-female card. The importance of the moment for herself, and the women who watch, is not lost on Batara.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” remarked Batara. “Being a woman, we create so many insecurities in our head. Especially with social media now and the culture that we live in. We’re constantly bagging on ourselves that we’re never good enough. I see it all the time, women trying to be more on social media. To be a part of a group of women with such strong stories. It’s truly beautiful that we all get to go in there together and have this amazing show for Combate.”

For her, the Reinas event is just an example of what she has felt since she first started competing for the organization four years ago. They have an interest in promoting women’s MMA and to develop marketable stars from it. As a member of the roster, she has appreciated how she’s been treated, and the organization’s efforts to grow her brand. It is why she views Combate Americas as a long-term home, and does not see the UFC as an eventual destination like many other fighters her age.

“When I first started in mixed martial arts, I was never [of the mindset] that I have to be in the UFC,” says Batara. “From the start, it’s been very clear that Combate’s been super supportive of the women. I think they can do a lot more for me than the UFC. There I would be a little fish in a huge pond, [in Combate Americas] I can be the star.”

Under the Combate Americas banner, “Mogwai” has gone unbeaten over five fights, while morphing into a two-division threat at atomweight and strawweight. For this next bout she will compete at 115 pounds, despite believing she is a dominate force at atomweight.

“[In] every 105 fight I’ve almost walked through every [opponent] I’ve had in Combate,” Batara says. “It was just that, there was nobody to fight at 105. No new challenges. I know that I can beat the champion at that weight. Until they want to give me the title fight at 105, there’s just no reason for me to make that cut right now.”

Although her last outing at strawweight ended in a unanimous decision loss to Kanako Murata at Rizin 2, she feels good competing at what she considers her natural weight. She wrestled in high school at 112-pounds, and grappled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments at 114. She feels healthier at the class. The only drawback is that she is facing Francis Hernandez on short notice. She was originally scheduled to face UFC and The Ultimate Fighter 20 veteran, Angela Magana.

Magana was removed from the card after requiring emergency surgery to treat the neurological disorder cauda equina syndrome, which was affecting her spinal cord. Batara was looking forward to the bout because of the name value Magana has in the sport. Yet she understands Magana’s unfortunate cancellation is a part of the business, and she is just happy to get back to competing.

“It is disappointing that I’m not getting the fight that I wanted, but at the same time, a fight’s a fight,” says Batara. “I haven’t fought in over a year. I’m in love with the sport. I’m in love with what I do, and I’ll take any fights Combate puts in front of me.”

Batara has added respect for Hernandez for a couple of reasons. She took the fight despite having a different opponent already scheduled, and Batara believes her style is one that is difficult to prepare for on short notice. “She already had a fight lined up,” explains Batara. “She didn’t have to pull out of her fight to fight me. On two weeks’ notice, to prepare for my style, is incredible on her part.”

In preparation for this event, Batara has started working with a new coach, UFC and Strikeforce veteran Tony Fryklund. For much of the camp, she has also been able to train alongside Fryklund’s protege Vince Morales. Morales returns to the Octagon in two weeks at UFC Fight Night 151 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Because of Morales’ access to the UFC performance institute as a member of the organizations roster, Batara was allowed to join training sessions and take advantage of the world-class facilities. It has her feeling confident about what’s to come on Friday night.

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