Sport

Meet the astrophysicist who packs one heck of a punch. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Astro Girl:Alex Chambers, 36, mixed martial artist

I always thought being at atomweight was cool – seeing my degree is in astrophysics. I’m usually a lot smaller than my opponent, regardless of whether I fought at atomweight or at strawweight. So it was just the more natural weight division for me. But the UFC assigned the second female weight division as strawweight, so opportunities for that came up. How could I say no?

I was studying a double degree at Sydney University in mechatronic engineering and in science. I was still involved in martial arts at the time, but engineering and science is quite a demanding degree, so I wasn’t able to put in as much time as I liked. There just came a time when I realised I wanted to take my martial arts to the next level. And I knew that it’s something that I wanted to do right now. As an athlete, you don’t have a long window of opportunity. So, I made the decision to pursue that.

Three or four fights a year – that’s a busy year. When I first started in my professional mixed martial arts career, it was very difficult to get fights. It was difficult for me to even make my debut – nearly a year to match me up in my first fight. So I’m used to having that long layoff between fights. Now I have an opportunity. That’s exciting for me.

Concussion has never really crossed my mind. The majority of training is all about the skills and the techniques involved for strengthening the body through strength and conditioning. It’s not often that you get blows to the head. Even in a fight, the referee and the rules are there to protect you from big injuries.

What’s on my mind during a fight? Hopefully nothing. Thinking takes too long. You just want to react to the situation that is presented in front of you at the time. Whatever happens, hopefully your body memory takes over.

It took me a while to just get my first fight. To actually be there experiencing all these new things – being backstage before the fight, walking out to the cage – it was just amazing to finally get that experience. To come out on top was even better. That was definitely one of my favourite experiences. And it was good to get it out of the way as well. 

You could say that with martial arts, the fighting was the easy part. I’ve always done it, but my parents have always been education connoisseurs and so wanted me to go to university. I’m grateful for that. It was sometimes a struggle. To have to fight sometimes with your parents to be able to do what you love, that was hard. Now I’m a lot older, and I’m being given some great opportunities. And my parents are obviously part of me, and will always support whatever I do. But it’s not something that I talk too much to them about.

Women are lot more accepted in the UFC. It’s something that I’m proud to talk about. I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did martial arts, but it wasn’t always something that I would talk about.

Now it’s something I joke to people about. They ask me what I do and I say, “I’m a mixed martial arts fighter, and I fight in the UFC.” They get quite shocked and don’t believe me. Whereas before it wasn’t something that I used to talk about very often. It has become a lot more acceptable now for women to be involved in this, and so it’s really something that I’m quite proud of.

I was shocked to hear boxing for females was illegal in a number of states. There are changes being made all the time in combat sports in Australia. It’s quite a dynamic time recently. MMA fighting in a cage is now legal in Melbourne.

If it wasn’t for Ronda Rousey we definitely wouldn’t have seen women in the UFC as soon as we did. I’m so grateful for what she’s done. I’m a huge fan. She’s not just an amazing person inside the cage, but outside the cage, too. It’s great to see her doing well. Everyone knows she’s the real deal, and it’s amazing that it’s not just women behind her, but a lot of men – not just fans – but men in the sport realise what a big deal she is.

This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Sydney Swans v Western Bulldogs 

Saturday, 2.10pm, Sydney Cricket Ground 

• NRL: Country v City

Sunday, 4pm, McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga

• Super Rugby: Melbourne Rebels v Waikato Chiefs

Saturday, 7.40pm, AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Netball: Sydney Swifts v Melbourne Vixens 

Sunday, 12.18pm, Allphones Arena, Sydney

• A-League Elimination Finals: Wellington Phoenix (4th) v Melbourne City FC (5th)

Sunday, 5pm (AEST), Westpac Stadium, Wellington

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 2, 2015 as "Astro Girl". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.