MIAMI – While your average senior is planning his or her latest post-retirement trip, Ann Perez de Tejada, 68, is stepping into the octagon and learning how to knockout her foe.
In February, Perez put on her fighting gloves and faced off against her first MMA opponent, 24 year-old Laura Dettman, in the process proving that age is just a number.
“What matters is what you can do,” Perez told FNL. “If you can move like a young person or have the skills, then age doesn’t matter. There are people in their 30s sitting on the couch who say 'I can’t play soccer because I am getting old.' They say it like they take pride in it, but it’s a bad thing. If you think you are getting old, then you will.”
A lot of people thought they didn’t have much to gain by beating me, but they don’t want to lose.
Tejada is the oldest woman to compete in mixed martial arts, but not the oldest person overall. That record belongs to the late John Williams of Canada. He was 70 when he competed back in 2010.
A few years back, Perez contacted Williams seeking his advice.
“He told me, 'Be prepared for a long and hard struggle,'” Perez said, meaning that people would make it hard for her, including not being willing to step into the cage to face her.
And, in fact, it took a long time for her to find an opponent. Perez and her coaches looked for an opponent for three years.
“A lot of people thought they didn’t have much to gain by beating me, but they don’t want to lose,” Perez said. “[Dettman] was great that she took the fight.”
To get the green-light on competing, the 115-pounder had to get approval from doctors as well as the Colorado Boxing Commission.
She came up short in her debut at the Sparta Combat League in Denver, losing by a referee-stoppage TKO in the first round, when Dettman got in a full mount position and unleashed a ground-and-pound attack. The fight video has garnered close to a million views.
After the bout, Dettman gave Perez a hug of appreciation. Family and friends witnessed her courage.
“I had one cut about an inch long,” she said. “I didn’t get rocked [with a concussion] or nothing. I had a couple of bruises and a cut. I get more than that in practice.”
And while she lost the match, her will to get back into the octagon is undiminished.
The Los Angeles-born Perez raised her four children on her own. In an effort to push her son to be more active, she enrolled him in a karate school near where they lived, and she too became a student. A few years later, she decided to take it seriously and started to compete.
Her background in martial arts is both deep and wide. Her fight résumé includes a fourth-degree black belt in karate, and she's been training for more than ten years in Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and more.
Perez, who works at the University of Colorado, works out at the Grudge Training Center, the home of World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, Nate Marquardt and Rose Namajunas.
Her coaches include octagon veterans Luke Caudillo and Nick Honstein. She trains a couple of hours a day and tries to have two-a-day sessions. Perez doesn’t lift weights much, instead focusing on body-weight exercises.
“I train hard,” she said “I don’t just wander out to the cage.”
For her, training is a matter of consistency and getting her body acclimated to the work. “I do it because I love it," she told FNL. "I can’t stay away, ”
Perez doesn't limit her strenuous activity to just MMA. She also has been active in local rodeo shows, participating in barrel racing and horseback riding performances.
The Dettman fight, she insists, wasn’t a onetime deal. “I’ll do it again,” she said right after a training session.