From the early stages of her life, Marloes Coenen felt a desire to be different. A desire to standout. But, most importantly, a desire to be remembered.
It was at the age of 14 when the Dutch native would make a decision that would forever change her life.
That decision: to enter the world of mixed martial arts.
One might ask why that decision would change her life or play any impact at all. The answer is simple—because she was entering a sport that was heavily dominated by men.
Coenen's burning desire to bring about change would lead her to a career of fighting in the country of Japan. Years later, Coenen would become the Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion by defeating Sarah Kaufman via armbar.
While Coenen has undoubtedly soared above all expectations, none of it would be possible without blood, sweat, tears and even a little fear.
The Beginning and Struggles
"The sport really chose me and I truly mean that. I was just a normal girl growing up and I played your average sports like tennis and volleyball. It all started when I had to ride a bicycle to school. I was going through some bad areas and there were talks of bad things happening in the area," Coenen told Bleacher Report. "As a young girl it was scary to be riding in a bad area when it was dark."
As a result, Coenen would do the unexpected instead of seeking help on her own. It was the beginning of a self-discovery period as Coenen took action without the assistance of others.
"I learned how to defend myself. I couldn't go through those areas and not be able to defend myself if something happened. I was 14 at the time and I'm now 31. My life has been changed so much by the choice I made at the age of 14."
There's no denying that Coenen made the right decision by entering the sport of MMA, but it didn't come without a price to pay. A female entering a so-called man's sport wouldn't be an easy task. In fact, it brought about its fair share of difficulties and struggles.
"I can't say it's always been easy. The sport has taken me many places as I've fought in Japan and America," she said. "Those places are very near to my heart. But, at the same time, there's been hard times. There have been many times where I've been tired. I've been depressed. Thankfully I've had people believe in me. I've had people believe in me when I didn't believe in myself."
"Cyborg,"Miesha and Ronda
While Coenen has certainly blazed a trail of her own, other notable women have come along side of her in the march to make women's MMA a global powerhouse. When many ponder upon women's MMA, the names Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey come to mind. Coenen has had her run-in with two of the three and hopes to complete the trio before all is said and done.
Unfortunately for Coenen, she was on the receiving end of a loss to Santos, only to find out her opponent was using a performance-enhancing drug.
"When you step into the ring, there are a lot of ways you can lose. I already thought she was on steroids before before we even fought. Was it honest of her to do that? No. But, I stepped in anyway and things didn't work out the way I wanted them to," Coenen said.
"She hit me so hard and her power was so strong. I'm a strong girl, but compared to her, I was nothing. I had to go to a hand specialist following the fight. When I hit her, she didn't give in even for a bit. I heard later on that she said I hit her the hardest but it didn't feel like it. She is a sweet girl and I don't want to talk bad about her, but I do believe a lot of her power came from using steroids."
Coenen would also take part in a devastating loss to Tate in her most recent bout, which would ultimately be her last appearance with the Strikeforce organization.
"The loss to Miesha was pretty to difficult to handle. When I look back on that fight, I knew that I was a little weak in my wrestling game. Following the loss to her I went back to the gym and really started working on my wrestling. The loss was still difficult to take."
And, while Coenen has yet to meet the current Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion, fans shouldn't be shocked to see the two squaring off at some point in the future.
"I would for sure like to fight Ronda," Coenen stated. "She is the 135-pound champion but she comes from the 145-pound background. I think it would be a very interesting fight especially if we got to fight at her original weight."
A Brighter Future
There's no doubt that Coenen is already considered one of the greatest female fighters of all time. However, that's simply not enough to rest the 31-year-old, as she maintains a desire to still compete at the highest level.
Coenen will get that opportunity, as she recently signed with Invicta Fighting Championship. On Saturday, April 28, Coenen will headline the organization's first all-womens MMA event in Kansas City, Kansas when she meets Romy Ruyssen in a featherweight showdown.
"For this fight, I've focused a lot on my wrestling and ground game. You have to stay in the states to learn really good wrestling," she explained.
"I worked at it and things will be different this time around. She's a black belt in judo and she's good on the ground. It will be an interesting fight and she's on a hot-streak with four wins in a row. I'm going to try and keep it standing. I want to prove to the world that I'm still a great fighter. While I'll take a submission, I prefer the knockout. I never, ever want it to go to the judges. To me, it's a loss. When I'm fighting someone, I want to dominate them."
As Coenen continues to enter in on the prime of her career, she believes women's MMA will only continue to grow. In fact, Coenen believes women have the tools to exceed all expectations and play a role in helping MMA to become a mainstream sport.
"What Ronda and Miesha did was really good for all women in MMA. It brought a lot of attention to females. Zuffa sees that and they can make money from us. I think women's MMA could have its own Ultimate Fighter show. You never know, it's not being talked about now but it could happen. You could make a reality show. Every woman has a different story and it's not an easy life for a female fighter."
In order for this dream to become a reality, organizations like Invicta will need to continue to battle it out for women's MMA.
Stated Coenen, "I think it's great that we have ambassadors that are standing up for us. I really believe things are about to be taken to the next level. The FOX deal helps MMA become more mainstream but without the female version it won't ever reach its full potential. Add females to the card and it gives the card much more variety. It allows everyone to connect to the sport."
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