By Erik Uebelacker
Joy Sheppard (Youth B 137 lbs) solidified her spot at the 2022 IMMAF Youth World Championships after her run at the USFL National Championships. A veteran of tournament-style MMA and pankration events, the 15-year-old has high hopes for her time in Abu Dhabi.
“Some of the tournaments, she probably [fought] like six or seven times a day,” said her mother, Cheryl Sheppard.
“I am very used to this. This is what I started out doing,” Joy said.
There’s no question Joy was ready for the challenge of an IMMAF youth tournament – her performance at the USFL National Championships suggests such. For Joy and Cheryl, getting to Abu Dhabi proved to be the biggest test.
“At first, I was like ‘Oh, that’s so great!” Cheryl said when Joy earned a spot on the U.S. national team. “And then next, I thought, ‘Wow, we have to come up with the money to go to Abu Dhabi.’”
The Sheppards started fundraising initiatives to fund Joy’s trip to the Youth World Championships.
“We did a GoFundMe, which wasn’t very successful,” Cheryl said.
So, Joy took matters into her own hands.
“Right after I got off the podium, we were like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going,’” Joy said. “We worked our butts off every day after that to get the money to get here.”
Inspired by her parents, who are small business owners, she started two businesses of her own to raise money for her trip. The first was Joy’s Knockout Treats, where she sold homemade baked goods. She also started The Joyful Picnic, a luxury picnic planning service.
“We had tons of bake sales,” Cheryl said. “On top of everything, we take orders on [the picnics].”
𝘼𝙢𝙖𝙯𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙮 👏— IMMAF (@IMMAFed) August 18, 2022
The US @Fightleague's Joy Sheppard claimed the gold medal in today's Youth B 62kg class 🇺🇸
Joy is a Navajo Native American, who started 2 small businesses to fund the trip to the #2022MMAYouthWorlds after winning the USFL National Championship. pic.twitter.com/1Fms34KBvH
Joy and Cheryl’s efforts evidently panned out; she competes Tuesday in the Youth B division. Hailing from Tuba City, AZ in Navajo Nation, Joy now trains in Lubbock, TX out of multiple gyms. It’s there where she gained the experience that, she says, gives her an edge over her opponents.
“I think it’s a really big advantage,” Joy said. “I think a lot of people would do well if they did a tournament style once in a while. That would help give them the feel of having like four or five fights in a day. I feel really confident.”
But for Joy, it’s bigger than winning an IMMAF medal. She truly wants to make a positive impact and fight for her fellow Native Americans.
“I fight for a lot of these people who have no say in what happens to them,” she said. “When I get to the UFC – and I know I will – I want to start a program to help people, not just from my reservation, but around the world. That’s my whole life’s goal.”