By Caoilte de Barra
United States atomweight entry Victoria Anthony (pictured first from the left) is set to become one of the most credentialed athletes outside of MMA to compete on the IMMAF platform when she makes her debut at the 2022 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
As part of the U.S. national wrestling squad, Anthony was involved in two Olympic cycles and was an Olympic reserve on two occasions. Her long list of accolades includes two junior world titles, two U.S. Open titles and three Pan-American titles.
Before her illustrious wrestling career, she started off competing in judo and grew up training alongside former Judo Olympian and UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Now she sees MMA as the next challenge after her long spell of competitive wrestling
“So, I started competing when I was six years old in judo and competed for eight years. Then I saw this shiny new thing with wrestling. And I was kind of bored with Judo, so I decided to switch to wrestling. Then after sixteen years of wrestling, I saw a shiny new thing with MMA, and I am kind of bored with wrestling, and not interested in committing for another four years. I’ve been in it long enough and looking to do something new.
“That’s part of who I am. I seek novelty in my life and enjoy new experiences. And for me, MMA is so fun and exciting. It’s impossible to get bored because there are so many options, and there’s always something to train and improve.”
Despite leaving her wrestling career behind, Anthony reflects on the last sixteen years positively, as the sport helped her to discover her true self.
“For me, wrestling was a journey of growing in my personal character, my capacity to believe in myself and a journey with my own confidence. When I started my wrestling career at fourteen, I joined the boy’s wrestling team. I was a bit shy and timid and just lacked that kind of rooted self-confidence, even though I was able to compete at a high level. And I would always go out and do my best and perform. I’ve always been a competitor. My personal level of confidence has grown through the last 16 years. And that’s one of the things I’ve taken the most from wrestling, that I’m so grateful for, is that I’ve learned who I really am.”
The confidence of competing at such a high level and the winning mindset that comes with it is evident in the build-up to the World Championships, as Anthony lays out her expectations for the competition.
“I expect to win the tournament. That’s my plan, and that’s what I imagine every day. And to show my skill set that I’ve been working so hard on. I’ve only had one amateur fight so far, and at that time, I was like, ‘okay, let me try to strike like a little tiny bit and then just wrestle’, but now I feel so much more confident in my motion.”
The decision to step away from wrestling means Anthony leaves behind a base pay, a decision that was not easy and is one that Ronda Rousey’s mother, AnnMaria, even advised her to make back in 2016. Anthony now lives in San Diego, California, but trades her time between the west coast and Orange county, training out both Victory MMA and its Alliance Fight Team.
One of her closest friends and mentor is two-weight UFC champion and Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. Cejudo has been with Anthony on her journey in wrestling and will continue to be as she looks to take the MMA world by storm.
“With Henry (Cejudo), we talk all the time. He’s one of the people closest to me on this path. And he continues to guide me, and he makes himself available. And I’m close with his family as well. His brother was my wrestling coach. I moved to Arizona to train under his brother via Henry’s advice. So yeah, I always have him to call upon, and I’m grateful for that.”
The 30-year-old is confident that she can reach the pinnacle of the sport in her weight division. Despite the lack of an atomweight division in some organisations, Anthony believes she can be the athlete they can build the division around.
“We have a few different routes. Luckily I just signed with management maybe three or four months ago, and I’m leaving that up to them to sort the contracts out. It’s my job to develop my skill set and put on good and exciting fights through my own platform. And then we’ll see what options become available. I feel like I’ve taken the responsibility on myself to create an atomweight division somewhere. Whether I go straight into one, that’s one route we’re looking at or the creation of an atomweight in the UFC or another organisation like Bellator or PFL. I feel organisations will add a women’s weight class if they have someone to add it around.
“We’ve seen it across all the organisations and with different competitors like Ronda or Cyborg. So I’m like, ‘okay, if this is how it happens, then I need to make myself into the person that this can happen around.’ so, we’ll see.”
Anthony is part of a star-studded United States team that has all the potential to collect plenty of medals at the World Championships. The two amateur tournaments will take place at Štark Arena, in Novi Beograd (Belgrade), Serbia, from 11 to 17 February, and IMMAF’s OTT platform, immaf.tv, will stream all bouts for fans all over the world.