Andrea Howland

Photo courtesy of Howland's Instagram account

After overcoming challenges, Andrea “Renegade” Howland is excited for her championship opportunity at NEF 38

Mixed martial arts is a challenging sport, not only physically in the cage, but the demands outside of it as well. Money is tough to come by unless you are a star, training is demanding, fights can fall through on a moment’s notice, opponents can play politics and be disrespectful and there are sometimes shady characters involved in the business as there are in any industry. In the amateur ranks of the sport, many of the athletes make the same sacrifices the professionals do without getting paid and often times, having to deal with opponents who may not have the same level of dedication or commitment to the bout. These difficulties make the struggle a little harder and no one quite understands that like Andrea “Renegade” Howland does.

In her career so far, Andrea Howland has had six fights booked but only ended up competing in two due to circumstances mostly out of control but has gone through six training camps (this one makes seven). That isn’t including the camp she put in four months earlier when she was originally going to make her debut. Opponents have dropped out and travel became detrimental to her health in one particular instance.

Because of those experiences, Howland became sensitive to every opportunity offered to her. She has spent many days on the phone with promoters across the Midwest and northeast evaluating fights and promotions. When the opportunity to fight for New England Fights (NEF) for their inaugural amateur women’s title at NEF 38 on April 27 against Taylor Thompson was offered, she did her research and has been comforted by the way everyone has handled themselves.

“It’s going to be almost nine months since my last fight in Detroit and I never, never wanted to wait that long in between fights. I’m just exhilarated. This girl, she takes her training very seriously, and like you said, knock on wood, something unforeseen obviously you can’t control those things, that’s not a big deal, I know that she is training appropriately, she’s committed, she’s going to show up. The promotion they’ve done a very respectable job of promoting her and I and they did it right out of the gate. There’s no bs on their end, they’re definitely committed to this as well, it’s comforting.”

Howland has understood the world of MMA since the beginning of her career. She has consistently gotten sponsors which have allowed her to focus on training and she has consistently promoted herself by doing interviews and creating custom calendars and walkout shirts. Though that has gotten her attention and success, Howland says it’s also made her life difficult because she thinks fighters aren’t taking fights with her because she promotes her self well and comes from a big-name gym. At the same time, she doesn’t regret taking advantage of the opportunities she’s earned.

“Maybe if I would’ve been a little been more quiet about myself, it might’ve been a little bit easier to obtain matches and they might’ve stuck a little bit more frequently. That is the double edge sword because I think there would’ve been a benefit to being a little bit quieter about my presence athletically because I’ve also said that I think some of these girls are avoiding me not really because they’re necessarily intimidated because of my athletics or combat sports presence as you will, I think some of them it’s the promotional stuff subconsciously is intimidating in itself. I’ve also come from larger gyms too so I think that plays into it as well. I’m promoting myself, I’m promoting that I’m coming from these bigger gyms like Michigan Top Team, things like that. I’m not shy about where I train at, I think that also plays a role. But at the same time, I’ve had found a lot of financial support because I have multiple sponsors and things, I think at the end of the day, I still would go back and do it the same way, particularly because I have children So for me, this business had to make sense, it had to be lucrative right away, it had to make sense financially.”

“It’s kind of a trade off but I think it absolutely needed to happen.”

Howland is particularly happy with facing Thompson because she is not intimidated by the promotional side and she understands the business. Thompson is promoting the fight herself through interviews. One of the reasons this fight came to fruition was because of promotion by the fighters. Both Howland and Thompson were nominated for The Queen MMA – Media Amateur WMMA Athlete of 2018. Howland came out the victor in that contest but it led to a connection. In fact, a teammate of Thompson’s at JacksonWink, Kayla Danger, whom Howland met at an event in Wisconsin joked after seeing the award that despite being friends with both fighters, it would be a sick fight if they were to fight. Tommy Vickers, the founder of Queen MMA Media was able to get the ball rolling and connect Howland with the NEF promoter and the rest was history.

“I think there were five or six amateurs that were nominated (for Queen MMA – Media Amateur WMMA Athlete of 2018) and it ended up coming down to me and Taylor, so it was interesting because it almost kinda looked like a tale of the tape type scenario, because it was our pictures were right next to each other,” said Howland. “Of course, out of curiosity, I’m sure she did the same, I looked at her career, her path and I knew this was coming eventually. After I saw how remarkably close our paths were, I was like this has gotta happen either way. So when everyone kinda brought it together and it kinda worked out, I was like oh this is great, this is the matchup. I’ve been looking for.”

There has been nothing but respect shown between the athletes, in fact, Howland gracefully and rightfully so defended Thompson after a few over her followers made comments regarding Thompson’s looks (note, this is a very small number of her followers and do not represent her support system). To Howland, there was no question of whether or not she would defend her opponent, because this is about being respectful to a fellow person and her fans crossed the line.

“In the sport we’ve got a variety of athletes, female athletes alike, they have a different appearance, a different style or even some cases, a different sexual orientation, whoever you want to love type of thing. But on our poster, it was literally the day our poster was released people started making comments about Taylor’s appearance and that she looked like a male and things like that. I can expect that from some people that are the peanut gallery or they don’t understand the sport. There are some extreme cases out there when men fight women around the world, obviously that doesn’t happen in the United States but I can understand it kinda tailing off on that in some extreme situation. But it was almost immediately, the day the poster got released, several comments were made and some of them were actually other fighters and I was like ok you guys, we’re not gonna do this for the next seven/eight weeks, absolutely not. I made a post, in the post I said this, I understand that trash talking is part of the sport but coming at her at a personal level and it being nothing to do with her athletic ability, it has nothing to do with the bout, I’m obviously not fighting a male, I’m fighting a female. I don’t know what type of offense she took to that, obviously me and her are not in close communication like that or anything, but to me, I have sponsors, I have young kids, this is not the example I want to set as a public figure in any capacity to even remotely think that this is ok and this is permissible in any degree.”

“As far as I can tell, she is a very respectable fighter, she doesn’t carry herself in any type of illegitimate way, she takes herself very seriously. So it almost hurt my heart.”

The fight itself is an intriguing one. Both fighters are undefeated, Howland at 2-0 and Thompson at 3-0. Both fighters are true bantamweights, with Thompson coming in slightly taller, she will be the first fighter Howland faces that is bigger than her. Thompson also has the experience advantage of training for a five round fight though she didn’t need all 25 minutes to finish Tiffany McCoy to become the Cage Titans bantamweight champion. Howland looks at Thompson as a chance for to evolve as a fighter and test herself against one of the best amateurs in the country.

“This is an excellent challenge for me and I’m excited to face that adversity and then see how I deal with it. I think we both like to strike but I think that it’s quite possible in different scenarios that the fight can take a left turn and we can end up on the ground. I know in her second amateur fight she was very slick on the ground; she’s got those long legs which pose a threat in a jiu jitsu perspective. So, to me, I see all these challenges and in a weird machoistic way, I’m excited to be pushed in those different aspects.”

Because of the size difference, and Thompson being the bigger fighter, Howland believes it is important for her to be the more aggressive fighter.

“It’s going to be a necessity for me to let out that level of aggressiveness. Cause again, for all intents and purposes, she’s the bigger fighter so I can’t really wait around or pitter pater and play games with her.”

To win this fight, Howland expects to outlast the early fireworks of the fight, frustrate her and then finish her.

“I actually believe that it will be fireworks in the beginning and then I plan to whether the storm and my explosiveness will outlast her. I think she has great cardio, I think her first fight, they would’ve went to the third round but they stopped it. Her last fight was banger with the girl who she fought for NEF before. I honestly believe, we’re going to have a lot of striking in the beginning. But, I plan on frustrating her, I plan on wearing her out and utilizing her game plan to take away things she normally offensively likes to do and get her in the mindset that she doesn’t know exactly how she wants to press forward, how she wants to score the points she normally would be scoring in a sense. Then once I see she is in deep water and at a loss of what’s happening, that’s when the aggressiveness comes out that’s when I want to finish her.”

This will be Howland’s first five round fight but she expects to finish her opponent in the second or third round.

“I plan on having a very explosive first and second round with her, taking and really picking it up when she gets tired. Stoppage in the second or third is the plan.”