Any MMA fan spectating the sport over the last twenty years has seen many a fighter come and go — some harder to miss than others.
However, when able to sustain a longevity of such length, the spotlight is bound to be found at some point for one reason or another. In the case of the Netherlands’ favorite fighting daughter, Marloes Coenen helped pave a path for several generations to come.
“A fighter’s career is like a wave — it comes and it goes,” Coenen told MyMMANews. “Sometimes a wave is [high] and sometimes the wave is [low]. Even if you’re downwards, they’re in their prime and you’re in your lows — you’re still better.
“I’m so f*cking proud of what the women are showcasing in the cage. It’s only getting better. Look at Rose Namajunas and all those amazing fighters. It’s wonderful. To think where I started with the first real world championship in Japan, the year 2000, now 2021, the level of competition — it’s a quantum leap. It’s fantastic and I’m so curious to see where we are in 10 years. How good will the women be then?”
Coenen enjoyed a 17-year career that saw her go 23-8 with multiple world titles collected along the way.
Beginning the sport at just 19 years of age — an already unique feat — Coenen experienced MMA like few others have and will ever get to as the sport continues to evolve.
A successful debut in Japan against the native Yuuki Kondo led Coenen to compete in the historic ReMix one-night world cup tournament. During the late-90s and early 2000s, this was nothing new for MMA around the globe. In addition to the circumstances that saw winners facing multiple opponents, there were no weight classes.
Mika Harigai would fall victim to Coenen in the cup’s opening round as the Dutchwoman found a 31-second rear-naked choke submission. Although it wasn’t the finals, the following round was Coenen’s version of facing a final boss in a video game.
Coenen recalled the terror in her young heart as she stood across the physically imposing 6-foot-1 200-plus pound 7-0 Becky Levi — a second-degree Judo black belt.
Using her limited striking at the time, the Olst native attacked with punches before running away from the unphased Levi who was visibly slower than her smaller adversary.
Of all the ways to win, Coenen attempted a flying armbar at the 85-second mark of the fight that forced Levi to tap out. Visibly shocked as the referee separated them, Coenen celebrated with her team and 21 years later highlights that moment as one of her greatest achievements in not only fighting but life overall.
“It changed my life,” Coenen said of the Levi fight. “When I started, the reason why I started was because I did it for myself and there was nothing — you couldn’t dream big, there was nothing. There was a big void. So that was my fuel: freedom. If I look back on it, the lessons that I’ve learned, that is what I take with me and I can give that to other people that are outside of the cage when I work with them. It is for me more relevant than anything else.
“In the Netherlands, hardly anybody knows me. Would it be nice if they knew me? Yes, of course. But do I really care? No, I don’t. Because I did it for myself and I’m proud of myself and I’m very grateful for all the things that I’ve learned. It is now time for a new generation.”
The ReMix tournament concluded with the burgeoning submission artist taking out Megumi Yabushita. This early stint wouldn’t be Coenen’s last in Japan as the country homed the majority of talented female fighters who built the foundation of the sport.
It wouldn’t be until 2009 upon her arrival in Strikeforce that the R-Grip representative made her U.S. debut. Helping kick off this new chapter in Coenen’s career would be a former opponent in Roxanne Modafferi.
“The Happy Warrior” defeated Coenen in their prior meeting but the same couldn’t be said the second time around as she succumbed to a 65-second armbar — one of an eventual 17 total for Coenen before hanging up the gloves.
Modafferi was just one of the numerous notable names Coenen went toe-to-toe with in her 17-year stretch. From Levi to Liz Carmouche, Erin Toughill to Julia Budd, Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Miesha Tate… There was no shortage of challenges for one of the bantamweight and featherweight division’s all-time greats.
“I have to think about it,” Coenen pondered regarding her toughest opponent. “Actually, it was Becky Levi because I was so afraid of her. That I could actually win that fight… was one of the proudest moments I had in my life. But fighting Cyborg the first time and losing it, that made me feel like I was a true fighter because I didn’t give in until I don’t know, the end of the third round or something.
“When she hit me, I’ve told this many, many times, it felt like somebody took a brick and threw it at my head. When the fight was over I thought to myself, ‘Okay, Roemer [Trompert], where are you? If you hit me as hard as you can, I don’t know if it will be the same as what Cyborg just did.’ But then I also fought Arlene Blencowe in Bellator. She hit me, and I saw the fight back, the commentators say, ‘Yeah, Marloes almost got knocked out.’ Well, she didn’t. But I thought because the floor was very slippery, if she hits me one more time, I could be knocked out. She hits so hard, that was the reason I went to the ground. I was like no, I cannot take too much of this. I was so lucky she wasn’t that good on the ground back then. Oh my god, she hits so hard!”
Happily retired now at age 40, don’t expect to see Marloes Coenen ever step back into the world of MMA as a competitor. While still working closely as an analyst and correspondent with Spike TV in the Netherlands, Coenen is also enjoying motherhood.
As all mothers can attest to, it’s its own type of challenge.
“I hope it’s just a phase, but everything has to be pink. Even her toothpaste is pink,” Coenen said of her daughter. “She sees me hitting the pads with Roemer and was sleeping in the dojo so she knows fighting. I told Roemer, when she’s four, maybe five, I want her to learn wrestling. I think wrestling is one of the most important things to learn for a young girl. And she will learn how to kick and punch but even more than that, she will have freedom to go wherever she wants to go. If she wants to step into the cage, I will tell her about CTE… (laughs)
“If she steps into that cage, I’ll make sure she’ll be trained like a maniac.”
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.