Combat sports are not team sports. No matter the variation, it’s two competitors going head-to-head in a physical game of chess. However, it takes a full team’s support to get each participant to the dance.
Famously known as the home of MMA megastar Conor McGregor is the Straight Blast Gym (SBG). As “The Notorious” hails from the country of Ireland, that’s where his gym resides. Spin the globe and stop it over in the states and you’ll find an affiliate on the country’s western side. And that would be SBG Portland in Oregon.
While McGregor and his head coach John Kavanagh may now be the most recognizable figures representing the brand, they aren’t the only ones making impacts. Take the talented jiu-jitsu ace in Amanda Loewen as a prime example.
When it comes to the state of Oregon, Loewen holds a spot in the history books as she’s the first female to earn a BJJ black belt. A feat that she achieved in five years with the aid of her SBG family.
“I think it’s pretty quick,” Loewen told MyMMANews, “It obviously wasn’t my decision, it was coach Matt [Thornton’s]. But yeah, I think for most people, it takes anywhere from eight to 13 years, just depending.
“It’s been good [at SBG]. I think at any training facility, there’s always some interesting ups and downs and some personalities that you have to kind of tolerate or maybe accommodate a bit. But I have some really, really great students here. And then my coaches, coach Eddie [Ziegler] and coach John [Diggins] have been two staples in my life.”
For Loewen, her day to day life sees her usually wake up around 7:00 A.M. and she’s in the gym by 8:00 where she’ll teach the art of jiu-jitsu and do training of her own. Outside of that, she loves her dogs and has newly started up her own dog walking service that is now over a month old.
Unable to imagine her life without jiu-jitsu, the Californian turned Pacific Northwesterner would rather be a legendary coach as opposed to having a bunch of titles in her own singular career. Impacting others as a teacher is something she believes a lot of world champions may not be able to do … and that’s not to say that she isn’t a great competitor in her own right.
Having lived in California up until 2007, it would take Loewen two years until she stumbled upon the combat sports world. As someone who wasn’t involved in athletics growing up, when discovering SBG she decided to go to her local 24-Hour Fitness to get in shape before entering the gym. Something she admits sounds silly.
“I actually used to work around the corner at the Wet Spot Tropical Fish store,” Loewen shared, “And so I would walk past this place while the roll-up door would be open. I would just kind of watch and I thought everyone in here was doing karate. But eventually, I was like, ‘I should probably do some karate too.’ So I came in and took a class and I rolled afterward. I had no idea what that meant. Then because I’m a very stubborn individual, I decided, ‘I have to come back and figure out what happened to me.’ So that was it.”
Prior to her eventual black-belting, Loewen began with honing her striking skills before realizing her real love was jiu-jitsu. Early on in this new athletic endeavor, some pressure was felt from the fear of losing along with the desire to progress quickly and find perfection in all areas of her game.
Frustration emerged at times, but in the end, it was what mattered most to the grappling ace as after she won her second amateur MMA fight in 2012, she quit working and going to school so that she could teach and train full time. As a result, this obviously led to some great success as Loewen achieved her black belt and has placed in that rank’s competitions such as IBJJF’s Pan-Ams and World’s (gi or no-gi) every year since.
“The way we promote is; nobody knows when they’re getting promoted,” explained Loewen, “So we have this thing called an ‘Iron Man’ where everybody participates because obviously, jiu-jitsu is kind of an individual sport as it may be, you need a team to get better. So everyone in the gym kind of has a part in your progress, in your development. So we all gather and you roll with everyone in the gym until submission. Sometimes it can be a few hours, but I think that’s the beautiful thing about jiu-jitsu is that once your attributes are depleted you’re left with whatever jiu-jitsu you actually possess.”
Although combat sports are individual, the aid of a team is a necessity. And while taking on more bodies than one at a time doesn’t happen traditionally per se … there have indeed been cases where it does. We can thank promotions like Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground (SUG) for that.
A three-time veteran in SUG, Loewen has come out victorious in each outing. The most recent time being arguably her most impressive.
At SUG 8 in May 2019, the former fish store worker showed up and showed out as part of her tag-team match. In roughly eight seconds, Loewen secured an armbar that would just be the first of her team’s six in total … all six of those belonging to her.
Overall, team SBG would win their match against team Combat Athletics Academy 6-1 with Loewen dominating the opposition each and every time she was tagged into the action. Her submission variants came out to two armbars, two rear-naked chokes, a guillotine, and a heel hook.
As physically taxing as a fast-paced activity like those matches can be, it usually is the mental puzzle that needs solving for Loewen in all matches.
“The tag team was fun,” she expressed, “I think competing, in general, can be very mentally challenging for me. It’s not so much physical. I feel like if I were to have to go to World’s tomorrow, physically, it’d be fine. But it’s always been kind of a more mental challenge for me.”
As wildly talented as Loewen is with her grappling, she has still dabbled in testing her overall game. After her second amateur MMA bout in 2012, she wouldn’t fight again until this past year.
Her first two fights were won by unanimous decision with the third being a fifth-round rear-naked choke that won her the FCFF featherweight championship.
After that first pair of duels at 135-pounds, Loewen made her return to the cage at featherweight, 145-pounds, starting with the Hannah Summers fight that saw her be crowned as champion. In her most recent outing that took place in December, she defended her title in an all-out war that earned the award of FCFF’s female fight of the year.
Battling through some early adversity in the striking department against her foe in Jordan Kanewa, it would be Loewen who rallied late showing why she’s the champion. In the end, it would be a kneebar in the fifth round that reclaimed the gold.
“It was good. The training camp leading up to it, I felt was never-ending,” Loewen said. “Jordan and I were supposed to have fought last July. Then a few things happened and unfortunately, she got injured. So I think there was maybe a little bit of hype surrounding both of us fighting. She’s a phenomenal person and a great athlete as well. So I knew that this was going to be a really good challenge on my part. But yeah, it was a fun fight. I really tried to utilize as much stand up as I have, which is actually not very much. I enjoy stand up a little bit, but I definitely like jiu-jitsu a bit more. So I told my coaches, ‘I will pull guard. I’m not afraid to pull guard,’ and I pulled guard a few times. But I knew the position I was trying to get to and eventually was able to get it. So fifth-round finisher.
“I mean, a quick submission is great. There was – I think it was in round three – where I had gotten on top and one of my coaches was trying to tell me to do something and it wasn’t registering. And I was like, ‘What is he trying to tell me?’ Then I eventually had taken the back and almost finished but then the time ran out. I realized that if I had just done this thing before, then the fight probably would have been done now, but it’s just gaining more experience.”
Amanda Loewen has proven to be a woman of many talents. Whether it’s on the mats as a coach or competitor, a cage fighter, or a babysitter to your fluffy little companion. And despite her success in MMA to this point, the 32-year old isn’t going to fully shift her focus to the pros now.
Home is where the heart is. And that home for SBG’s Loewen is in the world of jiu-jitsu.
“MMA has just been kind of a fun thing,” she expressed, “I think if I were maybe a little bit younger and my body was still intact, then maybe I would do a little bit more MMA but yeah like I’ve said before, jiu-jitsu is just kind of where my heart is, I think. I would really have to want to do more stand up stuff.
“I’m constantly looking to improve myself and my students. My students are very, very important to me. They’re one of the reasons why I wake up every morning. I love teaching them, I love what I do. So I really want to continue improving being the best coach I can possibly be. And then, man, I still I really want to win World’s, both gi and no-gi. So I’m trying to rack up as many fun IBJJF points as possible so that I can qualify for that this year.”