After competing for three years as an amateur and splitting her win-loss record in half, Tara Graff, a mother of three, will make her pro MMA debut this weekend for King of the Cage.
King of the Cage debuts at Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Maryland on Saturday, October 13, 2018 with a nationally broadcast event headlined by a bantamweight showdown between Matt Skibicki against Scott Dirkson. In the co-main event, will be an anticipated matchup in the women’s atomweight division between Melissa Karagianis vs. Shawna Ormsby and the featured fight will be a lightweight bout between Hawraz Syan and James Rumley.
You are fighting Marisol Ruelas this weekend for King of the Cage. What was the decision making process like for you in deciding to turn pro, and can you explain why you chose to do it now?
“Even though I haven’t been training for too long, my coaches and I thought it was time. I have significantly grown as a martial artist, it was starting to get a little difficult finding fighters that would agree and actually stick. King of the Cage presented me with an offer to make my pro debut, so my exact thoughts were… “Hell yea, I’m not getting any younger. They are a GREAT nationally known promotion. Not only will I be doing what I love to do, but I’ll now get paid to do it, LET’S DO THIS!”… Didn’t really even have to say anything to my coaches and team before saying absolutely we’ll take it! Honestly, I think most of them were just as excited as I, if not more” (laughs).
What did you learn about yourself as an amateur going 5-5?
“I truly have learned A LOT in a short period of time but have so much more to learn and grow!
“Although I’ve always been a fan, I have only been doing martial art myself for three years. I knew absolutely nothing (although I thought I did!!) as an ‘independent fighter’, in my first five bouts. I fought with aggression, determination and heart but was definitely lacking any/all technique. My very first time stepping into the cage, I won in 44 seconds and fell even more in love with this sport. My next four fights however, didn’t quite go the same. After losing four straight, I knew I wasn’t going to do anything in this sport, that I now had fell even more in love with, unless I got help and found a school to teach me, to show me actual techniques, to help me learn and grow.
“I think those four losses were the best thing that happened to me!! It was because of them that I met my coaches, my teammates and my family at Royal Martial Arts. After joining my team, my eyes were QUICKLY opened to how little I knew. After lots of hard work, I ended up getting three straight wins, then took a tough armbar loss and knew it was time to seriously focus on my ground game. I then, eventually came back with an awesome W, that subsequently became my last amateur bout. It’s been a hard yet awesome, tiring yet satisfying, tough but beautiful journey so far but I wouldn’t trade any of the past, good and bad, because it led me to where I am now and had made me the person I am today.”
In speaking with your boyfriend, Mike Pagano, he tells me that you are a very dedicated mother and competitor. You also hold down a full time job? How do you juggle time between job, family, training, competing?
“Yes, my first and most important job is being a mother! I am a full time mom to two crazy, very active boys (Kaiden, 10 and Ian, 6) and part time step mom to a just as silly and beautiful little girl (Piper, 4). My full time job (the one that pays the bills haha), is a General Manger of a busy My Eye Dr. facility. While trying to juggle the kids hectic schedules and deal with all the everyday stresses of managing /running a doctors office it is very tough to find any extra time! MMA is what I love to do and have a passion for, so where there’s a WILL there’s a WAY. If you want something bad enough you will make it work! Yes, that means late nights, early mornings and little sleep but I will do what I have to do to be the best me, in all aspects!”
What is like being in a relationship with another fighter who competes? You each want to fight and win, you want your loved one to win, but you also don’t want to see them get hurt. Any coaching conflicts?
“I love it! We both are such hard workers and have so much drive. When one of us is slacking, the other one pushes. He’s such a great person and will just about anything for me! He’s my anchor and my rock, he keeps me grounded and I love it! Yes, when he’s in the cage I do get nervous (even more so then when I’m in there myself) but I know he’s a very talented man and this is what we both love to do. As far as coaching conflicts…. that’s debatable. I don’t see any but he tends to think there are from time to time (laughs). Just like every couple, there will be tension or arguments. We try not to let that transfer to the mat, which of course sometime can be hard, but we love each other so it can quickly be resolved (or we will just duke it out! Haha just kidding).”
How did you get the nickname ‘The Tiny Terror’?
“It’s what people started calling me. I guess it can be fitting at times” (laughs).
What do you know about your opponent Marisol Ruelas?
“To be honest I don’t know much on her at all. The only thing I know is that she’s a southpaw. I don’t really like to study my opponents much, I know, call me weird but I really don’t. I like to work on myself and any holes I have and let my coaches watch for me. The way I see it is most people change and grow. I don’t like going into the cage expecting something and then be completely thrown off when their game changed. Expect everything and at their best possible potential, is the way I see it.”
What weight is this fight at and how is weight cut going here on fight week?
“This is a catch weight at 120. Weight cut has been great. Feeling good and ready to do this!!!!”
What is one thing you are looking forward to after the fight is over?
“CHICKEN WING, PIZZA, ICE CREAM and PEANUT BUTTER!!!”
Any teammates, coaches, sponsors you want to thank? Social media pages to plug?
“I want to first thank my beautiful kiddos, you all are my driving force!! You’re the reason I push so hard in life! When you look at me I want you to see SUPERMOM and be proud! I love you!!! I want to thank my friends, family and fan! You guys have been awesome and have been by my side and helped me through alot!! Thank you!! I want to thank my teammates and family over at Royal Martial Arts, I love all you guys thank you for being there for me and pushing me when I need you.
“Huge thank you to my coaches Mike, Mike and Jessie. Jessie although you have had a lot going on and not able to get in as often as normal, you are a huge part in my growth and have helped me get to this next level thank you for everything!! Love you! Mike Wilson, I don’t even know where to begin!! If it weren’t for you NONE of this would be possible! You have done so much for me and have asked for nothing in return, you have opened my eye to so much not only in martial arts but in a lot of life situations! Words can’t describe how thankful I am to have you as a coach, mentor, friend and my family! Love you! Mike Pagano, my rock, my heart, my anchor!! Words can’t describe what you mean to me! Thank you for coming into my life at the perfect time (OK well maybe earlier would have been better!!! haha). You have shown me so much and I truly am grateful for you and everything you do. You are my life partner on and off the mats and I love you!”
Doors for the fight open at 6:00 pm and fights start at 7:00 pm. Reserve seating and Ringside tickets available. For Ticket Information visit www.livecasinohotel.com or call (443) 842-7000 at Arundel Mills. Must be 21.