Serena DeJesus is ready to embark on her career and turn her dream as professional MMA fighter into a reality. The 23 year old DeJesus hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania representing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United gym. She is an undefeated AMMY fighter with a 2-0 Muay Thai record and a MMA record of 1-0. Dejesus is now ready to put all the hard work of training she has put into the sport the last 5 years, to the test as she travels to Las Vegas to join the cast of MMA Fight house. She is now booked to face Cheyenne Hinsey on April 17th inside the Veil at the Silverton Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can also watch the drama unfold at www.RealMixedMartialArts.com and on the Real MMA youtube channel, it was also air MyLvTV if you’re a Las Vegas resident.
Let’s start from the beginning, what first led you into MMA?
There are a lot of things that first led me into MMA. When I was a little girl who was always picked on at school along with me and my mom escaping an abusive house hold and growing up I watched a lot of Sailor Moon, Power Rangers, and playing a lot of the video game franchises Tekken and Street Fighter. I always wanted to learn how to kick butt and save the day just like my heroes on the screen. Later on, when my mom met my dad he introduced me to UFC when it was still new and in what is now referred to as the “UFC Dark Ages” where I saw legends like Gary Goodridge, Tank Abbot, and all these others fighters and I was in awe because these people were living the dream I always wanted. I had been a fan of MMA for the longest time from watching the rise and fall of PRIDE, StrikeForce, etc and of course staying with UFC. I didn’t get into training until I was 18 because I was always active into other sports throughout high school and when that ended I was looking for something to do. I saw this gym I always kept passing by called “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United” and I came on in and the rest was history.
Why don’t you tell me a little about your gym and where you train?
I train out of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United, my head coach is Jared Weiner aka the” TOUGHEST “dude you’ll ever meet. He runs a tight ship and has an absolutely sick BJJ game. Watching him teach the BJJ classes new moves is like watching poetry in motion. I also have other coaches who help such as Dina Salverian, Chris Tufts, Bobby Detris, “Basketball” Mike, Tom, Harold, and many others who have helped my ground game along. Now in Muay Thai my coach is Justin LaBarge, he’s been training Muay Thai for 7-9 years and trains a lot in Thailand in Sinbi Muay Thai, he’s a very patient man and looks like an average in shape dude and is generally a cool dude who throws in some random pop culture references into his jokes, but don’t let that fool you. He’s an extremely talented teacher and also a really challenging person to spar. One moment you’re standing up in the clinch with you, the next you’re all tripped up and on the mats. I’ve made so many friends here and I love my teammates cause I can chat with them and they push me to be my best no matter how tired I am, I think it’s a great place for people no matter if they want to get in shape or be like me and compete or be in the middle.
What is your favorite style that you like to train?
Muay Thai by far, I don’t know if this is a left brain, right brain kind of thing but I tend to pick up on the striking game a lot easier than I do grappling. I feel like grappling has more puzzle pieces to put together in order to get the whole move right then Muay Thai but I know people who say the same thing who love grappling better than striking so everyone’s different I guess. Muay Thai has been my favorite and so much that when my teacher Justin LaBarge offered to take people to Thailand with him I jumped on the offer and was so grateful. Thailand is such a beautiful place to train and visit and hopefully I can go back soon to Thailand and to Sinbi Muay Thai to train.
When you are not training or fighting what would we find you doing?
Video gaming, drowning in schoolwork and chilling with my friends who I don’t see as often as people think because I train so much and do all my college and normal work and help my family out.
What advantages do you think that you have over opponents?
Tricky question, however I think it’s because of my so called “awkward striking style” dubbed by John Wood of Syndicate MMA. I would also say because I’m a southpaw but that’s nothing all that special and people can eventually learn how to handle them if they’re alerted beforehand that their opponent stands left handed. On the ground I’m notorious for my shoulder pressure in side control. I like to crush people’s jaws away from where they are trying to escape because if they head faces away from the body it makes it harder for them to escape.
Autism has affected my career but not nearly as much as it used to. Since I have started training my symptoms have lessened and I have grown a lot more socially. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when I was 13 years old after multiple diagnoses ranging from ADHD to Bipolar disorder and basically made a lab rat my whole childhood because of all the different pills they threw at me hoping some “magical” cure would happen. To this day I highly resent the mental health community of their ways of trying to treat problems. In my opinion they don’t do more than talk to people and say “hey kid take these and if they don’t work and the side effects don’t harm you we’ll try something else”, but I digress since picking up BJJ, Muay Thai, and MMA in general I’ve been more or less in a good way forced to confront my social anxieties and grow as a human being. Some things still affect me as I overthink a lot of things in class and it shows on my face to the point Jared sees it and tells me nicely to “stop over thinking the moves” and then I snap out of the momentary fog in my head and remember what I got to do and complete the move set. Now when it comes to fights and watching other people spar to learn styles it’s actually a help to me as I LOVE to break things down piece by piece to see how they work. Fights, pens, you name it, if I can piece by piece learn the inner workings of things and put them on my own it helps me a lot so I can learn things better. It’s not an exactly time savvy process but when given the adequate amount of time I can learn a lot that way together.
In the news everywhere you look another fighter is getting caught for failed drug tests, what do you think about PED use in the sport?
I personally think that it’s an embarrassment to the sport, you got people failing left and right and sure some may say it’s because these promotions up and made testing stronger and that’s why all these athletes are being caught but the fact of the matter remains that fighters are getting caught and too damn many of them. Sure they may get hate for it and all that but what do the majority of these fighters get? All they get is suspension and fines? I mean it’s a good step in the right direction however, 1) these rules aren’t exactly hindering people from trying to cheat the system anyways 2) some escape punishment entirely like Jon Bones Jones for example which is unfair. I believe every fighter should be made a cautionary tale out of because not everyone cares about cleaning up their act when they’re exposed. It seems a lot will do it again and try to feign innocence and it sincerely bugs me. I get it that these fighters have jobs, titles, records on the line but is that really worth being a fraud over and as Ronda Rousey said could cost another fighter their life cause someone all doped up really hurt someone else? I don’t think so. I believe there needs to be stronger testing such as the blood AND urine tests that are now being done and people who are caught have longer bans and those who violate the rules more than once are kicked out of the pro MMA world entirely.
You are currently on your way to Las Vegas to live in a fight house before your next fight, why don’t you tell us about that?
Ready for a long story? Well if not too bad *laughs* Last summer I was supposed to go to Thailand on my own however the country had some crazy political problems that had gotten so bad martial law was declared in Thailand and my parents expressed a lot of concern on me going there. So after some thought I reached out to my hero (now best friend ever) Roxanne Modaferri and asked her if it was cool for me to come train at Syndicate MMA which is where she trains out now that she’s back in the US. So I spent two months there and had an amazing time and learned a lot and we have kept in constant contact and visited each other and all. So, late last month I got a call from Roxy who sounded almost out of breath but excited. I found it rather odd that she called me because normally we would skype or text each other but she told me that there was this promotion called “Real MMA” run by a local water company out in Las Vegas called Real Water and they were looking for another female to be in this reality show. This show will be filming me and all the other fighters living in the house training hard as humanly possible for six weeks getting ready for an AMMY MMA fight on April 17th. Those fighters who really stand out and show they got heart, talent and a good attitude, etc will stay in the house and eventually go pro and all. I’m really happy for the opportunity to be coming back to my second home at Syndicate MMA and I’m also happy that out of all the other AMMY MMA girls that could have possibly been chosen including those a lot closer I was chosen instead. I’m going to bust my butt off because I wish to show the world that being autistic does not mean that one cannot rise to the occasion and be successful. Win or lose I hope to inspire others whoever they may autistic or not.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
The biggest challenges I have faced in my career is getting my nerves in check and adapting to new, unfamiliar territory. After training for a few years I wanted to start fighting, I thought that I had this in the bag because of how long I trained and everything would seem easy. BJJ tournaments I got pre fight jitters however those subsided once the matches began. Now to my first striking match I came in feeling ready to go however as my match came closer and closer I began to get overwhelmed and breaking out in a bit of a cold sweat. Little did I realize that my own nerves were sabotaging me, I had trained so hard against people way over my weight class with my coaches advising me in class and I felt so ready only for it to start falling apart. All my technique that I prided myself on went out the window, all that was left in my head was the thought to survive as I went through the rounds. At the end of three rounds I felt that I did so poorly, I was disgusted with myself and thought I lost however I ended up on the good side of a split decision and made it a goal of mine to try and get to the root of my pre fight jitters and make it work for me, the Muay Thai fight I had I was successful with it and won via TKO, in December 2014 at Matrix Fights 9 in my MMA debut I faltered a little with my nerves I guess because of a new environment transitioning from ropes to cages and dealing with people who like to grapple off the cages. However after one round I got myself back together and won my fight in the third round via rear naked choke and it was the best feeling in the world. I just hope I can keep putting on a good show and fight my hardest throughout my career
Thank you for taking the time out and talking to me, last question have I for you. As always, is there anyone or a sponsor you would like to talk about that are supporting you going into this fight?
As always I’d like to thank Brazilian Jiu Jitsu United for supporting me and helping me grow not only as a fighter but as a human being. This place has really changed me and has been better for me then all the therapy in the world. I also like to thank my family for supporting me and my dreams and coming to all my fights. I would also like to thank Rob Hamilton of Aardvark Painting for his amazing support and enthusiasm following my career; I’d also like to thank Julie Luey of Mei-Li Fighting for supporting my journey as well and for keeping me looking hella fresh in all the awesome fight shorts and shirts that she makes. They really feel nice and hold up just as well as my Hayabusa shorts, I’d also like to thank Triple A Landscaping for supporting me and having my back when I need new hand wraps and things of that nature. Also I’d like to thank all the members of the Cage Fighter Group on Facebook for supporting me and encouraging me and making me laugh while spreading the word about me. It means a lot to have a big group of people behind me supporting little old me as I try to climb to the top so from the bottom of my heart I thank you all. Also thank you for taking the time out of your day to interview me, I hope I kept things interesting.
By: Michelle Luce