Megan Anderson will fight proudly as an Aussie when she takes on French fighter Zarah Fairn dos Santos on Sunday. (Facebook: Megan Anderson MMA)
Megan Anderson has overcome a suicide attempt, depression and ongoing mental demons to reach the pinnacle of one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports on the planet.
- Megan Anderson says she felt she was drowning while in the military
- She has always had an interest in boxing and says it’s the only sport she’s good at
- Anderson says having a UFC fight on home soil has long been her dream
Tomorrow, the six-foot cage fighter from the Gold Coast takes on France’s Zarah Fairn dos Santos on the undercard of UFC 243 (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in Melbourne, in what is shaping as the biggest mixed martial arts events ever staged in Australia.
But her hardest battle has been outside the ring — called the octagon — striving to overcome mental demons that stem from her childhood.
“A lot of stuff is issues from my own childhood and dealing with that and processing that,” she said.
“My dad was an alcoholic and there was a lot of issues with that in the family environment and I was bullied at school.”
After school, at the age of 18, Anderson followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Australian Defence Force Academy, where she trained to become an officer.
Anderson is a former Invicta Fighting Championships (IFC) featherweight champion. (Facebook: Megan Anderson MMA)
“I did attempt suicide at the start of 2010 while I was still in the military and it was one of the reasons. I was like, this isn’t for me, and I needed to find something else that I was passionate about,” Anderson said.
“I got to a point where I had no self-esteem and I just felt like I was drowning, and I had no way out.
“I kind of shoved it down for a really long time and got to a point when I couldn’t anymore.”
Anderson was medically discharged from the ADF and decided to return home to the Gold Coast, where she discovered mixed martial arts after a chance meeting with a local trainer.
“I was always interested in watching boxing, and I would go watch local boxing fight nights on the Gold Coast with my friend.”
“I told him of my interest in boxing and he was like, ‘well, if you want to come in and have a try, see if you like it,’ and a couple of months later, I decided to and that was it.
“Oddly enough, it’s the only sport that I have actually been able to pick up and not be terrible at.”
Anderson, now 29, has had a rapid rise since making her professional debut in 2013 and has a record of nine wins and four losses.
But she admitted she struggles with the scrutiny that comes with being a professional fighter.
“For my last couple of fights, I’ve had a little bit more anxiety about competing just because everything was building up,” she said.
“I take to heart trolls online and what they say about me. I was letting it eat at me and my lack of confidence in myself just from my own personal issues outside of fighting.”
Anderson says she has felt much better since working with a mental health coach. (Facebook: Megan Anderson MMA)
UFC dietitian Tyler Minton, who has worked with Anderson, said online bullying was rife in the UFC and particularly nasty when directed towards female fighters.
“Megan is under scrutiny more than any athlete I’ve ever worked with,” Ms Minton said.
“She’s an extremely mentally strong person. Any time anyone comes out saying they’re struggling with any mental health issues, people just assume it’s mental weakness — it’s not.
“The strong people are the ones who are willing to face it head-on and talk about it publicly and hope that they impact other people.”
Anderson has a “huge” presence in the ring, says Tyler Minton. (Facebook: Megan Anderson MMA)
Anderson now meets regularly with a mental health coach as a way to help handle the pressure.
“After starting to see my mental health coach it’s so much better,” she said.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, I put so much pressure on myself and expect so much that I was creating unrealistic expectations of myself.
“I feel like now I’m at peace with the process and just enjoying everything.”
Ms Minton described Anderson’s presence in the octagon as “huge”.
“She’s the biggest 145er (145 pounds or 66 kilograms weight category) about in the UFC in the women’s, which makes her the biggest female fighter in the UFC,” she said.
“We’re just training and doing everything for the best Megan, because we know the best Megan is going to beat anyone she fights.”
French fighter Zarah Fairn dos Santos will enter the octagon against Anderson in Melbourne on Sunday. (Facebook: Zarah-Farin)
Anderson said a UFC bout in Australia has been her goal for a long time.
“I feel like everything has come full circle,” she said.
“I’m where I’m supposed to be, I’m in the best shape, I’m in the best mental shape and I’m excited to show everything that I’m capable of.”