From The Air Force To The Octagon: An Interview With UFC Hopeful Leah Letson

Image source: Leah Letson's Instagram

The newest season of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters is focusing not only on the heavyweight men, but also the UFC’s newest women’s division: the featherweights. This is a unique opportunity for many up-and-coming fighters to get themselves out there to showcase their abilities. Leah Letson, an Air Force veteran and professional MMA fighter out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of those women hoping break into the UFC in a big way via the Ultimate Fighter. She caught up with us to talk about her recent experience filming the show, and how her military background helped her stay focused while competing on the show.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How long have you been training? What rank do you hold? What are some of your accomplishments?

Leah Letson: I have been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for almost 6 years now. I am currently a purple belt. Unfortunately, between MMA fights and military obligations, I’ve only been able to compete three times. I took silver in no-gi at my first tournament, I took home gold in gi and no-gi at my second and third tournaments.

JJT: What did you learn from your experience on The Ultimate Fighter and how has it changed your training?

Letson: Honestly, I learned a lot about myself as a person and a fighter on the show. The training I received on the show was sub-par compared to what I am used to at home. I am normally training 5 times a day Monday through Friday, and one sparring session on Saturdays at home. On the show we were only training twice a day Monday through Friday and once on Saturdays. We never sparred and rarely hit pads. Our training sessions were not very intense, so I had to take it upon myself to get the training I needed. I was doing sprints and running on my own to keep up my cardio. I also had one of the heavyweight men on the show assist me with strength training at the house. I also had one of the guys from my team hold pads for me at the house.

The fact that I had to coach and train myself, showed me that I can overcome any adversity thrown my way. It also showed me my discipline and dedication is completely unmatched, even at the highest levels of the sport. Even with others on the show drinking and eating whatever they wanted, I was able to stay focused and maintain my strict diet. The fact that I was still able to do well and stay focused with no coaching and no one around to hold me accountable shows me that I am on the right track to becoming the champion with my training, diet and lifestyle back home.

JJT: Do you think your military background helped give you an edge on the competition, and how did it help you physically and mentally while filming?

Letson: I definitely think that military background helped me do well on the show. Being cut off from society, away from friends and family for an extended period of time, and put into an uncomfortable living situation with strangers from all over the world is something I got used to being in the military. Most people have never experience anything like that before. I have. It showed too because many people start to get antsy and lose focus on the end goal. Having experienced similar situations a few times before, I believe it helped me stay focused and do well on the show.

JJT: How do you balance military service and being an active MMA fighter?

Letson: Balancing MMA and military service has been difficult at times, but I believe over the past 5 years, I’ve gotten quite good at pursuing both careers. It requires some sacrifice on both ends, but it is possible. Last year I had to put my MMA career on hold for 8 months due to a deployment to the Middle East. Ever since I got back, though, I have been able to really focus on my MMA training. Being in the Air National Guard gives me the flexibility I need to be an active MMA fighter.

Now that I’m done with my deployment, I serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year. My supervisors have also been flexible with my fights. In fact, they allowed me to take a week off of annual field training in August so that I could film The Ultimate Fighter. I went up to my base for a week in June in order to make it up. I am very grateful they have been willing to work with me so that I can continue to pursue both careers.

Tune in to watch The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters every Wednesday night at 10 PM ET on Fox Sports 1.


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