Lewiston, Maine (September 4, 2016) - Rachael Joyce has her civil engineering degree from the University of Maine. Jessica Borga is a veterinary technician from Lakeland, Florida.
Read those one-line biographies of the two women and they probably do not fit whatever is your personal profile of a mixed-martial-artist. And perhaps that presumption, and maybe a lingering societal bias against female fighters, is the reason Joyce and Borga have struggled mightily to find opponents in their corners of the country.
Each woman will end what is almost a one-year hiatus from the cage when Joyce (1-0) welcomes Borga (2-1) to Maine in a bantamweight bout at “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains.” New England Fights returns to its hub venue, Androscoggin Bank Colisee, on Saturday, September 10.
“I’ve had one fight, last October. I’ve found it really hard to find fights. It’s just tough. Maine doesn’t have the population density for it. It’s just hard to find that pool of fighters,” Joyce said. “Early in your career you want to build that experience close to home. It’s the best thing for your whole team, given the commitment that is involved.”
Joyce, who lives in the Penobscot County village of Veazie, splits her training time between Bangor, Portland and Boston.
The competitive grass is no greener for Borga, who is known to her fans as “The Black Widow” and is coached by Ross Kellin.
“My coach has scheduled fights for me that have fallen through. I was supposed to fight eight times this year, and this will be my first one.
Borga was beaten badly in her previous bout, a November 2015 clash against Caitlin Sammons for which she weighed in at 126.5 pounds, just above the flyweight limit.
She said that women feel added pressure to make drastic weight cuts due to the lack of available fight opportunities, and in her case it was especially dangerous.
“I learned that I will never fight at 125 again,” Borga said “It was my own fault. I lost 25 pounds in two weeks. I was sick in camp, and I fought sick.”
Before the episode was over, Borga was hospitalized twice with strep throat, a kidney infection and a bladder infection.
“I do believe (the weight cut) was part of it,” she said. “You’re putting that strain on your body and your mind. My mental game struggled with what I had to put myself through. I think it’s harder for women, also. I won’t ever do that again. I learned that it’s better to withdraw than to take a loss.”
Borga has experienced no such issues in this camp. She said her energy level is way up and that she can train harder for longer periods of time.
She also is eager to visit from the Sunshine State, an eagerness that isn’t lost on her opponent.
“When an opponent is flying up from Florida, that’s exciting,” Joyce said. “It shows that she’s really committed to it. It is hard to find opponents who are as committed as you are.”
Both women are BJJ blue belts. Joyce has trained in the discipline for more than two years.
It is an extension of her childhood, when she played three varsity sports in each year of high school. She joked that she strongly considered a fourth.
“I was always the girl who tried to convince my parents to let me play football,” Joyce said. “They would not hear any of it. I’m sure they’re thrilled that their 20-something-year-old daughter is now a fighter. No, they’re supportive, but now it’s my decision.”
Joyce never tried individual sports before the combat realm, but she quickly developed into a fan of women’s MMA as it exploded in popularity at the UFC level.
“Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey were coming up, and then (UFC president) Dana White had his famous line that ‘there will never be women in UFC,” Joyce said. “I saw what they were doing and I said, ‘I can do that. I’m going to do that.’”
Now the women wait for a spike in female participation that has not appeared to follow the success of those international role models.
Joyce said she received invitations to fight in New Jersey earlier this year but that those, also, would have required an uncomfortable cut to a same-day weigh-in of 125 or even 115 pounds.
So she retreated into a game of train-and-wait. Thanks to the like-minded, equally fight-challenged Borga, the wait is almost over.
“I’ve always loved MMA, always loved fighting. I guess I was known for that as a kid. Everybody who knows me always pushed me to get into this,” Borga said. “I tried eight years ago and found out right away that I was pregnant, so that put a stop to it. When my son turned five, I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ I started training and developed really fast. My coaches said I had a knack for it.”
The opening bell on September 10 is set for 7 p.m. The current docket for “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains” includes four professional boxing matches, six pro mixed martial arts bouts and five amateur MMA scraps. Tickets start at $25 and are available at www.TheColisee.com or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.
For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com. In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”