KANSAS CITY, Mo. — She wakes up every morning with a screaming headache, a little hand bell that goes off inside her skull intermittently from sunup to sundown. There’s the occasional dizzy spell, out of the blue, the swell that drops a bad day to crappy and a good day to mixed.
Still, she wants back in there. Rachel Wray wants in there so freaking bad.
"If I get another concussion, it will be extremely unfortunate, but this time — since I learned my lesson the hard way, if I do get one — I will definitely not fight," Wray, the former NFL cheerleader-turned-mixed-martial-artist, tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "I have to take care of my body because this sport has no mercy and if you aren’t careful you can end your career forever. I just have to be extra careful for my next fight’s training camp to not get hit too hard in my head.
"The doctor said after you get one concussion, they start coming more and more easily, so I have to be more cautious than people who haven’t ever had one."
Wray still has a scar from one particular training session in late June. Unfortunately, that scar’s in her brain.
The ex-Kansas City Chiefs cheer squad member, now based in her native Arkansas, took a kick to the eye while preparing for a bout at Attitude MMA Fights II on July 12 against Jamie "The Pretty Assassin" Clinton and says the blow left her concussed.
She fought anyway.
In hindsight, she wishes she hadn’t.
"I shouldn’t have fought, but there’s no changing it," says Wray, who lost Attitude’s 135-pound women’s title via a submission in the first round. And by submission, we mean a guillotine choke that caused her to black out, that she described as "the same feeling as dying."
"So I have to learn from it," says Wray, who sports a 2-2 amateur record, "and move forward."
Gingerly. The July 12 bout apparently made a bad situation worse, and doctors advised a summer off. But Wray still has the MMA bug — and has it bad. She’s planning on competing at an American Grappling Federation tournament on Aug. 23 in Oklahoma City, and is hoping to drop five to eight pounds to compete in a lower weight class at the event, where she won gold last year.
"After losing I have so much pent-up frustration because my last fight was a complete embarrassment," Wray says, "and in no way does it display my actual abilities.
"I plan to videotape all my matches and upload them to YouTube, so my fans out there can see how hard I have been working this past year. My ground game has improved immensely and my wrestling and judo have gotten pretty good as well."
But no sparring, no contact, no risking of blows to the head. Wray says she was told to avoid any and all sparring until at least mid-September. She says the earliest she could fight again, realistically, is October or November.
"The biggest obstacle in my way is that my mom insists that I quit fighting for good," says Wray, a member of the Chiefs’ cheer squad in 2011 and ’12. "And this is a major obstacle for me.
"I love my mom and don’t want her to be worried about me, and when I fight she worries herself to death. My dad is still good with it, but my mom said she would feel like a bad mother for not telling me to stop fighting after seeing me get badly hurt."
In the meantime, it’s going to be all about the ground game. And, perhaps, more than a little internal wrestling as well.
Head versus heart. Passion in one corner, conscience in the other.
"I have seen this firsthand how the medical community views a concussion, versus how the fighting community views it," Wray says. "In the fighting community, everyone’s just like, ‘Oh, just a concussion? No big deal. You just get headaches and then you’re fine.’ And yet every single doctor I have seen has seen my concussion as a major problem and suggested I stop fighting altogether.
"So that has been interesting to me, seeing the two different sides of it. I’m somewhere stuck in the middle. I care about my health, but I care equally about my sport. I can’t live without fighting. It is my world and the love of my life. So after this whole deal, I’m going to have to be very, very, very careful not to get hurt again. I guess that means I just have to make sure I keep my hands up."