Angela Hill has lived in a number of places. Everywhere she has been, she’s seen the same thing: a lack of women of color competing in martial arts.
Whether it be New York City or Asheville, N.C., where Hill trains now, there’s a scarcity of black women in MMA. There are plenty of black men — some of them are among the best fighters in the world — but hardly any black women at all.
"I feel like we don’t have many role models when it comes to that," Hill told FOX Sports. "Whenever I see a young black girl come into the gym, I look so creepy, because I’m like, ‘Hey, you want me to hold pads for you?! You have to turn your hips more.’ I really get excited because I’ll see them come in, see they have potential, but it’s so easy to get turned off from fighting, because there’s all sorts of other distractions. There’s so much else to get into that’s a lot easier. Fighting is like really f***ing hard."
Hill has a chance to be one of those role models. When she was chosen to compete on this season’s "The Ultimate Fighter," the 29-year-old got the opportunity to become the first African American woman to fight in the UFC. Germaine de Randamie, who competes in the women’s bantamweight division, is black, but is from Holland. Hill was born in Maryland and her family’s roots in the United States go back generations.
I feel like we don’t have many role models when it comes to that. Whenever I see a young black girl come into the gym, I look so creepy, because I’m like, ‘Hey, you want me to hold pads for you?! You have to turn your hips more.’
-Angela Hill on African American women in MMA
This is not a chance Hill is taking lightly.
"I’m hoping that I can encourage some young girls to start training and really see that it’s cool to do it," she said. "A lot of people don’t realize that it’s an option that’s available for us."
The road to get into the "Ultimate Fighter" women’s strawweight tournament, which will crown the first-ever UFC champion in the weight class, has been a long one, but that had more to do with geography. Hill attended college at prestigious Cooper Union in New York City and stayed there after graduation. She now lives in Brooklyn.
Hill got into martial arts to get into shape and found her way to Evolution Muay Thai in Manhattan. Gradually, she got better — good enough to fight professionally. But attempting to find opponents in New York, where the MMA culture is not strong, proved difficult. Pro MMA fights aren’t even legal to hold in the state.
"In New York, you have to have three or four jobs if you want to be a professional fighter that have nothing to do with fighting," said Hill, who went 14-0 as an amateur Muay Thai fighter and also competed for Lion Fight, the pro Muay Thai organization. "It’s tough."
Needing a change, Hill moved part-time to Asheville, N.C., in the spring to train at Blackeye. Leaving her husband Adam Pryde (a fellow fighter) was tough, but it was down there that she got her first pro MMA fight — just two days before the "Ultimate Fighter" tryouts in April. Hill knocked out her opponent in the second round.
She knew it was a long shot she would be taken for the show, because she had the least amount of professional experience out of any of the women’s strawweights in Las Vegas trying out. But after working out and sparring, she caught the eye of someone important: UFC president Dana White.
Hill said White loved her striking ability. But she was still stunned when she was picked for "TUF."
"When he called my name, I was like what?!" Hill said. "He was like, ‘You only have one fight, but you have some crazy striking.’ That’s how I got in. The big man, he likes what he saw. I’m hoping to keep impressing him. … Obviously, you’re going to be confident in your own technique and everything. You’re gonna think you’re the best. But when someone like that says it to you, that’s just like complete validation. F***ing Dana White, who’s seen millions of the best guys and girls — whoever — strike, thinks that my striking is on point."
We’ll all find out how Hill does on the show, starting Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FOX Sports 1. But she’ll be in the UFC afterward — all the contestants will be. That’s a significant accomplishment in itself.
The potential to be someone African American girls look up to is there. Hill said Blackeye just started a program for disadvantaged kids and she’s looking to get more involved in it. A few teens came into the gym and watched her spar before she went to Las Vegas for the show and they were floored.
"They were so into it," Hill said. "All you need to do is give somebody something to get excited about. Then all of a sudden they see life is not worth f***ing up. There’s this thing they care about and they want to do better."