Lisa Ellis doesn’t just have one job. On some days, it seems like she has them all.
Ellis and her husband, Eddy, own a gym in Olympia, Wash., and also live in the back of the facility in a small studio. Ellis does just about everything — advertising, clerical work, taxes, accounting. And, most importantly, she has had another gig for the past year: mother. The Ellises’ first daughter, Elenor, was born in 2013.
So, when the opportunity came for Ellis to try out for "The Ultimate Fighter," she was hesitant. How could she just leave Eddy with all the work at the gym plus the responsibility of taking care of Elenor all by himself?
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"It just makes me want to cry thinking about it," Ellis told FOX Sports. "It was just hard to leave her."
It just makes me want to cry thinking about it. It was just hard to leave her.
It was Eddy who pushed her to go to TUF tryouts in April. Ellis, 31, has been a pro MMA fighter for 10 years, competing for a multitude of organizations like Bellator, Invicta FC, Bodog Fight and DEEP. She has fought all over the world. Eddy, himself, competed on the 14th season of "The Ultimate Fighter." Both knew the opportunity to make it in the UFC was too good for her to pass up.
With some prodding, Ellis went to Las Vegas and it ended up being the right decision. She got picked for the show, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.
"I just know I have so much more to give this sport," Ellis said.
Now, she has added another job to her slate: UFC fighter. Ellis had a hard time dealing with being away from Elenor, Eddy and United Training Center, but the ability to just focus on improving as a fighter was a breath of fresh air. That’s not a luxury she enjoys at home.
"I’ve never been able to just concentrate on training," Ellis said. "I’m sitting their hitting mitts and I’m thinking about credit cards I need to run."
Ellis (15-8) is one of the elder stateswomen of the show. Angela Hill only has one professional fight and Rosa Namajunas has just three. Ellis, meanwhile, has been doing this whole women’s MMA thing almost from the start — long before Ronda Rousey helped bring females into the UFC in 2013.
Ellis had her first pro fight in 2004. She has beaten the likes of Jessica Aguilar, Stephanie Frausto and fellow TUF contestant Aisling Daly and has fallen to notable names like Megumi Fujii (twice) and TUF castmate Jessica Penne. Ellis even spent a good chunk of her pro career competing in Japan before Invicta FC became a destination for women’s fighting in the United States.
Those weren’t easy times. Ellis was a wrestling champion in college and was called a lesbian. When she made the decision to become an MMA fighter, her family was turned off.
"My parents hated it at a first," Ellis said. "They said, ‘What are you doing? This is ridiculous.’"
Mixed martial arts, though, has become a way of life and means of income. The Ellises founded United six years ago and have lived in the back of the gym ever since. It hasn’t always been easy, but the two work incredibly hard to make ends meet.
"It has been a huge struggle staying afloat, but business is progressively getting better," Ellis said.
When Eddy returned home from filming TUF 14, they made a decision to have a baby. Eleanor was born last year and has changed the family’s life for the better. But she also forced Ellis to put her MMA career on the back burner.
I did have moments on the show where I was like, ‘Hmm this is a little too early.’
Ellis has not fought since before she got pregnant. Her last bout came in July 2012, a submission win over Amy Davis for UCS Caged Combat. It was only natural there was some reluctance when tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter came up. Those didn’t cease, either, once Ellis got into the house. She always knew she’d get back in the cage, she just didn’t know if she was ready so soon after Elenor’s birth.
"I did have moments on the show where I was like, ‘Hmm, this is a little too early,’" Ellis said.
She has no regrets now. The UFC never seemed like a possibility for the majority of Ellis’ decade-long career. But it is now and she’s right where she’s always known she belonged.
"I love this sport and I was excited [UFC president] Dana White changed his mind," Ellis said. "A UFC contract means so much to me."