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Fargo MMA fighter brings strength to the ring

Mariah Prussia founded a self-defense nonprofit for women and children, runs a women-focused fitness center and gives motivational speeches at women's empowerment events in the region.

Prussia
Mariah Prussia works out on an elliptical exerciser Friday, April 25, 2014, at her gym in south Fargo, N.D., before weighing in later in the day for her mixed-martial arts fight Saturday. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Mariah Prussia founded a self-defense nonprofit for women and children, runs a women-focused fitness center and gives motivational speeches at women's empowerment events in the region.

So it might seem a little incongruous that in all that feminine solidarity, the thing that really gets her going these days is beating the stuffing out of another woman.

"It's unpredictable - the nervous energy!" said Prussia, who is swathed, Rocky Balboa-like, in heavy exercise clothes as she sweats off 6 pounds on the elliptical in time for today's bantamweight bout.

Her lean 5-foot-7-inch frame all but hidden by her attire, her fitness level is much more apparent than her gender.

But when the irony hits her - nurturing women's issues leader turned mixed martial arts fighter - a girly giggle floats out from under the baseball cap.

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"Until I had my first child, I didn't really connect with the female side" of things, said Prussia, who is raising two boys, ages 8 and 2, on her own.

She found that becoming a parent gave her common ground with other women - namely, that pregnancy and parenting takes a toll on one's former fitness levels.

It led her to open her own gym, Xtreme Measures Women's Health and Fitness, seven years ago, where she could know all her clients by name, and set her own hours, in order to be with her sons.

But in February 2013, the then-kickboxing teacher found herself training with a male mixed martial artist named Dane Sayers.

She found herself intrigued by the sport, by its demands for discipline and technique, a combination of judo, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

"Once you get to a certain point in life, you want to reach for more. I don't believe in settling," said Prussia.

Her attitude pushed her through a torn Achilles tendon in June, after which she trained exclusively on groundwork - wrestling and other hand-to-hand combat - to spare the ankle that was less than half recovered when she won her next fight.

The attitude is one Prussia developed as a kid, growing up on a farm near Hendrum, Minn., with a father who worked out of town and a mother who'd been disabled in an accident when Prussia was only 5.

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Today she's already taught a morning kickboxing class before logging an hour on the elliptical.

Then, she'll sweat off as much as she can in a sauna before weigh-in.

A friend finishes her own workout, and gives Prussia a few words of support as she heads out the door. Prussia still has at least another half-hour to go.

"Am I a fan? No," she said, of today's approach to weight loss, certainly not something she'd ever encourage any of her clients to do. "I'm doing this for a sport."

She's heading straight to Hu-Hot Mongolian Grill after weigh-in, to eat and rehydrate, she said.

There's a struggle, too, to anticipate people's reactions to her as an athlete. They are sometimes taken aback by the sight of a woman holding another woman in a chokehold.

The violence can be jarring for those who have never seen an MMA training session, Prussia said.

But she can't spend much time worrying what other people are going to think of her, in the long run, she said.

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Weigh-in is less than eight hours away, and Prussia is going up against another 2-0 opponent.

Prussia has a good 3 inches on the other fighter, but unlike Prussia, this woman has a strong boxing background to bring to the bout.

"I always go into a fight humble and confident," she said. "I don't know what my strength is."

Good luck picking just one.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541

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