Las Vegas, NV — Following a submission loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC Vegas 56 on Saturday, longtime strawweight veteran Felice Herrig called it a career.
Laying down her gloves in the cage, Herrig signaled the end to a fighting journey that began all the way back in 2005, in kickboxing. “Lil Bulldog” transitioned to MMA as a pro in 2009, eventually competing for Invicta FC, Bellator, and since 2014, the UFC.
The decision to call it a career comes after a third consecutive loss, and double ACL surgeries— but Herrig was not willing to let the knee injuries force her out of the sport. Which meant competing once more was key for the 37-year old.
“It wasn’t so much about the win or the loss. I’ve known for a while that like, maybe my heart wasn’t in fighting anymore,” Herrig told media outlets including Cageside Press following the fight. “I enjoyed the training process, I enjoyed everything about it. I had the two knee surgeries, and that was not the way I was going to go out in the sport. I wasn’t going to let an injury hold me back. I wanted to prove to myself, and nobody else, that I can overcome two ACL surgeries and get back to being in the best shape of my life and come back and fight at the top level in the UFC.”
She did just that, continued Herrig, “but I also knew in the process that if I didn’t feel what I wanted to feel in the cage, that I was going to retire. I don’t like the nerves of— it’s like a roller coaster ride, you get those nerves and those butterflies and the anxiety, and I just don’t like that feeling anymore.” Herrig also noted that her legs felt heavy in the fight. “I just felt heavy and I just didn’t feel like, not that I didn’t try to push the pace, but I just didn’t have that extra little ‘umph’ to really fight out of bad positions.”
With such a lengthy combat sports career behind her, Herrig isn’t sure if the issue is mental or physical, but at the end of the day, the result is the same. “I’ve been doing this sport for twenty years, it takes a toll on your mentally and physically. So yeah, part of me did know that it was maybe going to be my last fight, and I said that if I felt great in there and I had the desire to really push the pace, then I would continue on in this sport. But I said that if I didn’t have it in me… I just felt something in there that I didn’t— I went after it, and I actually loved getting hit, that wasn’t like— I was like ‘yeah, that felt kind of good,’ which is weird, but I just didn’t, like, I just wanted the fight to be over. I’m not saying I gave up, I just realized, this isn’t for me anymore.”
An emotional Herrig said she still expected success once she got in the cage. “What’s the point if I can’t perform well? Then I might as well just go to the gym and do what I love; go to my kickboxing classes, and do my Yoga and do my strength training and just train for me. I don’t know. It’s just really sad for me, because I think too, as a fighter who’s been doing it for so long, you think like ‘what am I going to do when I’m not fighting?'”
That said, Herrig is aware she has more opportunities, and got to a point before the fight that she knew she had more to offer the world “then just Felice Herrig the fighter.” There’s also the potential of a move to boxing, which Herrig called “my first love.”
Early in her combat sports career, “everything was going towards MMA, and that’s why I got into MMA. And I don’t know I ever really loved it,” admitted Herrig. “And I know that’s really sad to say, and it seems like I’m a traitor or a fake or whatever, like ‘oh you don’t love MMA, you’ve been doing it so long.’ I know people are going to talk sh*t about me, like ‘oh no wonder you lost, your heart’s not in it,’ whatever. People are going to say whatever they want, but I never loved MMA. I love it in training, but I really love boxing. That has always been my first love. So maybe everything’s going to just come full circle.”
With Herrig making her exit from MMA, she can now look back at a successful career, first love or not. Asked about her favorite win, one stood out in particular: “Alexa Grasso.”
“So when I fought Alexa Grasso, I was a 3-1 underdog. I knew Grasso was an up-and-comer, and she is a great fighter, she is a badass, but everybody underestimated me,” recalled Herrig. “They were always talking about how great her striking was and ‘oh Felice couldn’t strike with her,’ and I’m like ‘do you not even know that I have 30-something kickboxing fights?’ I feel like people, they want to look at all these up-and-comers like they’re like a god, and they kind of dismiss people that have actually been in the sport a long time and accomplished a lot, because it’s all about ‘oh what are you doing now?'”
Herrig would go on to win the fight against Grasso, pulling off the upset and securing the second victory of a four fight win streak that had her flirting with title contention. She now finishes her MMA career with a record of 14-10.
Watch the full UFC Vegas 56 post-fight press scrum with Felice Herrig above. More coverage from the event can be found below.