RALEIGH — Last fall when the UFC announced it was holding a late-January event in Raleigh, one of the first responses came from Hannah Cifers.
“I’m available,” she responded to the announcement on Twitter.
Cifers, who hails from Oxford and trains in Wake Forest, was chosen for the event and faced Ange-la Hill in a fight that was part of the main card for Fight Night 166 in Raleigh. Cifers grew up on North Carolina farms and credits her strength to lifting heavy objects — everything from tractor tires to small animals — as part of her daily work. Cifers still schedules her MMA training around her farm work.
She was happy to have a fight on home turf.
“You don’t have to travel,” she said.
In addition to sleeping in her own bed, the hometown card meant that Cifers had the heavy support of the crowd at PNC Arena. “It’s my backyard,” she boasted on Twitter.
There were, however, some drawbacks.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “You don’t want to let everyone down. So it’s pretty exciting, but you’re nervous, too.”
As the only fighter based in the Raleigh area on the card and the highest-profile North Carolinian in action, it also meant that Cifers would have more media responsibilities than usual. For the soft-spoken, introverted Cifers, that seemed to cause more pain than anything she might endure in the cage.
Twice while waiting to speak with Cifers, reporters were approached by members of the UFC media relations staff.
“Have you interviewed Hannah before?” they asked, attempting to prepare them for the short an-swers they were likely about to receive.
“I’m sorry,” Cifers said at the end of her availability. “I’m not good at this. I like training. I like to focus on the fighting. The rest of it…”
Luckily, Cifers has some impressive performances in the cage to fall back on. She had an 8-2 rec-ord with five knockouts and a submission when she joined the UFC. In her second UFC fight, she took a split decision victory over Polyana Viana despite breaking her arm in the first round.
Not only did Cifers gut out the win, she further cemented her legacy by refusing to take a post-fight ambulance to the hospital. While UFC fighters have their medical care covered by insurance, any ambulance trips come out of their own pocket. Besides, she told the media at the post-fight press conference (which she attended), “I wanted to see the rest of the fights.”
“I didn’t really think it was broken,” Cifers told North State Journal. “I thought that would hurt a lot more. It didn’t hurt too bad. Pain-wise, it didn’t hurt until after they did surgery on it.”
Still, even if she didn’t know it was broken, Cifers was fighting at a distinct disadvantage.
“I knew something was wrong with it. When I shook my hand out, it just felt like it was loose from my arm. I just knew I couldn’t use it, but I thought it was just bruised badly or something.”
Cifers said stopping the fight was never a consideration. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “You keep go-ing.”
She also went right back to working on the farm after suffering the injury, although she said it took a while before she was lifting heavy things again.
“It was a setback at first at work, because a lot of farm work is tough to do with one arm,” she said. “But after time I was able to get back to working on stuff. The time between the surgery and when I started going back to work I was trying to gradually go back to using it. I did try to ease into it not just try to pick up something extremely heavy with it. But gradually doing it I felt comfortable with it.”
Despite having the crowd loudly in her favor, Cifers wasn’t able to get a win for her Raleigh people. A veteran of 13 UFC fights, Hill scored a knockout at the end of the second round, taking Cifers to the floor and getting full mount position on her, allowing Hill to rain down punches and elbows against her prone, defenseless opponent.
Hill then bounced up and shushed the pro-Cifers crowd, while covered with the hometown hero’s blood.
Next time, Cifers will likely be fighting someplace much farther from home. Her previous UFC fights were in Anaheim, Denver and Las Vegas. She’ll also probably have to pack a bag and hit the road, but the good news is someone else will be the hometown hero in demand, and she’ll get to just focus on the fighting.