Anna ‘Panda’ Elmose was supposed to face Stephanie Page at Cage Warriors 75 in April, but withdrew from the bout after receiving an offer that she couldn’t turn down. The UFC had got in touch with her management team and offered her a contract; one that would begin with a debut at UFC Fight Night Rotterdam.
“It is a huge opportunity for me. I was offered this fight and I couldn’t say no. I was so happy to say yes. I actually think my manager probably said yes to the fight before I did!”
Elmose will be entering the Octagon with a 3-0 record. She is the least experienced fighter on the UFC Rotterdam card, every other competitor has at least 8 fights on their record. ‘Panda’ isn’t concerned about what fans will say about her lack of experience, believing that they will become followers after they have watched her fight.
“They probably will think that [I don’t have the experience] when they look at my record, but I don’t care,” Elmose told YourMMA.co.uk. “People can think what they want, it isn’t going to impact how I fight. All that matters is how I perform in the cage on Sunday… nothing else matters.”
Her UFC debut comes almost a year since her last fight, and with her goal being to become a UFC Champion, and having only turned professional when she was 29, she feels she can no longer take her time.
“I’m in a hurry,” Elmose said. “I don’t have a lot of time to get that belt, so I need to do it quickly. Why fight in the UFC if the belt isn’t on your radar?”
Her opponent on Saturday is Germaine de Randamie (5-3-0), the Dutch-born fighter will be representing American Kickboxing Academy. The Mauy Thai specialist is 2-1 in the UFC, and has only had 3 fights in the UFC in the 3 years she has been with the promotion. Elmose respects her opponent, but believes she has the skills to defeat her opponent wherever the fight goes.
“I’ve got good boxing. I come from a kickboxing background. I don’t have the resume she has, but I feel good with my hands,” Elmose said. “I am very fast with my hands. I’m happy to fight wherever it goes. If I’m thinking that I need to take it to a certain place to win, I probably won’t have a good chance of winning, because my mind will be focused on just trying to do one specific thing. We have a game plan, but I need to be open to the fight going anywhere.”
The UFC call came at the right time for Elmose, she had already started training for her fight against Stephanie Page. Her camp was not disrupted by the change in opponent or promotion, as both Page and de Randamie have similar styles.
“This has been the best camp ever. It has been pretty long because we were preparing for the fight at Cage Warriors. I was supposed to fight Stephanie Page, so my training and game plan has been similar, because she is also a Muay Thai fighter, obviously not the same level as Germaine.
The bantamweight usually trains with Pannie Kianzad, the Invicta FC fighter and former Cage Warriors champion, but an injury has meant that Kianzad has not been available for sparring. She has been able to fill that void by training with professional boxers and other MMA fighters.
“I haven’t been able to train with Pannie due to her injury, but she has been there for me mentally.”
“I’ve been training with Klara Svensson and Patricia Berghult, both are professional boxers. I have also worked with Erica Bjōrnestrand, Cornelia Holm, Jonas Mågård, Thomas Hwan, Thomas Lopez and a bunch of other really good fighters. They were awesome sparring partners. I’ve also been to Sweden to spar with some other girls.”
Elmose was a part of the Rumble Sports team that travelled to Croatia for the last UFC EMEA event. She wanted to get a feel of a UFC event, so that the experience would not be completely new to her by the time she entered the Ahoy Rotterdam. It turned out to be a bad night for the Copenhagen-based team as Nicolas Dalby and Damir Hadzovic suffered losses.
“I went there as part of the team, but sat in the crowd for the fights. I went so I could meet some of the people I would be working with, get to see how the show runs, and to get a feel of what a UFC Fight Night in a big arena feels like.
“It does suck to lose, and I feel like I am losing when my team-mates lose. But they’ve handled their losses like champions. I spoke to Damir after the fight, he said it was the biggest adventure of his life, and that he can’t wait to get back into the cage.”
Her UFC debut is on a stage that she has never fought on before, a sold-out arena with thousands of spectators. And to make things far more tense, she is facing a Dutch fighter in her homeland. Elmose is expecting the crowd to be against her, and she is happy that that the pressure will be on her opponent.
“Obviously I am going to be the big underdog, and I am facing Germaine, who is from the Netherlands, so they’ll be supporting their local fighter. I actually prefer being the outsider, because then I can focus on myself. I don’t have to think about the pressure of impressing your local fans.”
Elmose has also been getting more media attention than she has before, partly due to her gender, with many outlets and members of the public still shocked to see a woman competing in MMA.
“I am pretty overwhelmed by the interest I am getting. I think the difference between the attention I get [compared to Dalby and Hadzovic] is because I am a woman. It is crazy to many that this half-naked woman is fighting in a cage.”
“I’m also a real-estate agent, and that really shocks people, because they realise that I have a “real job”, and that MMA isn’t for stupid people, that we are nice and intelligent, that we are normal people.”
The vast majority of media coverage has been positive for Elmose, but she was critical of a Danish magazine that tried to paint her in a way she feels is unfair.
“This magazine wrote an article on me that called me the ‘smashing woman’, but the word in Danish is worse,” Elmose told YourMMA. “I don’t see myself in the way they labelled me. I don’t want to go around just beating people up. I am an athlete.”
Elmose has been fortunate that her bosses are big fans of her work inside the cage. They allow her to work a reduced schedule, one that helps her with training and ensures that her head is in a good place. Her work day begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., which gives her the chance to spend her morning and evenings at Rumble Sports.
“My bosses (Thomas Munch and Christian Bjerregaard) are awesome, they are going to Rotterdam to watch the fight. It is so important that I have their support. We’re really busy at work, but they are so understanding, they never let me stress about work, because they know it would impact my MMA career. And your effort at work is also better if you aren’t stressed. I think it is win-win. Even though I don’t work as many hours, I still make sure I get the work done.”
The Rumble Sports fighter is also hoping that this increased exposure will lead to more women and young girls taking up the sport.
“It would be pretty awesome if more young girls and women sign up to practice MMA,” the UFC debutant said. “We have 400 people training at the gym, about 30 of them are fighters, the rest just enjoy training . And we’re fortunate that we have a lot of girls already training at Rumble, but I am hoping that me signing with the UFC would lead to more coming in.