Meet Coach Arlene Sanchez-Vaughn- Fighter, Mother, Bouncer, Trainer, Gym Owner, Mentor, US Soldier, Paramedic – she really is every woman, and a role model for any woman (or man for that matter) interested in becoming a professional cagefighter, kickboxer or boxer. She moved to Albuquerque as a teenager, with a strong background in Olympic swimming, but was forced to lay aside that dream, due to lack of proper training facilities in the area (at that time.) A somewhat “angry, rebellious teenager”, Vaughn got into several street fights (none of which she lost, thanks to boxing instruction by her father from the time she was 4-years-old). Right out of high school, she got married and had her daughter, then, with the support of her family, she began training with the legendary Bill Packer. She had her first karate match only 2 weeks later, and won by breaking her opponent’s nose; “I realized I had a God-given gift.” She was undefeated as an amateur and went on to take every amateur belt in the states of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Colorado. After 2 years of training with Mr. Packer, Vaughn turned professional; the first 2 years in karate, the next 2 years in kickboxing. In 1984 she won the 1st US title in kickboxing, as a featherweight in the WKA. She competed for several other organizations: PKA, WKC, IKKC, and ISKA. The founder and promoter of ISKA, Scott Coker, flew Vaughn around the world to compete; Canada, Mexico, Japan, and The Netherlands – she won the ISKA World Cup in Holland. Coker is also the founder and CEO of Strikeforce, an MMA promotional organization recently acquired by Zuffa.
In 1986, Vaughn joined the US Army, as a 91B paramedic; her unit, the 351st MASH, was the last female infantry to go through, and the last field hospital unit. In 1993, Vaughn blew out her ACL, but continued to train and fight, being the only female at that time to train with Mr. Packer. By this time, she also became Mr. Packer’s kick trainer. In 1995, she fought her last professional match, against Freda Gibbs, lost the match, and decided it was time to retire. However, she continued to instruct and train with Mr. Packer until late 1997. Vaughn remained active in the Army until 1994, after which, she became a bouncer at the Zone night club –the only female bouncer in New Mexico, at the time, and she stayed there until 2001. It was while she worked at the nightclub that she met Tom Vaughn. The two opened FIT NHB in 1998, and married in 1999.
Their vision for FIT NHB was to have a place to create champion fighters, such as Carlos Condit. Although he now trains at Jackson’s MMA, Condit began his career in cagefighting at FIT, under the instruction of Vaughn, and trained from the time he was 15, for 9 years. She required him to practice knees 1000 times/ day, among many other tasks, and he became the first world champion in the WEC from Albuquerque. Vaughn even took him to Thailand for 1-1/2 months to train in native Muay Thai. Although Condit moved on to other facilities, FIT is still home to champions, and they are the Southwest representatives of King of the Cage. Vaughn is in charge of training in boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai, while her husband trains fighters in their ground game.
Although Vaughn was a highly successful fighter, she didn’t discuss her profession with many, due to the “stupid comments”, belittling and degrading, that she’d heard in the past. Also, at the time she competed, there were virtually no sponsors, especially for women. But the world is changing, MMA is the fastest growing sport, and female cagefighting is becoming more and more popular, especially in organizations like Strikeforce. Vaughn’s advice for women wanting to be fighters: “If fighting is your passion, follow it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t!”
A prime product of FIT NHB’s training is Brenda Gonzales, professional cagefighter and boxer, with a record of 2-0 in both areas. Gonzales is fromMoriarty,NM, where she went to high school. She has always loved sports, and played basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball, and has always exercised and worked out in weight rooms. About 2 years ago, she met and began dating KOTC Jr. Welterweight Champion, Tim Means. She had always loved watching UFC, so when he invited her to come train at FIT, she went eagerly. Very soon, FIT became like her second home. She participated in 3 amateur matches before going professional in October 2010 with boxing, and in MMA in May 2011. Gonzales has faced numerous obstacles in her road to becoming a professional fighter, some of which were in place long before she began to train. She lost her father to ALS in 2002, after he suffered for 3 years, and she still grieves him. Now, her mother has cancer, and Gonzales struggles to keep her head up at times, but she says, “Training hard and fighting help keep me sane.” She’s heard negative comments, people wanting to share opinions about women fighting, customers (from her waitressing days) commenting on articles hanging up on the walls. However, about a year ago, she stopped waitressing to train full time, and now supplements her fight income with private lessons, which also adds more time to training, something Gonzales considers a bonus. “I am blessed to have Arlene in my corner, she knows what she’s talking about and doing, and is like a mother to all of us. I love my team, coaches; they push me every day. Without them, I wouldn’t have come so far to be here.”