Alex Noren and Hailey Jenson look like just another BYU couple as they walk through campus hand in hand, but just hours earlier they were at the gym practicing their MMA moves together. “We actually met in a class,” Jenson said. “And I told him to hit me.”
Class was not the only place they would see each other in the days before they began dating, as Noren would see Jenson at the gym, The Pit Elevated, where she works and they both work out.
“She is the front desk girl, and so I would hit on her everyday,” Noren said.
And when he says “hit” he means flirt, even though Noren and Jenson take hits from each other often during their training sessions.
Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, comprises many different styles of fighting, from striking when the opponents are standing, to different forms of grappling when opponents are on the ground. Striking consists of boxing, kick boxing, muay thai and karate. Grappling is also a part of MMA, mixing in wrestling, judo and ju-jitsu to the sport.
Jenson prefers striking over grappling.
“I am a (striking) person,” Jenson said. “I was a cheerleader, ice skater and a gymnast. It came really fast. I started last month on the pro team, and now I’m training with the number-three (fighter) in the world.”
Noren personally prefers to fight on the ground, finding that is his strong point in the MMA arena.
“When they try to show me fast moves for stand up (striking), I just fall over and I feel so awkward. I have to try really hard to get good at stand up,” he said. “But they show me a move in ju-jitsu once or twice, and I can do it.”
Both Noren and Jenson are on the pro team at their gym, with Noren’s latest fight at the Muay Thai Institute in Salt Lake last month resulting in a win. The fight went to Noren in the second round with a TKO or total knock out, after he kneed his opponent in the face and broke his nose.
“She decided to let everyone know that we were dating after I won that fight,” Noren joked. “That’s when we made it Facebook official.”
Although the sport can come across as violent and even barbaric at times, each fighter goes through a lot of training to make sure their fighting is as clean and safe as possible. It may seem that the competitors just do what they can to take the other down, but in reality, there is a lot of form that goes into the sport.
Both families of the college students were skeptical when they learned of their new hobby, especially Jenson’s parents, who do not understand what draws her to the sport.
“They hate that I would want to get inside a cage and hit another girl in the face,” she said. “But they definitely go and support me.”
Noren’s experience was a little different, as his dad was happy, but both hid his interest from his mom.
“My dad thinks it’s awesome, he is so stoked,” Noren said. “But I didn’t tell my mom I was doing it for over a year.”
To get ready for practice or fights, the couple has learned that the best way for them to prepare is to relax.
“I used to listen to rap music and rock music to get myself pumped up,” Noren said. “But now I just breathe; I sit by myself and calm myself down. You have to, if you want to perform better.”
Jenson takes a slightly different approach, listening to hymns before she starts her most strenuous training.
“I put in my earphones and listen to ‘Praise to the Man’ while I wrap my hands and put on my shin guards,” she said. “Your body reacts so much better because of that.”
Noren and Jenson both attribute MMA to helping them deal with the pressure of school and work. They have made lasting friendships at their gym and have found MMA to be a healthy way of getting out aggression.
“We have this bishop that comes in, that’s in his sixties,” Noren said. “He destroys people (in MMA). He submitted me like seven times in four minutes, without any ego.”
Their gym is full of people who look out for each other. Both Jenson and Noren stress that the most important thing their gym focuses on is making sure a fighter is a good person, even though The Pit has some of the best coaches around.
“Our gym has some of the most talented in the state, probably in the country,” Jenson said. “Our coach, Jason, is one of the top 100 UFC coaches.”
They described how the coaches really make The Pit one of the most positive gym atmospheres in the business.
“They want it to be a family gym,” Jenson said. “We want BYU students to come to the gym.”
Noren and Jenson are currently preparing for fights coming up in the next year. They train together at The Pit Elevated almost every night.