A 23-year-old McPherson waitress, Hein does not seem like the sort of person to kick someone in the face, tackle someone to the ground or deliver a finishing punch.
But as she showed Saturday night, she can take down anyone who stands between her and her goals — including a mixed martial arts belt.
Hein is one of four belt-holding mixed martial arts fighters living in McPherson. She and local fighters Adrian Hill, Andy Robinson and Matt Mock, step into the cage regularly — often every couple of weekends — to defend their titles against other MMA contenders.
Those trips to fight — to sweat and bleed, win or lose — take fighters from the McPherson School of Karate and Martial Arts across the region to challenge new opponents. On Saturday both Hein and Mock faced challengers in the Community Building, a frequent venue for Kansas Super Fights events.
Mock, weighing in at 207 pounds and standing 5 feet 8 inches tall, subdued his opponent, Douglass McGathy, by forcing him to tap out a mere 53 seconds into the first round.
While impressive, Hein topped him, earning her first belt one second faster. She bested fellow flyweight Justine Nelson in 52 seconds, taking her to the ground and pummeling her with a flurry of punches so fast that the match was called after Nelson lost the ability to raise her arms and defend herself.
“I caught her early with a good cross hook, kind of knocked her out a bit,” Hein said after the fight. “I gave her time to get back on her feet, she came back out swinging and I just made some blocks and went at her again."
Nelson, who trains with Hein at the McPherson School, attempted to take Hein down. That proved to be a costly mistake.
“She pulled me,” Hein said, “but I caught her with my leg and took her down. I got some hits in, but then she stopped protecting herself.”
A moment later, as Hein celebrated with belt in hand, Nelson was back on her feet. The two shared a quick hug before leaving the cage to the next fighters.
A misunderstood medium
For Sandra Price-Byrd, trainer at the McPherson School and promoter of Kansas Super Fights, Saturday was just one more opportunity to see her fighters put lessons into motion — lessons about life as well as martial arts.
“We don’t just teach fighting,” Price-Byrd said. “We work with self-control, with self-discipline, with respecting others.”
Those are qualities Price-Byrd says become clear in the cage on fight night. In the midst of an event apparently teeming with violence she stands beside the ring, watching the technique of her fighters and of their opponents. And just as Hein allowed Nelson time to recover rather than blind-siding her, Price-Byrd said fighters are there to prove themselves, not to do lasting harm to their challengers.
“People need to understand — they think it’s vicious, but it’s just a stage, just like boxing is on a stage,” she said. “It’s a performance. It’s just an area for them to perform.”
One of many
Home to the McPherson School of Karate and Martial Arts, McPherson sees more sanctioned martial arts fights than many residents might believe. Price-Byrd has been holding events locally for over 25 years — since well before the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship which has so widely publicized mixed martial arts.
Saturday’s event, which crammed about 300 people into the Community Building’s antiquated gym, was the first held in McPherson this year. Fights took place in two cages erected in the middle of the gym floor — the first dual-cage match in the city’s history.
But Saturday’s event was far from an isolated occurrence. Five different events were hosted in McPherson by Kansas Super Fights in 2011. Another match is scheduled for May 12, when an All-School’s Day crowd will watch fights in the more intimate Perkins regency room.
Even as the fights float on the periphery of the city’s consciousness, apparently unnoticed by most residents, the trainers keep training, the fighters fighting and crowds cheering them on.
“We’ve watched this sport evolve from traditional MMA to continuous MMA, from light contact to full contact,” Price-Byrd said. “All in McPherson.”