MMA Champion Uses Video Games And Cosplay To Deal With The Stress Of Fighting

MMA Champion Uses Video Games And Cosplay To Deal With The Stress Of Fighting
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Photo credit: Invicta.

Angela “Overkill” Hill is the strawweight champion of the world’s most prominent women’s MMA organisation, Invicta. She’s on the verge of a second crack at UFC glory. Last time around, though, she found herself too bogged down by the pressures of fight life to compete as well as she could. These days, she’s using cosplay and video games to keep herself focused and sharp.

Nathan Grayson: OK so, when I interviewed [UFC flyweight champion] Mighty Mouse a while back, he said he’d actually been playing video games for longer than he’d been fighting. Is it similar for you?

Angela Hill: I’ve definitely been playing video games longer. When I was a kid, I remember getting our first Nintendo. Actually, the first thing we had was a, what was it called, a TurboGrafx. My favourite game was Bonk on TurboGrafx.

I didn’t start fighting until I graduated college in 2008. That’s when I first started messing around with kickboxing, and then I moved onto fighting, and then I moved onto MMA. In college, I had to kinda stop playing games, because I had jobs and papers and art projects. Then, when I started fighting at first, I had three or four jobs. I was working nonstop. Once I got that call from the UFC, once I made the decision to just fight full time, I had a little bit more free time, and I was like, “I’ll start playing video games again.”

Grayson: What did you go to school for, and why did you instead decide to pursue fighting instead?

Hill: I went to school for art. I went to Cooper Union. They had art, architecture, engineering. I got accepted for the art program there and messed with animation. They don’t make you choose majors, but I gravitated towards drawing and animation. Then when I got out of school, I worked as an animator in a couple of different studios. The pay was ok, but I made more money bartending than I did working the animation studio. So that was my passion, but once my job went under, I decided to pursue fighting since I had had my first couple of fights while I was working at the animation studio, and I really got a taste for it. I was like, “You know what? Let me try for this for a little bit. I’ll bartend and I’ll fight, and see where it goes.” Now I’m here.

Grayson: So you’ve got that background in art. Is that why you cosplay now? As an outlet for your artistic side?

Hill: Yeah, for sure. Cosplay is really fun. It’s like making a sculpture, like a wearable sculpture or something like that. When I first decided to do the cosplay thing, it was really to make fun of what other Invicta fighters were doing. They would buy these costumes and then wear them for the weigh-ins. It became this trend. I would see it, and I’m like, “Man, they don’t know what they’re doing. I’mma show them how to cosplay for real.”

My first one was a Fallout Vault dweller outfit. I was like, “Oh my god, how the fuck am I going to make a Pip-Boy?” But I got some foam, cardboard, and paint and made it work. I was pretty proud of that, and I made the jumpsuit. I just stitched one of those, what do you call it? One of those party suits. I turned that into a Vault dweller jumpsuit. It was really fun, and I got really into it, so that ended up being my thing in Invicta. Just every time I show up, I show up in a different outfit.

Grayson: Who all have you cosplayed at this point? I know I’ve seen pictures of Dhalsim from Street Fighter, and most recently you did that amazing Afro Samurai one. What else?

Hill: The first one was Fallout. The second one was Dhalsim from Street Fighter. Then I did one with my teammates. So me, my teammate, Chris Stanley, and then my corner woman, Jess, all dressed up as the Warriors from the movie The Warriors. We all had the vests, and then my other coach, he wore one of those baseball series shirts and painted his face. That was pretty awesome. We had a lot of fun with it. Then, the last one was the Afro Samurai one. I’ve been having a lot of fun with that.

It’s nice, because just like video games, it keeps my mind off of the stress of fighting. It’s really easy to overthink it. When I was in the UFC, I would overthink it a lot. Overthunk it maybe. I would literally stalk my opponents. I would see what they posted every day. I would watch my videos, their videos of fighting. I would Google what people were saying about me. It was insane. I was really, really concerned about what people were saying about me and what people were saying about them. Just trying to get a grasp on what was about to happen.

But you never know what’s going to happen. You can do all your research, but a fight is so spontaneous that the best you can do is just train, and be a better fighter, and then fight. I felt like it was a really good distraction for me, the cosplaying as well video games, because it kept my mind off of, “Oh, what’s everyone thinking? What are people saying about me? What do they think’s going to happen?” I was able to just be in the moment, and just kind of chill and give my brain a break from the stress of the fight.

Grayson: Of the costumes you’ve made, which one was the most challenging?

Hill: It’s hard to say. They all had their different challenges. It was probably the Warriors one, just because I had to make like three vests, and I messed up on like two of them. I ended up having to make like five vests, or four and a half. That was probably the most challenging, but I was really happy when I saw the pictures of all of us just standing around. It was worth it.

Grayson: You were in the UFC for a bit, but you said you got too in your own head, and you ended up losing a couple big fights in a row. Now you’re a champ in Invicta. Looking back at your run in the UFC, how do you feel about it these days? Are you happy with the way it went? Do you wish you could change anything about it, or was it a necessary step in your growth as a fighter and a person?

Hill: It’s kind of nice, because at the time, when I first had the two losses and then got cut [from the UFC], it sucked. It was really hard to pick myself up and just be positive about everything that was happening. I think it was a good test of my determination, a test of my heart, how badly I wanted it, because when I got the call to go on [UFC reality show] The Ultimate Fighter, I was just like, “Oh wow. That was easy.” I didn’t expect to get the call. I really just wanted to show up and maybe make some connections. When I actually was brought onto the show, and signed to the UFC, I was just like, “Wow. Cool. Next fight I’m going to be 2-0 and the champ.” I was stoked.

It didn’t happen that way, but the harder path, it definitely teaches you more. I was able to open up more and figure out who I was. I feel like in the UFC, you can’t figure out who you are there. You just have to be you. It’s kind of like a end-of-career type of move. Like, “This is me, and then I’m going to retire.” Because I was so new, I think it was good for me. Whether I wanted to or not, I think it was good for me in the end to go to a place like Invicta where they could nurture me and let me grow into the fighter that I am.

I kind of feel like it was my, what do you call it? My rite of passage. I went out into the wilderness and yeah, like took some peyote and came back a woman. I don’t know, it sucked at the time, but now looking back on it, I feel like it’s a really inspirational story, and I’m happy that I could be a part of it.

Grayson: You’ve got a solid winning streak going, and you’re a champion now. Do you think you’re pretty close to making your way back into the UFC?

Hill: Yeah, I think something’s going to happen. I’m not sure yet. We’re talking to people now, though. I was totally cool with staying with Invicta, getting more experience, and just challenging the girls because they’re really tough in there. But I think my contract’s up, so who knows? Something might happen somewhere else.

Grayson: How do you think you match up with UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who is absolutely terrifying?

Hill: We’re both strikers. She actually has more Muay Thai fights than me. I think she has 20 something, and I have 16. I’ve beaten girls like that before. I’ve beaten people with twice as many fights as I have before. I don’t think that there would be the threat of wrestling, at least not so much that I couldn’t handle it, because she’s a striker. We probably have the same amount of wrestling under our belts. I definitely think I could hit her and move, and outstrike her, and handle her strikes. I really want to fight her. I think it’d be a really awesome fight.

And I think she’s a cunt, so it’d be fun to just piss her off by hitting her.

Grayson: Hahaha. OK so, moving back kind of into the realm of video games, what are your favourites? What do you tend to gravitate toward to the most these days?

Hill: I’ve been conditioning myself to play more first person shooters. When I started, it was really, really like depressing. I just put down Call of Duty. I don’t think I’m going to go back to that any time soon. We started playing Battlefield. It’s really fun, because it’s not just a shooter. Even if I have four kills and 30 deaths, I still got points for throwing ammo boxes down and stuff. We’ve been playing that, and me and my husband we have two PlayStations, so we set them up next to each other. We’ll team up and play Battlefield. That’s been pretty fun.

I played through XCOM recently. That was great. I just like any game where you can customise the character. I feel like that’s a big thing for me. I fell in love with Fallout. Half of it was just seeing my character in VATS getting slow-mo headshots. I thought that was so cool. Like, “Oh, that’s me. Oh look, I killed him.”

When I started playing XCOM, I spent an hour making the whole team from Alliance MMA. It was just like a team of fighters saving the world from aliens.

Grayson: Oh jeez, did they all survive?

Hill: No, they kept dying. It was really sad. Once I got better, they all survived. I figured out how to make them survive. When people died, I’d usually reload my game and go back a couple turns.

I was pretty sad, though, because Cat Zingano died in like the first mission, and I didn’t know how to play well enough to get her back. That was the worst loss, but everyone else made it to the end.

Grayson: What were your other childhood games?

Hill: Obviously Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. Metroid was a big one. Super Metroid, specifically. What else? Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, I was into. I was just really attached to the character, to Abe.

When I was in elementary school, I was really big on SimAnt for some reason. I played the shit out of it. It makes no sense. I was just really into this game. It was weird, because when you’re a kid, you only get like one game every six months. You and your friends would come over after school and play Mario Kart every day. It was just like that one game that you were playing. Oh, Goldeneye was another big one.

Grayson: Goldeneye is amazing. I used to draw, like, moving fanart of that game. Giant flip-books of each level. I, uh, didn’t have many friends as a child.

Hill: Such nostalgia going through that. There was another one that I really liked. I could never remember the name of it, though. It was this game, and it’s like a boy and his dog, and you would go to different times. The first area that you’re in, it was like you’re a boy and you have this regular little labradoodle or something like that, but then you would go to the caveman ages, and it would be a boy and his cavedog, like a wolf or something, and then something else happened, and it was like Victorian ages, and he was like this fancy little poodle, and then you go to the robot ages and it’s a robot dog. I could never remember the name of it. The cover of the game, it was in the same era of Secret of Mana, but I could never remember the name. I think it was like Secret of Evermore, or something like that.

Grayson: They should have just called it something like, Wherever You Go, the Dog Changes To Be Like That Place. I would buy that game.

Hill: Haha, exactly. I would totally play that game if I saw it on the shelf. Boy And Dog Game.

Grayson: I noticed that you stream games on Twitch occasionally. Is it just kind of a for-fun thing, or do you want to turn it into a side career like Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson?

Hill: I have a handful of subscribers now. I don’t know how much money I can make on it. It’s just kind of fun. It’s always nice to connect with fans, and every now and then, I’ll see a comment, like someone will say, “Oh, I hope Angie wins because she friended me on PlayStation Network.” It’s always cute when you see stuff like that and people are able to just feel connected to you even if they don’t know you personally.

That’s always been a cool thing for me, because I like playing video games. Obviously, there’s people out there who like video games and MMA too, so it’s cool to find people with common interests and just have them gravitate towards me and want to root for me, and heal me when I play Battlefield with them.

Grayson: Right. It’s weirdly intimate. You get to hang out with people, like, in their rooms. The thing that I’ve noticed, too, is that there’s a lot of overlap between people who like games and fighting. If you go in any given fight forum and talk to people, half of them will be like, “Oh yeah, I play video games all the time.” For you, do games appeal to the same part of your brain that fighting appeals to?

Hill: For sure. It’s funny, because there’s definitely a gap between me learning how to fight and me having that period where I stopped playing games. Then, when I went back to it, I was just like, “Oh, this makes so much more sense.” If I’m playing Marvel vs Capcom, the timing aspect makes more sense. Or in games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter, where you can sidestep — all of that makes more sense now. It’s like, “Man, I wish I knew how to fight when I was playing these games, because it’s all concepts that they took from actual fighting.” I definitely think I’m a better Street Fighter player now that I know how to street fight.

Even playing Bloodborne, it’s pretty funny because you have these moments where you have to sidestep, sidestep, and then attack, and when I got to Alliance MMA, we started working a lot on footwork. Because with Muay Thai, you kind of just move forward and back. There’s never really any lateral movement. You just kind of stand in front of each other and bang until somebody falls over. With MMA, that doesn’t work at all. You get taken down.

Grayson: Have you been in a fight where you were like, “Oh my god, this person moves like a Bloodborne boss”?

Hill: Did you see my last fight? I fought in November, and the girl was tough. She was like a little ball, little meatball, and she’s known for her overhand right to the takedown. That’s her move. I knew if she landed that right hand, she’s going to go for the takedown immediately.

Once we started getting to the later rounds, she would get a little desperate, and just rush in with a ten punch combo. I would literally go back-step, back-step, back-step, sidestep, and throw hands as I sidestepped. It was literally like X, down, X, down. It was funny. That happened a couple of times. I think that it was pretty similar to a Bloodborne monster. Probably the big fucking ogre with the sack. It was probably the one she was channeling.


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