In just a short amount of time, light-heavyweight prospect Destanie Yarbrough has gone from transitioning to MMA from other sports, to fighting in one of the biggest shows of the year.
Having made a name for herself in track and field in college, Yarbrough went on to play women’s professional football, and now will have her second MMA fight as part of RIZIN’s 2016 World Grand Prix: First Round event facing top Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Gabi Garcia in a feature bout.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com during her final preparations before her trip to Japan for her RIZIN debut, Yarbrough talked about her sports background, making the jump to such a large MMA promotion, and her thoughts on what it will take to topple the undefeated Garcia on September 25.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Destanie, tell us about your history with sports and how you got into MMA.
Destanie Yarbrough: I’ve been doing sports, literally since I could walk: baseball, football, basketball, track and field, soccer. I had a college scholarship to Long Beach State for track and field, and then transferred to Fresno State for track and field. I’ve been playing women’s pro football for about six years now. I’ve always been into boxing and MMA. About two years ago I got into Muay Thai, and have been in it since, and that’s how I got into MMA.
MMAWeekly.com: Has anything you’ve done in previous sports translated to MMA at all, or is it a completely new experience?
Destanie Yarbrough: With football the physical aspect carries over definitely to MMA; the toughness that I have. The strength from track and field, being a thrower, we lifted weights all the time, so I had strength from that too. MMA takes a lot out of you; physically and mentally. You have to really study your opponent, you have to focus and be disciplined, and be willing to kill yourself in the gym. It’s really the toughest thing I’ve done in sports, and I love it.
MMAWeekly.com: You made your MMA debut earlier this year defeating Crystal Parson at The Warriors Cage in April. Tell us about the experience and how you feel you did in the fight.
Destanie Yarbrough: I was kind of nervous, but I kind of wasn’t, because I enjoy fighting. I was nervous because I had a fight, and the next day I had my first football game of the season, and the weight cut – I was definitely feeling it. At the weigh-ins I was feeling good and couldn’t stop smiling, so she thought I was just some little girl who likes to smile, but she learned a lesson, I guess. It was really fun. I felt great and am happy to have come out with a fast TKO/doctor stoppage.
MMAWeekly.com: Having just made your MMA debut, how surprised were you when you got the call from RIZIN to face Gabi Garcia on their Sept. 25 show in Saitama?
Destanie Yarbrough: I wasn’t too shocked, because a year ago I was contacted to fight Gabi for her first fight, but I turned it down because I wasn’t training fulltime, and I had been out of the gym because I had taken some personal time off and wasn’t in shape. When I got this call this time, I was ready. I was more shocked that they remembered me as a prospect to fight against her, so I was very honored that they did call. I was happy and it’s a great opportunity.
MMAWeekly.com: Tell us your thoughts on facing Garcia and what you feel you must do in order to get the win against her.
Destanie Yarbrough: This match-up, it’s going to be a lot of strategy. Gabi is a taller opponent. Her reach is way longer than mine. She’s six-foot-two, while I’m five-foot-seven. But this is where I have to utilize my boxing and my footwork. I can’t just get caught standing there. I can’t go to the ground with Gabi. It’s not that I can’t, but I prefer not to. Her Jiu-Jitsu of course is amazing, and I have much respect for her. I’m still a white belt, so I prefer to keep it standing, and that’s my strategy: to keep it standing.
I’ve got to be faster than her. I’m not scared of Gabi, or scared to face her, but it’s a big test for me. Going from this little fight that I had, going to this big stage, it’s a test. There’s a lot of critics about it. I feel confident and I feel ready. My body is exhausted from all the training, but I’m ready and excited.
MMAWeekly.com: With a few months left in the year, do you see yourself wanting to fight again if you come out of this bout healthy, or is it best to wait and see what opportunities come your way?
Destanie Yarbrough: It depends on how the fight goes, but nonetheless, if I finish a fight, I’m going to be ready to fight again. I’m a fighter at heat. I’m a warrior. If there’s a fight that’s offered before the year’s over, I’ll take it.