In the ever evolving world of Mixed Martial Arts there is many paths to take: fighter, promoter, match maker, fan, journalist, ring girl and many more. Everyone is a fan of the sport but many more are taking on one or two of the roles. However there is one lady who has thrown herself into the deep end of MMA and is still swimming. Meet Helena Donkin from Newcastle. Not only is she a fan of the sport, she is a ring girl, promoter, fighter, organiser and also finds time to help athletes as a nutritionist. It is fair to say that MMA has a great ambassador in her.
For Helena her martial arts journey began early in life and it set a grounding to lead her towards MMA. Finding martial arts and MMA in general is always a great day for everybody as once you find yourself in the community it feels like a family. So when exactly did Helena’s journey begin?
“I trained ITF and WTF Taekwondo from the age of 8 to a pretty high level. In 2010 I was given a ticket to a local MMA show and instantly fell in love with it. As soon as I saw what it was about I knew I wanted to be part of it. The rest as they say is history”.
The rest is most definitely history and for being involved in the sport for just three years Helena is is doing so much. She has embraced everything and it lead her to becoming a ring girl. Ring girls are always an attraction in the sport and with amazing tattoos and natural good looks, Helena is a natural:
“I have been part of the MMA world for a few years, both training and working selling martial arts equipment. I met the Eiko team early last year and they were a ring girl short for their show. I’ve never been girly but I was walking at fight weight so offered to work as a favour. I was more nervous before working the cage than I am before I compete. I loved it though, it was so different to what I had expected and being part of such a positive team leaves you feeling great”.
It most definitely left her feeling great as this lead her to form the Enigma Promotions. It is aimed to change the way how people look at ring girls but also to give people opportunities in the ring girling world. For Helena it is something which she is passionate about and her experiences lead her to starting the promotion.
“I have previously worked as promotions staff here and there over a few years. I’ve always felt quite frustrated at how some girls feel all it takes is a pretty face and not much clothing. I know if you want to be taken seriously you need to be positive, professional and have a passion for what you do. Enigma Promotions is my attempt at changing the world of promotional staff for the better. All my girls are mature, reliable and ambitious. It’s a bonus that they are also beautiful and unique”.
The first time Enigma had the chance to work together as full unit was Eiko 4 on Sunday 5th May 2013. It would have been a nervous time for all involved but the hard-work has paid off. So how was it for Helena and has there been anymore offers on the table?
“Eiko4 was amazing, more so than expected. The feedback on both the show and the girls has been fabulous and put a real spring in everyone’s step. Enigma has been approached by two shows in the past three days asking us to be part of their team. This is brilliant and I’m over the moon we’ve made such an impact! It’s totally unexpected!”
It sounds like the Enigma Promotion girls will be having a busy few months. Which is credit to the hard work and attitude of Helena. This is also key to a night as a ring girl. You are on the front line and helping to make the night run smoothly and make sure your positive attitude is seen by all. Nobody wants to see an unhappy ring girl and on a typical night is a range of different areas:
“A typical night involves lots of nail varnish, make up and hairspray! None of this comes naturally to me, I’m definitely happier in high tops and a hoody with my hair scraped back. Once at the event we run through the fight card and what the promoter would like from us. Then we have fun! Nothing makes a show shine more than positive and confident staff right across the board”.
Helena is definitely a natural who all to see her work and the future can be bright for her. So is there any shows she would like to work on in the future?
“I recently had try-outs to be the next BAMMA-ette. I didn’t hear back but I’m not disheartened, there were some very beautiful girls there and I was happy to be part of the selection process! I love working all shows. Just feeling the atmosphere and stepping through the cage door reaffirms my love for the sport”.
That is one of the best attitudes we can hear from someone involved in the sport. It’s all about getting your name out there and seeing what happens. Getting a knock back doesn’t mean it wont happen one day and to see that Helena has been noticed by BAMMA means she is definitely standing out. One place she definitely stands out is at Eiko. She is gaining quite a reputation in the company and her passion continues to shine through. She works as a promoter for them as well and it is something she is enjoying.
“Like I say I met the guys, Richard and James early last year. I somehow adopted the role without being given it. It started with the odd suggestion of who I thought would be a good match or what I think would work well for the show. I have a real passion for hard work, so that teamed with my knowledge of the sport and ability to speak well with people has earned me a very valuable place with the company. I’m so proud that I’ve been accepted in such a positive way. I have a real hunger where Eiko is concerned”.
Helena’s passion is not only seen outside of the cage but also inside. She also trains and fights in K-1 and MMA. Her career is just developing but she is enjoying the competitive edge which comes with both of them.
“I’ve had one semi-pro MMA and one c-class K1. I’ve trained MMA as much as possible since 2010 and only competed in K1 as its crazy hard trying to be matched in WMMA. I have to say I prefer MMA, its so intense. I love to push my limits and learn so MMA is perfect”.
Even though Helena is finding it hard to get matched in women’s MMA, she is tirelessly working to be noticed and it can’t be long before she finds herself with more fights. Good things come to those who wait and that definitely paid off when she got the chance to fight in 2012 and is one of her highlights to date. Not just that she knows how much she has had to prove herself since first starting to train.
“Being a female in MMA can be quite tough in itself, you can sometimes find yourself being judged and shunned more than they guys simply because of your gender. I have to prove myself constantly in all aspects of my work to prove that I am not a gimmick and I am serious about what I do and I do plan on sticking around. My highlight has to be walking in the cage in February 2012 on a show I have a lot of respect for to fight MMA. It took me only two years from my first session to my first fight. Id have preferred a win to draw but the fact I had achieved so much in two years made me really proud of myself!”
Helena can most definitely be proud and she is doing things that only a select few people get to experience. She has entered the cage in two different ways as a fighter and a ring girl. So how does it feel to step into the cage to fight and it’s just her and her opponent.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world. Admittedly I feel a different type of nerves when I fight to when I work but they both give such a rush. All the work and preparation is over and it’s finally time to show your skills. To be centre stage for those few minutes makes the hard sessions, aching body, injuries and weight cut all worth it”.
Training is something all fighters put themselves through to become better athletes and sharpen their skills. Training is so intense in all aspects of MMA as you don’t just focus on one area and injuries are most definitely common. With such hard sessions and a quite a busy life, a typical training camp can for Helena is tough but she has a great support network who make it a lot easier for her.
“My typical camp consists of two weeks hard training followed by six weeks even harder training. I run my own nutrition business, part of which is aimed at competitors making weight on fight camps so my nutrition is always bang on. I train hard 4-5 times a week then walk and stretch on my rest days. I take my camps very seriously, so much so I’m known to get very angry and emotional when I have a ‘bad session’. I’m lucky to have a strong team and family around me to keep my spirits high when the going gets tough”.
Working that hard in training can only help Helena in the years to come, especially as women’s MMA is more in the spotlight more than ever. This is due to Ronda Rousey who seems to have taken the promotion on her shoulders and is doing everything to push it forward. With her knowledge and dedication to the sport, is Ronda someone Helena likes to watch or does she think there is others who have had just as much of an impact?
“Ronda is a great woman to lead the way commercially for WMMA and yes I love to watch her. Her take downs and ground work is so precise, she truly is a practitioner not just an athlete. I’ve always looked up to one of the UK’s finest since I began in 2010. Rosi Sexton is living proof that you can have an educated professional life as well as compete MMA. I have a daughter who is seven, she started training MMA this year and looks up to Rosi a lot”.
Everybody has role models and it’s always interesting to hear who fighters look up to and take inspiration from. Along with those figures Helena is also based in a hot spot for MMA in the North East of England. With Ross Pearson being a spear head in the UFC after his time on ‘TUF’ and fighting the best in the business. So who does Helena like to sit down and watch in her spare time?
“I can sit and watch UFC and BAMMA etc but I honestly love to be at local shows watching the guys I know fighting. UK MMA, the North East in particular, is producing some amazing fighters. The quality is so high we have seen names like Colin Fletcher, Phil De Fries and Andy Ogle on UFC. The local up and coming guys are brilliant to watch, I can see a lot more of them with their name in lights in the next few years”.
MMA is firmly involved in Helena’s day to day life, along with a part time job. She is also aiming to raise money and put on her own events. She is leads, what i’d call, a hectic life. So what is her schedule life and is she involved in at the moment?
“Life is crazy hectic!! If I sit back and think about everything I have going on I don’t know how I survive (laughs). I work part time to pay my bills but my passion is what I do outside of my 9-5.
Apart Eiko and Enigma I also run ‘Salce Nutrition’. It is a nutrition company aimed at anyone wanting to lose fat and stay healthy right up to fighters wanting to make weight in a short space of time whilst staying strong. I have worked with kickboxers, Muay Thai competitors and professional MMA fighters such as Andy Green in his cut leading to BAMMA 10.
I am currently working on my own project, Sub7 no-gi grappling competition. This will be held on Sunday 23rd June in South Shields. This event is none profit based, 100% of all money raised will be donated to ‘Cains Dream To Walk’. Cain is a young lad who suffers from an illness meaning he is in pain and unable to walk. Cain and his family are well known on the Northeast MMA scene in their quest to raise £55k to pay for an operation in the USA to help ease his pain and enable him to walk. Cain is a very cool guy and I’ve met him a few times now and he always makes me laugh! So anyone who would like to compete, please do so! You can check out Cain’s story and donate if you can at www.justgiving.com/cainsdreamtowalk“.
It is a great cause to be involved in and Helena is working hard to make the cause known, which is a great aim to be focused on. Helena isn’t just stopping with that, she really wants to push her forward in all areas of her life:
“I’d like to progress with Salce. I love helping people achieve their goals, it’s great to see how popular it’s becoming. Eiko 5 will be held on Sunday 28th July in Newcastle and of course Enigma Ladies and Sub7 will continue to push forward to help Cain walk!
Outside of work, I have my name down to be matched on UKFFC in Surrey this summer. I have always been a no-gi girl, I have however recently bought a Gi and I am now training with Checkmat South Shields”.
It does seem a busy few months ahead for Helena, which will bring with it so many different challenges but they are all something which she will definitely tackle head on and be successful with. So with all that going on daily, how does she like to relax in her spare time?
“My spare time is taken up with spending time with my daughter, partner and family. I love the simple things like sunny days in the park or winter nights in front of the first watching TV. I shed excess stress in sparring sessions and training. I understand a lot of people may not find that relaxing but I always feel on top of the world after I’ve trained hard!”
With all her knowledge on the sport and the connections she is creating, Helena is someone who is in a prime position to offer good advice to anyone who wants to become a fighter or a ring girl.
“To go for it! Yes it will be hard work and yes you will feel nervous at times but nothing beats the rush you feel when you finally do it!”
Helena continues to work hard each and everyday to achieve her goals. Her passion is second to none and she really wants to keep going to not only help herself succeed but others as well. If she continues along this path this future is set to be bright. With a great team behind her and strong support network guiding her, she will tackle anything head on. Helena has worked hard to be in the position she is now and it won’t be long before she is known outside of the North East and known amongst the elite.
To keep up to date with Helena and the Enigma Promotions you can follow: https://twitter.com/enigmatwitta
A special thanks to Helena for taking the time to answer my questions
Photo Credits: Eiko and Helena Donkin