Tara LaRosa is one of MMA's hidden greats. She's widely considered one of the top female fighters ever, compiling an 18-2 record in an eight year career, but remains conspicuously absent from national television as the sport continues to grow. Days before a competitive fight with Takayo Hashi, LaRosa sat down with Bloody Elbow to discuss Scott Coker, her legacy, and why asking her about Cyborg was plain stupid.
Jonathan Snowden: Where are you training now? You've been all over the country, in North Carolina and Philly and Washington. Where are you for this and who are you working with?
Tara LaRosa: I'm in Philadelphia. It's where I live and I've been training in Philly since September of '07. Philadelphia Fight Factory. Our head coach is Stephen Haigh. Ricky Lee is my standup coach. I also work with Zack Makovsky who is the Bellator 135-pound champ. Joey Bentz, Steve McCabe, and of course Eddie Alvarez is on the team as well. I don't train a lot with him because he's a good deal bigger than me. We've got a bunch of really good guys.
Jonathan Snowden: I notice, and I see this a lot with female fighters, that you didn't list any women sparring partners. Is it just too hard to find girls that can keep up with you that you won't have to fight down the road, or do you prefer working with the men?
Tara LaRosa: I train with all men. I've always trained with all guys. I've never really trained with other women. Here and there on occasion if I visit a school or something. Or if I come across a girl at a seminar. It's very rare. I definitely don't seek out female training partners. I've got enough partners where I'm at.
Jonathan Snowden: Stepping back to how you got started in martial arts - I'm always wary of what I read on the internet, but it says that the reason you started fighting is one Mr. Jean Claude Van Damme. Can that be true?
Tara LaRosa: (Laughs) I used to watch a whole lot of action movies. (Laughs). I used to be a big fan of Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris. I joke around and say 'Yeah, that's why I got into MMA.' It is why I got into the martial arts you know? I thought it was cool.
Jonathan Snowden: Once again leaving the women off the list. What about the immortal Cynthia Rothrock?
Tara LaRosa: Ah, Cynthia Rothrock. Yeah back in the '80s she was great too.
Jonathan Snowden: Now, did you get a chance to meet Jean Claude at the Bodog Russia show?
Tara LaRosa: No, I wasn't at that show. I've never met him. (Laughs).
Jonathan Snowden: I wanted to ask you about a guy who often gets left out of the conversation when it comes to women's MMA and that's Jeff Osborne. He had a huge role pioneering women's MMA - what was your experience like working with Jeff?
Tara LaRosa: Working with Hook n Shoot was tremendous. That's where I started off my career. Most of my early fights were up in Evansville, Indiana. At the Coliseum right there for Hook n Shoot. It was a lot of fun. A lot of us got our start there. A lot of the women, and a lot of guys on the main stage, all came through Hook n Shoot. Jeff put on a lot of great shows. He's putting on a lot of amateur fights now. So a lot of people are getting their start, a lot of people you are probably going to see, are once again getting their start with Jeff.
Jonathan Snowden: Right now, lots of people are doing women's fights. Even on national television. But when Jeff was doing it, I thought it was pretty brave. Especially when he did that all women's show.
Tara LaRosa: I was on it. I was on the first all woman show. Back in 2002. I was on the second one too. I think I'm actually the only person still fighting, still actively fighting, from that show.
Jonathan Snowden: Isn't that amazing? Why do you think that is? Has it just been too hard to make a living over the years as a female fighter? Is that why all those girls are gone?
Tara LaRosa: It's tough. To make it in this sport and do it as a source of income, for a living, it's pretty tough. I think some people just decided to move on. It wasn't really a career or what they wanted to do for their whole lives. Some people have gotten married or started a family. Moved on to another career - one of the girls is now a very successful lawyer. There's a lot of different reasons. I guess I just have nothing else to do. (Laughs).
Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs) Right. Now one of those girls who I haven't seen fight in a long time is Amanda Buckner. I thought she was great and your fight with Buckner was amazing. Was that the best fight you've ever been in?
Tara LaRosa: I think so. I would say so. It was probably my best one yet. She is tremendously skilled. She is one of the top women in the sport. Probably of all time. Her technical skill, her in-ring ability, and awareness is really awesome. She's always evolving and so focused. It would be great to see her back in action again. She was supposed to have a fight coming up and I hear she was injured in training and will have to have knee surgery again. For the second time. I'm really, really sad about that. A lot of the veteran women were looking forward to her coming back.
Jonathan Snowden: That is too bad. It's disheartening. I hope she can recover, but a second surgery is scary stuff. One thing you and Amanda had in common was experience on the Japanese scene? What did you think of the fighting there and their reputation for treating women a little delicately? Did they treat you differently than male fighters?
Tara LaRosa: I think the rules were a little bit different. That's about it. I was treated fairly. I was treated fine. I fought over there twice and have no complaints. It was a smaller show, so they didn't have as much of a budget. But it was still a good event. I didn't like the rules for one particular show that I fought for, but when you get an opportunity you take it. You only got so many seconds on the ground and no punching to the head on the ground. But I think they are done with that. I think they've evolved.
Jonathan Snowden: That's what I meant. I'd heard they didn't want any ground and pound because the owner of the group was sensitive about women being injured or disfigured.
Tara LaRosa: I wonder if it was really that, or if it was to keep the action moving. Sometimes it tends to get stale when it is on the ground. And because there is no punching on the ground, it encourages a grappling match. If you have two skilled opponents sometimes it can slow down a little.
Jonathan Snowden: After Bodog it seemed like your next big break had found you. How disappointing was the AFL fiasco?
Tara LaRosa: A group came along, the American Fight League, and they had big plans. A lot of flash bang and I got signed. I got a really, really nice sign on bonus (laughs) but nothing really came of it. The stock market crashed and the economy went down hill right as they were about to have their first show. I was scheduled to be on it. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to fight Roxanne Modaferri. Four weeks before the show it was canceled. I guess that's how it can be sometimes. I've seen big shows come and go. We all have. That's just the evolution of the sport.
Tara LaRosa: Absolutely. We are tied at 1-1 now. We've got to see what's up. Give it one more shot. Roxy is awesome. She's a really good friend of mine. Whatever. We're both pretty active now - so if it happens it happens. I would like sooner rather than later.
Jonathan Snowden: The second fight in Moosin was one of the best of the year. Do you have some pride in that despite picking up a loss?
Tara LaRosa: I feel good about the fact that I'm such good friends with Roxanne. She did a really great job. She did what she needed to do. She came in and gave me a really good fight and she got the nod from the judges. I think that's awesome. Good job. Kudos to her. I hadn't been beaten in seven years. I think that fight got her into Strikeforce, got her an opportunity to take a shot at the title and Sarah Kaufman. That's awesome.
Jonathan Snowden: Speaking of Strikeforce - it's interesting that for so long we considered you the top fighter in women's MMA, yet now that women are on national television for two promotions, you are nowhere to be found. Why is that?
Tara LaRosa: There's a couple of reasons. I think the main reason is that I'm fighting at 125 pounds now. Elite XC had started with 140 and then 145. Then they added a 135 pound division, but by the time they did that, I had already been fighting and active at 125. That's my natural weight. I'm actually very small for the 135 division. Most of them walk around at 150, 155 pounds. I'm walking around at 135. So when it came around I was like 'Ah man. What do I do?' But I'm active and I'm able to get fights at 125 and have heard people say they were going to add a 125 pound division at some point. So I thought, cool, I'm going to hang out at 125 then. Do my thing down here.
Plus, I'd already fought most of the top chicks at 135 pounds. There wasn't really a whole lot for me to do. A lot of the girls coming up at that time still only had four or five fights. You can't really throw someone like that in with me right off the bat. You don't want to do that so early in someone's career. A lot of the girls were just too green for me to fight. That's why I decided to stay down at 125 until some of the girls had gotten seasoned. Maybe I'll go back up again. But I'm doing well at 125 and still hoping someone is going to open up the division. Scott Coker? Hello? (Laughs). I'm here buddy. (Laughs).
Jonathan Snowden: You're doing great at 125. But is there ever that temptation to go to 135 or 145 even to get some money fights? Do you say 'I know I'm smaller, I know I'll be at a disadvantage - but it's too hard to say no.'
Tara LaRosa: I'm just not a big fan of fighting above your weight class. I don't think that's smart for somebody trying to make a career out of fighting. Don't take stupid fights. Why would I go and fight Cyborg? The girl walks around at more than 170 pounds. She cuts down to 145 pounds. She is enormous by the time she gets into the ring the next night. I'd be walking in at 135. The disadvantage in size alone would be ridiculous. Could my skills over come that? Who knows? I don't know. If I could get to the ground, maybe. But we've seen a lot of pretty good ground girls not be able to make it happen. A lot of the girls who should fight at 135 have jumped up to fight her and not done very well. I'm not going to sacrifice myself and my career for something that is ridiculous.
Jonathan Snowden: I think you're right. From a sporting perspective, it makes no sense at all.
Tara LaRosa: That's why we have weight classes. Should Urijah Faber go and fight GSP? Really? That's exactly what you're asking.
Jonathan Snowden: At the same time, it wasn't long ago Faber was talking about fighting at 155 because the money wasn't right in his natural weight class. Even male fighters in less established divisions have these same dilemmas.
Tara LaRosa: I'm not really persuaded too much by dollar signs. I'm smarter than that. I'm not a knuckle dragger out there saying, 'Just give me a fight, I want to fight. Give me a t-shirt, that's all it takes for me to fight.' I've been really smart throughout my career and I've taken smart fights. Fights that were good opponents, good matches. Getting on Bodog, back in the day, was great. That was one of the big shows. They're of course gone now, but that was a great thing that helped my career.
They put me against really good girls. Like Takayo Hashi this week. She's an awesome opponent. This girl is really freaking good. Yeah, everybody saw her lose a really boring decision to Sarah Kaufman. But this chick is really incredibly talented. At 125 pounds, this is a really tough fight. We're both small for 135 so it is a great matchup for me to take.
Jonathan Snowden: There's maybe no way for you to answer this without sounding cocky. I'm going to ask it anyway. When people talk about the best women's fighters ever, they mention Megumi Fujii, you, and Cyborg. Are you the best ever?
Tara LaRosa: I don't know. I don't think so. I don't know. Toughest maybe. Definitely the toughest. I'll say that. Most skilled? I don't know. I think there are girls out there that have better skills than me. We've all seen my standup. (Laughs). There's chicks with much better standup than myself. The sport is evolving. The girls are getting so much better and I'm just trying to keep up. Trying to evolve with it.
You can see Tara in the co-main event of the DaMMAge Fight League debut on Wednesday from the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ. The Big Bang airs on GoFightLive and will feature 11 mixed martial arts bouts. Former EliteXC fighter and Ring of Combat veteran Chris Liguroi will battle fellow ROC veteran John Salgado in a lightweight bout. Two-time UFC veteran Kevin Jordan will take on fellow UFC veteran Brandon Lee Hinkle in a heavyweight tilt. Mike Massenzio a ROC and UFC veteran will also be competing in a middleweight matchup.