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Erin Toughill Part I: “Be grateful, because things can change in a second”

Erin Toughill

Erin Toughill

If you aren’t already familiar with the name Erin Toughill you will become extremely familiar very soon. The former top ranked professional boxer recently returned to the cage after a two year retirement stint with a unanimous decision victory over a very tough Jan Finney in November of 2008.

Outside of a disqualification loss due to the illegal use of elbows in 2004, Toughill has not suffered a mixed martial arts loss since her third professional fight way back in 2000.

Toughill recently revealed in an exclusive interview with that she will be signing with Strikeforce very soon and expects a match -up with the fearsome Brazilian striker Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos sometime in 2009. They say that three’s company, well current female contenders for the Strikeforce championship Gina Carano and the previously mentioned Cyborg can expect company very soon.

One of the true pioneer’s of female mixed martial arts, Toughill was featured on MSNBC’s Warrior Nation back in January 2007 before much of the mainstream knew that female MMA was even taking place. The feature did a fantastic job capturing the human side of Toughill and her quest in MMA and opened up many doors for women’s MMA to blossom in the future.

Just one short month after the much talked about episode of Warrior Nation had aired on MSNBC the sport of female MMA was given another huge boost when it was featured on yet another major cable television network. In February of 2007 a girl by the name of Gina Carano made her television debut when she faced off with Julie Kedzie on Showtime’s EliteXC: Destiny, and the rest is, well, history.

Just as the immensely popular EliteXC poster girl was poised to take the female MMA world by storm, Toughill was on her way out. Shortly after the episode of Warrior Nation had given her the type of exposure many female fighters could only dream of, Toughill announced that she was retiring from the sport.

That was then, this is now, and this incredibly talented and marketable female powerhouse is set to pick up where she left off and take the world of mixed martial arts by storm. Just ask anyone that knows female MMA, or any female fighter in the business for that matter and they will tell you, Toughill is the real deal.

Like many of the personalities that have naturally gravitated towards the world of mixed martial arts, it wasn’t always a bed of roses for Toughill growing up in the often cold streets of Chicago, Illinois. A product of a broken home like many of us, Erin had an internal anger that she just couldn’t manage to kick, a void that didn’t seem possible to fill.

“I think like a lot of kids, I grew up in two different households because my parents divorced at an early age,” revealed Toughill. “I had a lot of anger from things I could not control with that separation.”

“I was what they called a “bad kid”. I went to five different high schools in three years before I graduated early. But through all that, I was an avid reader, and although school wasn’t for me, I still read books and learned a lot on my own.”

“I have lived on my own since I was seventeen, and prior to that, lived where I could at times. I was always, always getting into trouble and fighting. I was just a lost kid, you know?”

Something had to give. One way or the other, for better or for worse, the directionless child was had two distinctively different roads she could have travelled down. As if somehow touched by divine intervention, during a time when all thee odds were stacked against her, Erin discovered her one true calling in life, and not a minute to soon.

“At this point, something bad was really going to happen unless I started heading down a positive road,” confessed Toughill. “When I was seventeen or eighteen I discovered Martial Arts. Martial Arts was that road I needed to follow.”

In 1999 the rejuvenated martial artist made her professional MMA debut at a time when professional female combat was viewed as extremely taboo. just one short year after that Toughill made an enormous leap to the sport of women’s professional boxing where she ended up making quite a name for herself, consistently being ranked at the top of her division and facing off with the immensely popular daughter to “The greatest of all time”, Laila Ali.

“I only started boxing to cross train,” admitted Toughill when asked about her inspiration for getting involved with boxing. “And again, I was thrown into many fight before I was ready. I was being taught to box by a kickboxer….two different worlds, my God, completely. MMA was in Japan at the time, so we figured we’d stay busy in the meantime. If anything, I should have kickboxed, but I was fairing well against women who were in it much longer than me. My athleticism was winning fights.”

Winning fights she was, as the naturally athletic and powerful Toughill amassed an impressive record of 8-1-2 before the disastrous bout that resulted in her permanent departure from “The Sweet Science”.

“The last Boxing match I had was September of 2006,” recalled Toughill. “I re-matched a girl I beat six months prior by unanimous decision. My dad died a few days before my fight. In retrospect, I should not have fought. She cleaned my clock, hit me and knocked me out of the ring. I just was not there. My head was somewhere else.”

“After that, I said I’d never box again, and I won’t.”

The end of her career in the ring meant the birth of an entirely different career for Toughill as she landed a gig as Steel on the second season of The American Gladiators. The show was tremendously popular during it’s original run between 1989 and 1986 before making a recent much talked about return in 2008.

“Being on NBC and being picked as one of the best out of thousands of hopefuls, is a pretty awesome feeling, said Toughill. “Getting to do amazing stunts and beat people up!? It was great [laughing].

“The comradery on the show was great. I got along with almost everyone, and we all did some crazy stuff and had fun times. I met amazing people and was fortunate to stay in contact with most.”

“It’s an iconic show and I was a part of that.”

A true story of rags to riches, Toughill never could have imagined herself on the widely viewed television show when she was just a young girl, raising hell in Chicago. She was definitely one of those people that simply wasn’t meant to make it. The cards never seemed to be stacked in Toughill’s favor during her time on this earth. Just as she clawed herself up from the childhood drama that threatened to hold her down and thrust herself into a successful career as a martial artist, the bottom dropped out again for Toughill in the worst way imaginable.

“I was hanging out with gang bangers and doing some bad stuff to just get by, you name it,” confessed the rehabilitated hellion. “I was a fifteen year old girl hanging out with people twice my age, I saw stuff a kid should not have to see. Of course, bad stuff happened to me being in those situations, and I did some bad stuff also.”

“I really thought the bad things were behind me, and things were going well for many years after I found MMA. Five years ago my little sister died drinking and driving. It was the worst and most horrific day of my life. She was two and a half years younger and we were inseparable. Two years after that, my dad died, from a broken heart, I think.”

Erin was born a fighter and she will continue to fight through every aspect in life. You know what they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Toughill has been forced into developing strength beyond strength.

“Men will come and go, and so will friends, but family is forever,” explained Toughill. “It transformed me in a way I cannot articulate. Somehow, having the two most important people in my life being gone, its forced me to reach a new level of strength, a new level of awareness, a new level of peace.”

“I try to live my life with integrity and honoring my word. So many people don’t know what honoring your word is, and how important family and friends are. I don’t respect people I can’t trust, and I don’t trust people I can’t respect.”

“My advice? Be grateful, because things can change in a second.”

“I would like to thank Ken Pavia and the rest of the boys at They have all really worked hard for me, and have been a great addition to my life and career. I would like to thank Warrior Wear and I want to thank Brian Rauchback, Josiah & John Marsh, from Lotar, helping me and dedicating their time to me so I can be the best. I want to thank My Mom and friends who have been there for me. Last but not least, I want to thank Mo Lawal who has become a great friend and training partner for me. We’re probably two of the most opposite people [laughs], but we have a great friendship. Go to: and for pics, bio and info on my career!”

Be on the lookout for the second interview of a two part series with Erin Toughill exclusively on The second installment will focus on Toughill’s mixed martial arts career, from the beginning until now. She also shares her thoughts on her upcoming move to Strikeforce, Gina Carano, an inevitable match-up with Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and much more.


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