Amber Brown has trained all out for her scheduled MMA fight on Saturday against Celine Haga. She very much wants to win and will be disappointed if she loses.
But, heartbroken? No.
Brown knows what real loss, and real heartbreak, feels like.
In September, Maliyah Blake, Brown’s 14-year-old daughter with her husband, Joe Blake, died of complications from diabetes.
Maliyah, who would have turned 15 last Saturday, was the center of their universe.
“She was literally our world,” Brown said during an interview at FIT-NHB, where she trains. “We never left her with babysitters. She went on every fight trip.”
It was during such a trip – Brown was scheduled to fight the next day – that Maliyah, who’d been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3, collapsed in a California hotel and went into cardiac arrest.
Brown’s mother applied CPR, and Maliya’s heartbeat was restored. But she never regained consciousness and died seven days later.
Blake describes his daughter as “a bundle of energy” and “selfless.”
Maliya was athletic, as well, taking after both parents. Brown is 7-6 as an MMA fighter; Blake, a former boxer, runs Elevation Boxing & Fitness in Moriarty, where the couple resides.
“Just active,” Brown said. “She was into track, volleyball. … Pretty much in the gym since she was 3.”
Maliya had won several medals in grappling competitions, Brown said, and was as tough as she was playful: “She put 100 percent into everything, no matter what it was.”
In the days, weeks and months since their daughter’s death, Blake said, having each other has meant “everything … It’s been crazy.”
They’ve been together as a couple for 18 years, since Brown was 16.
Brown’s MMA career, meanwhile, had been on hiatus even before Maliya’s passing.
That career began almost by accident.
“After I had my daughter (in 2008), Joe and his brother had already come to FIT,” she said. “I started training probably in 2009, just to work out, just to get in shape.”
Then, she said, having seen friend, FIT teammate and fellow Moriarty High School graduate Brenda Gonzales Means fight on a local card, “that was pretty motivating.”
Brown made her pro MMA debut in 2012 and won five of her first six fights. But the competition got tougher after she signed with Invicta FC, the sport’s most successful women-only promotional company.
Due to injuries and other factors, Brown hadn’t fought since May 2019 when she accepted an August 2022 fight in Commerce, California.
The day of the weigh-in, Maliya collapsed. The fight didn’t happen.
In the aftermath, Brown wasn’t sure she’d fight again. But she continued to train, an activity that helped her get through the days.
In November, Brown was offered a fight on a FightWorld card at Revel Entertainment Center staged by her coaches at FIT, Tom Vaughn, Arlene Sanchez Vaughn and Jon Judy. She decided it was too soon.
Now, the time feels right.
In the past, Brown had felt extreme pressure to win and had been disconsolate when she lost. “Now,” she said, “it’s not like that.”
Blake has seen the difference in Brown – and in himself, as well.
“Before,” he said, “It was like (competition) was our life,” he said. “… She’s making it fun now, not a job. We could walk away anytime and not even care.”
Brown knows Haga (14-18), a former Albuquerque resident who now lives and trains in Colorado, casually as a person and quite well as a fighter.
“I’m excited,” she said. “… We’re gonna go out skill for skill. She’s good at what she does, and I’ve been trying to get better at what I do. So, it’s a good fight.”
Win or lose, Brown said, she’ll be OK – knowing there are far more important things in life.