It was a matchmaker who set up Abbotsford residents Elysse Stevenson and Nick Mcinnes on a date in May 2015.
It’s also a matchmaker who has paired the soon-to-be married couple with opponents at Mamba Fight Night 3, which goes down Saturday night at the Ag-Rec Building in Abbotsford.
Stevenson, 33, competes in a mixed martial arts fight at the event, while Mcinnes, 27, competes in muay thai. The pair plan to officially tie the knot in January, even if one or both of them are bruised and bloody after Saturday.
It was Stevenson who brought Mcinnes into the fold at Abbotsford’s Mamba Martial Arts Academy. After dating for several months, she invited Mcinnes to see what her training was like. He’s been hooked ever since. She said he’s been a great fit at the gym and in her life.
“He was the first guy I ever dated that actually showed up to the gym,” she said.
Stevenson has trained at Mamba for five years, after becoming bored with traditional weightlifting. She dove headfirst into competing, fighting on her first amateur MMA fight in March 2014. She has a record of two wins and two losses fighting for a number of promotions across the Pacific Northwest since.
“This is the most fun way to stay in shape,” she said. “You occupy your mind when you train. Instead of having a vanity session in the mirror at the gym, you’re learning a new skill.”
Mcinnes began training at Mamba in July 2015, and quickly became enamoured with all aspects of martial arts. A former marathon runner and football player, Mcinnes adapted to the rigours of training quickly. As his relationship with Stevenson grew, he decided to pop the question at what he felt was the most appropriate place – the Mamba gym.
“I tried to propose inside the ring,” he said, laughing.
“He got down on one knee over by the weights,” Stevenson said. “We had already known we were going to get married but never really had an official engagement thing. We weren’t going to do rings because I’m opposed to diamonds, but he decided to be cute and get down on one knee in the gym.”
Stevenson said yes on May 9 of this year, the one-year anniversary of their first meeting.
The couple admitted they haven’t been doing any wedding planning, as all of their focus the past several months has been on Mamba Fight Night 3. Training and dieting have been their world since agreeing to the fights.
Mcinnes, who walks at 190 pounds, has to get to 170 by the event’s weigh-ins today (Friday). He said making weight would be very difficult without his fiancee.
“It’s a blessing that she is in this too,” he said. “I can’t imagine preparing for a fight when someone is not on the diet with you. The mental preparation is a big thing too. It’s a big challenge.”
Stevenson, a self-admitted “great cook,” said the couple recently went on a Paleo diet, and she will have no issue making weight.
Mcinnes battles Graeme Exshaw from Vancouver’s Westside kickboxing group in three two-minute rounds. It’s the first time he will compete in front of an expected 1,000-person strong crowd, but he said he’s not nervous.
“I used to be a DJ so I’m used to big audiences,” he said. “The crowd doesn’t bother me. I love hearing them roar.”
Stevenson takes on Coquitlam’s Shawna Ram for the Mamba MMA Flyweight title. She said Ram is a wrestler, and she’s hoping to force her opponent to stand more than she’d like.
“I’m most comfortable in jui jitsu and on the ground but in this last year I’ve become more creative with my stand-up,” she said. “I want to showcase some of that, especially because I’m fighting a wrestler. The audience likes a standing fight, and I think it will go to the ground but I want to keep it standing a bit each round. It gives the audience more to look at.”
Unfortunately for local fans, Saturday will likely be the final day that Stevenson and Mcinnes compete locally. After the couple gets married, they plan to move to Ottawa to be closer to Mcinnes’ daughter. Stevenson, who graduated from Abbotsford’s MEI, and Mcinnes, who graduated from Mission’s Heritage Park Secondary, have lived in the Fraser Valley for most of their lives. They said they will continue to train when they reach Ontario, but encourage locals to check out the action on Saturday.
“I feel like people will be surprised by the athletes we have here in Abbotsford,” Mcinnes said. “We have a lot of great talent. It’s going to be very entertaining, especially some of the young fighters in the preliminary fights.”
The pair said young Abbotsford fighter Austin Brar is one to watch, and said that main eventer Gagan Gill will put on a show.
The event is also a chance for the Mamba gym and the community to mourn the loss of a friend. Alex Niezgoda was the young man who died after crashing into a logging truck just east of Mission last month.
“We’re dedicating the night to him,” Stevenson said.
The pair also said martial arts are a great way to train, and recommended anyone give it a chance.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about MMA gyms,” Mcinnes said. “People think you will come in and get beat up. You have to leave your ego at the door, but it’s not as scary as it sounds.”
“Don’t be intimidated by the boys,” Stevenson said. “Learning to train with men will help prepare you if you ever need to defend yourself. I feel so confident walking down the street now knowing that I can be physically equal to men bigger than me.”
Mamba Fight Night 3 gets underway at 6 p.m. at the Ag-Rec Building at Abbotsford Exhibition Park. Tickets are available at the Mamba academy, Nando’s Abbotsford or at the door.