EXCLUSIVE | Australia’s Chelsea Hackett is zeroing in on the UFC’s Octagon

Chelsea Hackett
Image: @chelshackett on Instagram

20-year-old Australian flyweight Chelsea Hackett has thrived as a Muay Thai fighter, and now she’s preparing to conquer the world of mixed martial arts.

Hackett’s martial arts journey began at just eight years old, when her parents enrolled her in Taekwondo. By the time she was 12, she’d earned a blackbelt in the Korean martial art, and sought out a new challenge in the form of Muay Thai. She signed up for classes at Boonchu Gym on the Gold Coast, which is operated by Angie and John Wayne Parr, and by the time she was 13, she was climbing into the ring for her first fight.

Fast forward to the present, when Hackett is mere days away from her professional MMA debut, and she’s constructed a solid 16-4-3 Muay Thai record, and hoarded a mountain of medals, trophies and belts.

“My biggest accomplishment in Muay Thai would be representing Australia twice,” she told BJPenn.com, running through her impressive accolades. “I competed at the World Games in 2014 in Malaysia and in 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. Those would be my biggest achievements — just representing my country at a young age. I was 15 in Malaysia and 16 in Bangkok, and both years I won gold.

“To bring gold back home both years in a row was a massive achievement for me and it pretty much set the tone for the rest of my Muah Thai career,” she continued. “Since then I’ve won three Queensland titles, three Australian titles, two world titles, and an international WBC belt. I think I’ve won six belts and two gold medals.”

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While Chelsea Hackett has always enjoyed tremendous success in the perilous sport of Muay Thai, she ultimately grew hungry for a new challenge. The logical next step, she decided, was mixed martial arts.

“It was probably about six to eight months ago,” she said, looking back on her decision to migrate to MMA.

From the moment she decided to make this transition, she’s been rapidly adding new and deadly weapons to her martial arts arsenal — most notably Brazilian jiu jitsu and wrestling.

“I’ve been doing BJJ now for just over a year and as soon as I started, I loved it,” she said. “It was kind of like the same feeling I had when I started Muay Thai. I felt like I really loved the physical side; the test of it. It was pushing me out of my comfort zone.

“Now with my new love for wrestling and BJJ, I can put them together [with my Muay Thai] and test myself even more,” she added. “From August to December last year I was fully was invested in MMA training and I loved it.”

After months of successful MMA training, the time came for Chelsea Hackett to find a fight. Her manager approached her with the idea, and she didn’t hesitate.

“January came and my manager, Rhys, was like, ‘let’s find you a fight,'” she recounted. “I was so for it. I was so keen.”

Unfortunately, the hunt for a willing dance partner has not been easy for Chelsea Hackett and her team. Ahead of her first pro MMA fight, she’s already cycled through three different opponents.

“We’ve actually had two opponent changes throughout this whole prep, which was another mind game for me to deal with,” she said. “We started with an opponent, and she pulled out nine weeks before the fight. We were like ‘It’s okay, we’ve got nine weeks. We can do this.’ But then we actually could not find anyone until five weeks out. So from nine weeks to five weeks, I was still cutting weight, I was so far into my prep, but my mind was just like, ‘Am I doing this for nothing?’ I just started to feel like it wasn’t going to happen.

“Five weeks we found someone,” she continued. “Then two weeks ago she pulled out. She pulled out on a Monday, but then they got a replacement straight away. My original opponent was from the Philippines, and my replacement opponent is actually a girl from the same gym in the Philippines.

The drama of her hunt for an opponent notwithstanding, Hackett says she feels extremely prepared for the task at hand.

“This girl has a Muay Thai background. This will be her first MMA fight, but she’s fought in Muay Thai as well,” she stated. “So that just gives me a little bit more confidence that it will be more of a striking fight. But if it goes to ground, I can control that and I am confident I’ll be the stronger fighter.

“I feel so prepared,” she continued. “I feel the fittest, the strongest, the leanest I’ve ever felt. To put it into perspective, this is my 24th fight camp. Even though it’s my first MMA fight, I’ve prepped for fights like 24 times now. So you can kind of get a gauge on how you feeling compared to other preps. This one is just on another level. My training was another level, obviously, bringing BJJ in, bringing wrestling in, just upping the volume a bit more. My conditioning got better, my fitness, my strength, my power got better. So, considering all of that, I just feel like I couldn’t be any more ready for this.”

If all goes according to plan, and she earns a victory in her MMA debut, Hackett is plotting a quick turnaround. She understands the importance of patience, but also wants to be fighting on bigger stages as soon as possible.

“My mind is open to anything that comes along,” she said. “Obviously I see the UFC as where I want to end up, 100%. But along the way, if a ONE Championship fight comes up, or Bellator, or even Invicta, I would love that as well. It’s just about choosing the right fit for me, and what my manager thinks is the right fit for me, and what my trainers think is right for me.”

While Hackett is willing to make some pit stops along the way, her ultimate goal is getting to the UFC — and she hopes to make that happen quickly.

“I’ve always loved the UFC,” she said. “I do want to establish myself in the UFC as a young fighter. I would love to be there by the time I’m 22, 23.

“In my heart I know that I can potentially get there at a young age, in the next two to three years,” she added. “I just can’t be rushing in the fights, you know. I need to be choosing solid opponents that are going to help me grow, make me grow to that stage.”

Hackett’s goals extend far beyond simply making it to the UFC’s Octagon. She plans on ruling over it.

“I want to be the UFC flyweight champion,” she said confidently. “That’s, that’s my end goal. And I want to stay the champion. I don’t want to just get there. I want to defend the belt. That’s my major goal.”

If Chelsea Hackett one day finds herself under the bright lights of the UFC, she hopes to use her time in the public eye for good. She says it’s important for her to inspire her fellow women, the same way her mother has inspired her.

“My biggest inspirations are my parents,” she said. “They started me in martial arts. They are hustlers. They’re the hardest workers I’ve ever met. My mom is super successful and she just makes me want to be a better person and grow. She inspires me and, that makes me want to inspire other women.

“I started HAMMERFIT, my personal training and group fitness business when I was 17,” she added. “Just from the get go, watching my parents work hard, I wanted to follow them and be as successful as them. So I started training women and I still train them every morning, every night.

“I also train younger girls in Muay Thai, which I feel very fulfilled with. I’m teaching them self defense; how to protect themselves and be strong women. That’s definitely one of my side goals as I keep fighting.”

Needless to say, Chelsea Hackett has huge goals. She’ll take the next steps toward those goals when she makes her professional MMA debut at Eternal MMA 42 this weekend. And if all goes according to plan, she’ll be banging on the door of the UFC in the very near future.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 3/20/2019.