55 and Done: Felice Herrig Calls It a Career

February 12, 2024
2 weeks

Felice Herrig is facing the major challenge that all athletes eventually must answer to. Herrig may have things she still would like to see herself accomplish in combat sports. But Herrig’s body, after 20 years and 55 professional fights, is telling her that it has had enough punishment.

Herrig, 39, made her professional boxing debut in July 2023 after a long career in Muay Thai, MMA, and kickboxing. Herrig scored a knockout win over Veronika Dmitriyeva when her opponent retired after the fourth round. With nothing else left to give, Herrig decided to wrap up her career.

While Herrig never quite reached the top of the UFC after being a part of the first group of women’s strawweights to reach the promotion, Herrig had plenty of memorable moments in combat sports. Here’s a look at what happened in her career, according to MMA news sites.

Kickboxing Was Her First Love

Herrig didn’t start with MMA until 2009, but she was busy with picking up accolades as a kickboxer. Herrig won the Internal Kickboxing Federation Pro Muay Thai United States bantamweight title in 2008. Fighting in Chicago, Herrig beat Katie Meehan by unanimous decision.

Herrig piled up a 23-5 record as a professional kickboxer. Her last kickboxing match on record was a majority decision win over Emily Bearden in 2009. Making a transition to MMA wasn’t an easy decision for Herrig.

However, Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano, and Cris Cyborg had all proven there was a path to stardom there. Women’s Muay Thai and boxing didn’t seem to have captured the public’s imagination in the same way. Herrig had an opportunity to make more money if her skills would translate over to other sports.

The Ultimate Fighter Helps Turnaround Career

Herrig’s transition to MMA wasn’t easy. With the sport still growing, it wasn’t easy to find strong competition. Herrig lost the first two fights of her career on the regional scene and was 3-3 in her career after six bouts.

Before Herrig landed on The Ultimate Fighter show that launched the women’s strawweight division, she did get a number of strong challenges on the regional scene. Herrig lost to future UFC champion Carla Esparza via decision in December 2011 and fought future-ranked UFC contender Tecia Torres in December 2013.

While both fights were losses, Herrig had built her record to 9-5 by the time she reached The Ultimate Fighter House. Herrig would reach the quarterfinals of the tournament, where she lost an exhibition fight with Randa Markos. Markos would go on to become a long-time UFC fighter.

Herrig Breaks Through to UFC

While Herrig didn’t win TUF, Esparza captured the inaugural title by winning the competition; she did earn a contract. In her first UFC fight, Herrig made a successful debut by submitting Lisa Ellis with an armbar.

Following a loss to Paige VanZant, Herrig would go through the best stage of her career. She kicked off a four-fight winning streak by submitting Kailin Curran in the first round. Herrig’s performance was so dominant she earned the only Performance of the Night bonus of her career.

Herrig followed that up with a decision win over future champion Alexa Grasso. Herrig then beat Justine Kish and Cortney Casey by decision to improve to 14-6 in her career. But Herrig’s career would soon hit a series of mishaps.

Losing Skid and ACL Injury

Herrig’s longest career winning streak ended with a split decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She followed that up with a decision loss to Michelle Waterson. Following the loss to Waterson, everything started to decline quickly for Herrig.

In June 2019, Herrig tore her ACL and would end up not getting back into the octagon until her submission loss to Virna Jandiroba in August 2020. The pandemic was rough on Herrig, who supplemented her income on OnlyFans. Being able to generate extra income left her with less interest in returning to fighting.

Herrig had a desire to complete her contract in the UFC and would end up competing again nearly two years after her loss to Jandiroba. Kowalkiewicz was on a five-fight losing streak entering the fight, according to MMA news websites.

But unlike the split decision the two women had previously battled through, this fight wasn’t closer. Kowlkiewicz looked like the fresher fighter and was able to wrap up a second-round submission. Herrig announced she was done with MMA soon after that fight.

Herrig Looked Into More Boxing

MMA wasn’t something Herrig ever considered for her long-term career. Herrig always wanted to do more boxing. She had agreed to fight for the Bare Knuckle Fight Championship but never competed in the organization. Herrig did compete in one boxing match but never followed that up with anything else.

The constant rehabbing from injuries wore Herrig down. Combat sports take a toll on most athletes and the desire to get out as early as possible is the dream of many. While Herrig enjoyed her time in competition, she is also likely glad to have a chance to rest and relax.

MMA fighting news shows that the women’s divisions in the UFC have had their ups and downs. While the higher weights, like featherweight, have flopped due to the lack of competition, that hasn’t been the case for some of the lighter weights. Herrig came in with a wave of athletes looking to sustain a division.

Strawweight is a popular women’s division that has seen five different women hold the belt since it was introduced in 2014. While Herrig wasn’t one of the women to climb the ladder and grab gold, she helped fill out the division, which needed competitive challengers to show it was sustainable for the long term.

Herrig’s win over Grasso is also a notable accomplishment. Grasso is the current women’s flyweight champion. She took the belt from Valentina Shevchenko, who had a long reign on top before taking a stunning submission loss to Grasso.

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By Dean McHugh.

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