Kayla Hracho: The Long Journey to a Shot at the Big Show
By: Alexandra Scaffidi
American Top Team amateur prospect Kayla Hracho (4-0) has faced many highs and lows in her life. From failing out of school, losing her job, moving around the country, going in and out of six different gyms, finding her way into boxing, then transitioning into mixed martial arts. Hracho has faced numerous obstacles that have brought her to where she is today.
Hracho aims to challenge herself and put her skills to the test as often as she can. Something that has helped her is entering tournaments. She is coming close to finishing a Grand Prix with Ultimate Combat Challenge in Panama City, Panama. She has competed twice already and will be heading back on March 2nd to face Yindril Ticas (2-0-0) for the final championship fight.
Only two weeks before she is set to complete her UCC tournament, Hracho will be participating in a second tournament for World Class Fight League. She is set to face Cara Greenwell (4-3-0) in Tampa, Florida on February 16.
Before speaking to her coaches or knowing any details, Hracho secured her place in the tournament by commenting on a post she saw online. She made her interest known and shortly thereafter was contacted to be a participant in the eight-woman grand Prix.
This WCFL tournament is a good opportunity for competitors to make a name for themselves. The victor of the Grand Prix will be granted a professional Invicta contract. Securing a place in this organization is a major opportunity for the winner, as Invicta is a gateway to organizations such as Bellator and the UFC.
Originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, Hracho attended school at California University of Pennsylvania until transferring to Kutztown University of Pennsylvania where she finished with a degree in Clinical Psychology.
“It was a tough transition for me,” Hracho explained. “I actually failed out of my first year of school, was partying a lot so that’s why I moved home to try to focus on my studies.”
Hracho has spent time working with youth who have mental and behavioral disorders in residential treatment centers and school facilities. Working with youth is something that Hracho hopes to continue to do in the future. Last year Hracho had the opportunity participate in an event at Florida Athletic University called “Human Library.”
The “Human Library” event consisted of speakers coming in from different walks of life who have a story to share. The event had war veterans, people with disabilities, and among them was Hracho, sharing her story with the students.
“I would have five to seven students sitting with me for a 20 minute period,” Hracho described. “I would just talk about my story. They would ask me whatever questions they wanted to and my only job was to be an open book. Just be open and honest and share with them my story and it was really cool.”
Once Hracho graduated from her program at Kutztown University she moved to New Hampshire for a job opportunity. She was excited to be independent and start her life. Then things unexpectedly came crashing down when she was let go after two months into the job. That same day she packed up and moved back home.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and things that are very relatable,” Hracho said. “I want to share that with people and say listen I continue to go through ups and downs like it’s an everyday struggle sometimes for me but I’m still doing it. I’m still here and you can too, that’s why I try to be open and honest.”
Growing up, Hracho was an athlete and participated in many sports including basketball, softball, field hockey, and rugby in her first year of college. Her introduction to combat sports began with boxing when she was 23 years old, shortly after she moved back home.
“I was looking for an outlet and I was gym hopping,” Hracho explained. “I probably went to six different gyms in one week. I was taking advantage of free day passes and the last gym I went to was a boxing gym and you know the rest is just history.”
Hracho then spent her time training and working towards making her debut in the ring. Her boxing career lasted from June 2014 to December 2015. In this time she was fighting frequently and keeping herself busy, compiling an 8-3 record as an amateur.
While she was still training and living in Pennsylvania Hracho made the decision to move again. This time she had her sights set on The Bronx, New York. She had anticipated working with a highly respected trainer at World Wide Boxing Gym until a series of events took place that led her somewhere she never expected to be.
“I was four days away from moving and I went to go visit a friend and trainer of mine in New Jersey,” Hracho revealed. “We did some pad work and a little bit of training just kind of messing around. He recorded a video and posted it online. I shared this video and the right person happened to see it.”
That “right person” just so happened to be UFC veteran and American Top Team head coach Din Thomas.
“He stumbled upon this video, he followed me on Instagram and commented on it,” Hracho said. “He said something strange like ‘She’s proper’ which I guess in Din’s slang means ‘oh she’s impressive’. But I knew it was something good.”
Hracho called a friend that had more knowledge on MMA and inquired about Thomas and did more research on American Top Team. Her friend encouraged her to reach out to Thomas and sell herself to him and join the gym.
“I’m like, what am I gonna say?” Hracho said. “First of all I have never trained MMA in my life and I just had my boxing… I’m moving to New York in four days like my car is literally packed up like what am I supposed to say to this guy.”
Eventually, Hracho decided to reach out to Thomas.
“I messaged Din and told him about my boxing experience and I said ‘hey I’m familiar with you and American Top Team’.” Hracho said. “I want nothing more than to be a champion and I know that I need the right team the right coaches around me to make that happen I said I’m confident that if you let me come train at ATT I can become a champion.”
After a brief conversation, Thomas asked Hracho when she would make her way out to South Florida to visit the gym. This was an opportunity Hracho jumped on immediately.
“I said I’ll be there in two weeks,” said Hracho. “So I put my New York trip on hold and with the little bit of money I had left I flew down to South Florida and began training with some of the best fighters in the world.”
This was an extremely rare opportunity for Hracho and she credits Thomas for so much of her development as an athlete and as an individual outside the gym. She has no regrets about taking the risk, as this was an experience she had to take advantage of. She frequently refers to these series of events as “fate”, and says that Din has been a mentor to her during the entire process.
“I always wanna pay my respect to Din,” Hracho said. “Without him, first of all, I wouldn’t be there but he is such an incredible coach… I think that sometimes people downplay it or maybe just don’t understand how truly incredible he is because he is so humble. He really is a mastermind of this sport and it’s an honor to be able to learn from him every single day so I do credit a lot of my progress and skill to him and all that he’s done for me in the gym.”
Thomas has high-hopes and confidence in Hracho and had this to say about her:
“Kayla Hracho is a special talent,” Thomas stated. “She works extremely hard and sets an amazingly high standard for herself. She has tremendous potential and the sky’s the limit for her career.”
In training, she is constantly working to sharpen her skills and become a well-rounded athlete. Hracho, still being new to MMA, gives attention to working on her wrestling skills as she creates a foundation for the future.
“I very much want to be a well rounded MMA fighter,” explains Hracho. “I said I don’t want to rely on just my boxing to win fights. I wanna be able to take people down and finish them on the ground or do whatever I have to do to win against any type of opponent”
Once Hracho begins a fight camp her main focus is on cardio and her game plan for her opponent. She does not spend as much time overworking herself because of the number of classes she takes outside of camp.
“I actually train more when I’m out of camp than I do in camp,” Hracho explains. “Just because I’m at the beginning of MMA I have so much to learn so when I’m not in camp. I literally train as much as I possibly can. I step into every single class I can. I’m trying to absorb as much information as possible.”
Since her transition to MMA, Hracho has been keeping active, just like she did when she was boxing. Taking fights back-to-back and competing in a tournament. The 4-0 amateur record Hracho compiled was achieved just last year between May and October. She took her first MMA fight on one week’s notice with only two months of MMA experience training at ATT.
“I want to stay as busy as possible,” Hracho says. “I am 26-years-old so you know I don’t have all the time in the world I don’t want to rush but I also want to just get as many fights as I can to just learn on the job. I wanted to get in there you know and I feel like I tremendously get better each fight.”