The Frenchwoman is realising her dream of competing in Paris as MMA makes its debut under the Bellator banner on Saturday night
Lucie Bertaud is accustomed to fighting for her right to be visible in boxing, mixed martial arts and even as a presenter on television through her role on a combat sports channel in France. Now, finally, having become a mixed martial arts fighter six years ago, she realises her dream to compete in Paris as MMA makes its debut under the Bellator banner there on Saturday night.
To say that Bertaud is excited is an overstatement for the 35-year-old from Thouars, who faces Maguy Berchel in the preliminary fight card which will shown around the world, on the BBC, Channel 5 and on CBS Sports in the USA. It is a huge moment for the woman who came to MMA late after a career in boxing.
“I think I am the proof you can do whatever you want in your life. When I started boxing, they told me I couldn’t be a champion,” explained the flyweight fighter, who has competed in boxing against the likes of Katie Taylor.
“I became a champion. When I started journalism they told me I couldn’t do anything in journalism and I did. I was a pioneer in that because I was covering combat sport and there were no women in that. I was proud to be a commentator and broadcaster. When I was boxer, we would produce these amazing performances at a high level and nobody would care. There was no media there.
“I decided to become a commentator just so I could promote it myself. I wanted to show we were undiscovered heroes. I knew there was potential and I like to be at the beginning of something. I kept going in this MMA field and I fell in love. I wanted to show people I could be great in that as I was in boxing. It takes time and sometimes you need to overcome struggles. Out of the comfort zone, you start to evolve. I want it because I know I will evolve.”
The struggle to get MMA legalised in France was a long one. And Bertaud was deeply involved. “We had to fight a lot to make this possible. In the current context, the issues were very complicated to bring MMA in France. It was, for sure, political. I think now they’ve started to think this is a normal sport. As ambassadors of MMA, we are showing that. We are showing courage and respect and honour. What is wrong with that? Finally they have another point of view here in France. We are still fighting. We still have issues. We are making our way in France. We are making history. Definitely, we are coming and there’s nothing they can do.”
Women’s MMA is on a meteoric rise, too, and has been since the American Ronda Rousey became a global figurehead and pioneer six years ago. Does Bertaud feel the pressure of performing in front of crowd of 1,000, on home soil, for the first time ? “There’s always a lot of pressure before fighting. When you get in the cage you’re never quite sure how you’ll be when you get out again. Everything has just aligned. It’s not random for me. I will take heat. I will embrace it and feel it. I will remember this night my entire life so I will be the best version of myself. I just want to be the best possible for myself. I want a good ending to this story.”
As a woman, as a fighter, she knows she is a role model. She embraces it. “I want to show to the people everything is possible, especially for women. It’s not a man’s world. You’re strong and if you want to do it, do it. That’s it. I want women to have more confidence in themselves. I say what I think. People recognise themselves in myself. I’m a common girl who tried to be exceptional. I try to be, at least. I’m not on this earth to be average. You have to take what you want in life to honour it.”
Growing up, she knew she was tough. Life was difficult as a teenager, and Bertaud does not want to go into detail about it. “I was a nice girl. I was a competitor because I always wanted to be No 1. Sometimes I would be fighting but I was nice. When I was young I had some struggles in my life and that’s what pushed me to be a fighter. I got into a violent life and I decided to overcome that. My mother helped me a lot and she’s a real fighter. Everything I am is because of her. She’d always tell me if I was going through struggles all I had to do was keeping going. Don’t stop. The wind will change and you will be ready with your boat. It was my mantra for many years. We go and go and go and go. That’s what I did. I never gave up.
“When I started boxing I dreamed of becoming a champion in Las Vegas. Now I want to be a champion in MMA. In boxing I know was a good fighter. I fought against a lot of hard girls. I was never afraid of facing them. But it was boxing, and boxing and MMA are very different sports. The boxing can’t be the same. The close distance, the clinch – it’s a totally different game. You can’t expect the same results, I know that.
“Now, I think every fighter who steps into the arena wants the belt. But you have to enjoy every step of your career. I’m a humble girl. I know if I go step by step I can achieve amazing things in this organisation. I also want to improve step by step. Of course I am ambitious. But I want this fight before anything else. I never let any opportunities go, ever. If it happens, it happens. Maguy is a good fighter. She has more experience than me. It’s a big challenge for me and I just want to be focused on that.”