The buzzer sounds. She stands up and locks eyes with her opponent. The fists go up. Strike, hit, move in for the kill.
Coordination, presentation and quickness are what fight insiders notice first about Megan Anderson. That, and her height: She’s tall for a women’s mixed-martial artist, standing an even and imposing 6 feet. And then there are her tattoos: menacing, full-sleeve designs up and down both of her sinewy, powerful arms.
At least three days a week, this Australian native who recently fought and lost a UFC 225 pay-per-view bout to Holly Holm works and trains at a Lee’s Summit gym. She wants to become the best in the business, and many of those around her are convinced she has that kind of potential.
But life hasn’t always come easily for Anderson. Still doesn’t, in fact.
After serving in the Australian Army from 2008 to 2010, Anderson by her own account felt lost, overwhelmed. She didn’t know what the future had in store for her, and it vexed her deeply.
The 28-year-old didn’t grow up training to be an MMA fighter. She played the piano and the cello, practicing for hours on end in her native Gold Coast. When she graduated from high school, the military seemed as good a direction as any, at least for a couple of years.
And for a couple of years, it was ... until she was discharged in 2010 and fell into the clutches of a debilitating episode of depression.
Last week, for the first time, Anderson talked with a reporter about what life was like for her before she fought her way into the spotlight — a life that shattered into a million broken pieces following her military service back home in Australia.
“Back in 2010, I was hospitalized for attempted suicide,” she told The Star. “It’s something that I have dealt with and live with. It hits very close to home when I hear about other people doing what I did.”
During and after her hospitalization, Anderson reached a crossroads: Deciding that “medication was not for me,” she sought help from counselors and other mental-health professionals. The intervention may have saved her life, but it wasn’t her ultimate life-plan for continuing to fight the battle in her mind.
That would come in the ring.
“Getting into training and having a purpose was really what helped me,” she said with an easy, Down Under accent. “Having a reason to get out of bed was what made me better.”
Anderson had always enjoyed watching fights on TV, but she had never considered becoming a fighter herself. That changed when a coach she knew in Australia invited her to come try it for a week. Two months later, she took him up on the offer, and she was hooked.
After fighting in Australia for several years, Anderson made the decision to move to landlocked Kansas City, where she could step up her training under UFC pro and renowned trainer James Krause. She made the move in September 2015, unsure of what to expect.
It took a while for Anderson to believe she’d made the right decision. She’d call her mom back in Australia every day and cry into the phone. But as she became acclimated to life in KC and started to become more interested and involved in mental-health advocacy and the coaching side of her profession, she knew she had made the right decision.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, she teaches a striking course for beginners. The rest of the week, she continues to hone her craft as one of the sport’s more highly regarded up-and-coming female fighters.
Krause, 25-7 as a pro, isn’t surprised at what she’s becoming. After meeting Anderson three years ago, he said, he knew it was a question of when, not if, she would start to acquire wider acclaim.
“It’s cool to finally see it come to fruition,” he said. “She’s so young, and for the skills that she has at this age for the five years she’s been practicing, this is amazing. She’ll be a world champion one day, no doubt.”
For now, Anderson is 8-3 as a professional, a former Invicta FC featherweight champion who has defeated opponents from around the globe. Fighting still helps keep her depression and anxiety at bay.
“I still deal with anxiety and depression,” she said. “I am really focused. I train a lot, and the endorphins help me a lot. After a loss, I still get post-fight depression. Before the fight, you have this build-up, and after (it’s over), it can just be nothing.”
The “nothing” didn’t hit Anderson quite as hard after her most recent loss. Holm (12-4), the former UFC bantamweight champ who gained fame by upsetting Ronda Rousey, had been favored to win their June 9 showdown in Chicago, so the outcome — a unanimous decision in Holm’s favor — wasn’t all that unexpected.
“This last loss, I didn’t even care I lost,” Anderson said. “Everything we wanted to do, we did. It doesn’t take anything from me to lose, because I feel like I gained so much just from fighting against her.
“In 2006, Holly was training. I hadn’t even graduated from school yet. I’ve been doing this for five years. I showed I belong there, but also I have work to do.”
Anderson’s work in the ring continues to parallel her fight outside of it. Maintaining sound mental health remains a day-by-day process. There was no overnight fix then, or now, no way to instantly feel better. So the journey continues.
“It has been rewarding to coach her,” Krause said. “Her dedication is high, so her learning curve is super-high.
“The thing about her is she’s super-new to the sport still. She’s young, she’s athletic. ... It’s fun to coach her, because if I have something for her to try, she will. She gets better every day.”
Anderson says she doesn’t just fight for herself anymore, either. She fights for the people that helped her feel at home in her new land, and those, like her mother, still pulling for her back in Australia.
“Out in Kansas City, this is my extended family,” she said. “These are people that have become my friends, who support me, have taken me in and made me feel at home. I like to represent them. I like to represent my family back home, too.”
Eight years removed from her darkest hour but still mindful that her depression and anxiety will never be too far away, Anderson takes time to reflect on the strides she has made since 2010.
“I am a completely different person now,” she said. “I can look at myself subjectively, and I can deal with emotions better. I’m better at confronting them head-on and fixing the problem.”
She also believes that she knows exactly what she would be doing today if she wasn’t still fighting.
“I really hope that I can be a role model,” she said. “If I wasn’t fighting, I wish I could be working with troubled teens, the ones that are in the awkward phase with their bodies changing. I have been there and done that, and with my unique look and my tattoos, I can really target that generation.”
More than just a young woman on TV and fight posters, Anderson can relate. She’s experienced life’s lowest lows and looks forward to the possibility of new successes ahead.
“I can assure you that I have the same problems as everyone else,” she said. “I just want to be a role model for people that are having a bad day so they can look at me and say, ‘She got through it; so can I.’
“Some adults and teens just need to understand that it is OK to not be OK. The world keeps moving, and you will too. ... I feel like passing on knowledge helps everyone — if I can help anyone else, I think it gives back to me, too. ... If I can help them and be a role model for them, I am serving my purpose.”