In the aftermath of her flyweight bout in Bellator 223, I caught up with Bryony Tyrell (4-4-1.) The fight in front of her home crowd in London’s Wembley arena, saw her come face to face with Denise Kielholtz (3-2) The fight ultimately didn’t go Tyrell’s way. Despite much back and forth in the opening rounds, referee Kevin McDonald declared Kielholtz the winner by TKO in the third.
Tyrell is no newcomer to the fight scene. She began her martial arts training at the age of 19. Starting with kickboxing and Kung Fu, going on to earn a black belt in both disciplines. While still at University, the English woman thought she “might like to do a bit of grappling and throwing.” So, she decided to incorporate Jiu Jitsu and Krav Mega into her routine. By that stage MMA was beginning to take off in the UK.
“I thought, that sounds good. I could put it all together then…It was a little bit difficult at first. There were so few women in it. So, I had to prove myself. I got laughed at when I first walked in the gym and said I wanted to do MMA.”
Tyrell was to have the last laugh in the end, becoming one of the most successful fighters from her gym. She was willing to take any fight that came her way. Initially competing in inter-club competitions to hone her skills.
“I took every opportunity that came up. I didn’t do well at all at first, because I just jumped into it. But the more I did, the better I got. I wasn’t used to full contact fighting…so, I really had to toughen up.”
Tyrell’s first amateur fight was a baptism of fire. She was appearing as the main event on the card, alongside an opponent with about 30 K1 fights under her belt. She admits she was totally out of her depth.
“I lost, but I got massive experience from it and I just went on to do better and better.”
The English woman won her second fight, despite facing someone two weight divisions above her. This gave her a great confidence boost. Following that victory, Tyrell got an opportunity to fight on Cage Warriors as an amateur.
“I was so frustrated because I lost by split decision…But I felt like it was because I hadn’t taken risks. I hadn’t really gone for it. After that, I then went on a seven-fight winning streak, because I thought ‘I am just going to go for it.’”
Part of this winning streak saw Tyrell win the BCMMA Strawweight title by defeating Wendy McKenna. She went on to defend her title against Jemma Thomas, before making the decision to go pro.
Tyrell clocked up three wins in her first three professional fights. Adding the professional BCMMA title to her resume. Her first loss at this level was to come in defence of her title, when she came up against Kate Jackson. That fight ended with a third round TKO.
“Kate challenged me for the title. That was a huge step up because she was so experienced and also a bit bigger than me. That was the toughest fight I have ever done.”
Outside of the cage Tyrell and Jackson are good friends. There is only a small number of female professional MMA fighters in the UK and their paths cross often.
Tyrell’s next fight was against Griet Eeckhout and she won by unanimous decision.
In February 2018, Tyrell challenged Molly McCann for the Cage Warriors World Title. She does not have fond memories of the whole experience. She took the fight at flyweight and at short notice. Facing a hostile crowd, who were all behind McCann in what was to be her last fight before her UFC debut, she was firmly on the back foot.
Having lost the fight with McCann, she was not able to get another fight at strawweight with Cage Warriors, and reports that she felt a “bit used and exploited.”
The whole episode made Tyrell question her place in the sport and she decided to retire and concentrate on grappling. She went out to the World Championships in no gi BJJ and won silver. However, it simply didn’t light the same fire in her as MMA had.
“For me, it just didn’t give me that drive that MMA had, and I missed it so much…I was just miserable to be honest for the whole year. Going back to Bellator was one of the best experiences of my whole life.”
Tyrell’s husband has always been hugely supportive of her. Although he was glad that she decided to retire from MMA, he saw how miserable she was without the sport. When she decided to return to the cage,
“He wasn’t surprised at all. Also, he knew that Bellator is a huge opportunity. He said straight away ‘you’ve got to do it.’”
I asked Tyrell how the Bellator fight had come about, seemingly out of nowhere. She told me that she had actually agreed to fight Kielholtz the previous year, on a week’s notice, after her Cage Warriors fight. Unfortunately, because of her TKO, she was medically suspended so the fight could not go ahead.
“Then I saw this year, that they had Denise on the London card, and they didn’t have an opponent for her. I thought ‘oh my goodness, I have already agreed to this fight.’”
Her manager was able to arrange the fight with Bellator and she was “so excited” because she was able to go into the fight with a full eight-week camp.
“It was one of the best experiences of my whole life. I am a massive fan of Denise. She is one of the fighters I have looked up to for a long time because of her kickboxing. It was incredible to be in there against her.”
Talking to her about the fight, I could hear the sheer joy emanating from her, despite not getting the win. She believes the referee gave her plenty of time to get out of the gatami, and that the stoppage was a fair one.
As of right now, Tyrell is waiting to see when the next opportunity comes along. Outside of MMA, she works as a nurse and has two young children, so is kept plenty busy.
Despite her fulfilling career and happy home life, Tyrell wants something more for herself. Something that only MMA can give her. She admits that this has made her sometime feel “selfish.” Believing that life outside of the cage should be “enough.” I think this is something that a lot of women struggle with, so it was refreshing to hear someone as accomplished as she is address it.
Tyrell is a passionate and driven woman. She also isn’t choosy about which fights to take and I think this combination means it won’t be too long before we see the 39-year old in action again.
Photo Credits – KO Media and Tom Linsdall
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