MMA fighter Elise Pone inspires others to step into the octagon
Elise Pone has always been a fighter. Now the State College native is also a champion.
As a youth, she practiced Jeet Kune Doa, a style of martial arts employed by Bruce Lee, who drew what he considered to be the most useful methods from other martial arts to create his own unique style. After a hiatus from the sport, Pone is now a professional mixed martial arts and muay thai fighter for the Invicta Fighting Championships.
“I did all the work, family and kids and walked away from martial arts completely,” Pone said. “Shortly after having one of my kids, I was looking for a way to get back into shape and lose the baby weight. I just walked past a martial arts gym and thought, ‘Man. I should get into something like this, so I set up a free trial class and really started to get back into it.
Pone continued to hit the gym a few days a week for cardio training in 2012. She loved every second of it, became an instructor for children’s classes and eventually got invited to compete. Today, the 37-year-old holds a 1-1 record in mixed martial arts and a 16-1 record in muay thai with six championships in the latter.
She won her sixth championship in the featherweight division (122.1-127 pounds) in a three-day competition at the Muay Thai World Expo June 23-25. She won her first two matches in the first and second rounds, respectively, and won the championship via unanimous decision, setting the record for title defenses in any women’s division of muay thai competition in North America.
From student to teacher
Avery Sponsler, 13, is one of Pone’s interns. He is involved in 2-3 classes a week under Pone at Central PA Mixed Martial Arts and has been training since he was 4 years old. While training with Pone, he felt better with his progress in mixed martial arts.
“When I fought today I found out there are people who are really good and I can use certain moves against them because I’m a lot smaller,” Avery said earlier this month- this. “Everyone is a little taller than me. So, I found ways to use my size to attack them. I usually work with morning classes with older people. Everyone trains a little differently and I have found that I like training with older people because they will teach me if I am doing something wrong or if there is something I can do differently to improve my sparring. Elise does this.
As a wrestler, Avery learned many techniques to improve his primary sport. Pone’s training gave him insight into how to take down his opponents and use their momentum against them.
“Before, I was just punching and kicking and blocking,” Avery said. “Now I’m able to do knees and elbows and different types of kicks and punches. There’s a lot of growth there. (As a wrestler) it helps me shoot and I see a lot of jiu-jitsu people stand up and they reach out their hands they ask to be double as my dad would say i worked more on the penetration stages when i fought with (pone) the other day, I used one leg that time, now I know how to use both legs.
Ryan Gruhn and Pone conduct Central PA Mixed Martial Arts together at the West College Avenue gymnasium. Gruhn is a two-time black belt champion in men’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, adding to Pone’s accomplishments on the women’s side. Pone is a purple belt under Gruhn in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She also teaches Muay Thai, Women’s Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Youth Martial Arts at Central PA Mixed Martial Arts.
Gruhn and Pone knew each other as young children, their parents training taekwondo together. Years later, the two reunited because Pone wanted to join a gym. Inspired by her friend’s encouragement, as well as the other fighters training in the gym, Pone decided to compete on her own.
“The more I watched other people around me practice for things, the more I thought, ‘I’m just going to make this a to-do list,'” Pone said. “’I’m going to train for a fight, I’m going to overcome my fear and I’m just going to go out there and do the best I can.’ It’s like 2% of the population that enters the ring or the cage. I thought it would be a good personal goal to overcome my fears. I was absolutely terrified the whole time. When it was over, I thought that was really cool.
The most rewarding aspect for Pone was her realization that she was able to achieve her dreams as an adult. She often spent time caring for her family, going to school, and other activities ahead of her own goals and missed out on competition. As a former track athlete and field hockey player at State High, Pone aspired to be an athlete again.
Pone has six children – four stepchildren (24, 23, 21, 20) and two biological children (11 and 8). Even with all her responsibilities as a mother and a fighter, she finds time to run a business.
“I can run the gym like my full-time job,” Pone said. “During the week, I am there from 6am to 10:30pm and I have a few hours a day on weekends. These times include teaching, coaching, training, commercial work, cleaning, advertising, etc.
She also hopes to inspire other women to step into the octagon.
“When I first went back, I was very passionate about teaching kids and giving them skills they could carry on throughout their lives,” Pone said. “It kind of morphed into taking older people like me and showing them that they can do it. You can always set goals, you can always juggle work and your family.