The clock reads 5 a.m., and the sun is not yet up in Orange County, California. A few years ago UFC fighter Ashlee Evans-Smith would still have been tucked in bed, leaving that pre-dawn hour to begrudging commuters and obnoxious early birds.
It’s not that Evans-Smith found some magical way to become a morning person during her mixed martial arts journey. She just realized that if she wants to squeeze in close to a half-dozen training sessions at various Southern California gyms over the course of one day, she needs to start early.
“People see all of the things I do, and they always ask ‘Do you ever sleep?’” Evans-Smith laughs. “It’s that and, ‘You must drink a lot of coffee!’ I have to sleep because it’s how my body recovers, but I think I actually run better on five or six hours of sleep. Occasionally I have a day where I don’t set an alarm and I let my body rest, but most of the time it’s just a lot of coffee. It helps that I’m extremely organized too, so I know what I’m doing every single hour, and I get a lot of stuff done.”
But the loss of sleep for the flyweight combatant known as Rebel Girl is far from the only sacrifice endured by Evans-Smith and other high-level mixed martial artists. From missing important social dates and family time to swapping Thanksgiving dinner for a protein shake when cutting weight in the weeks before a competition, a fighter’s life means months of sacrifice before each bout inside the cage.
After her 6 a.m. conditioning session, Evans-Smith gets a quick break to go home and shower before packing her bag for the rest of the day. With her commutes from one gym to the next in the relentless SoCal traffic added to the multihour sessions she spends perfecting her striking (such as Muay Thai and boxing) and grappling (primarily wrestling and Brazilian jiujitsu), Evans-Smith often doesn’t return home until well into the evening.
Rather than calling it a night and going to bed at a reasonable hour, that’s when Evans-Smith finally has the time to take on all of the projects and duties that come with being a semi-public figure in 2020. Whether it’s keeping up with her sponsors and social media responsibilities, booking the latest guest for her podcast Sex and Violence With Rebel Girl or simply preparing whatever vegan meals will keep her going through the next grueling day, the veteran fighter’s time away from the gym isn’t exactly what most people would consider relaxing.