KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Muhammad Ali fought there, Wayne Gretzky retired there and the Grammy Awards have been hosted there. Madison Square Garden has been home to some of the greatest moments in entertainment and on Friday, the arena will have its spotlights on Knoxville MMA fighter Taylor Turner.
“It still shocks me every time I say it,” Turner said. “I look up pictures at Madison Square Garden and be like, ‘I am fighting there?’ It’s a dream come true for sure.”
Turner started competing in mixed martial arts 10 years ago, a year after the Wisconsin native moved to Knoxville.
“Most people don’t think of MMA as a smart sport. They just think of it as a brawling thing but you’ve got to be able to think about boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu all at once all while somebody is literally trying to take your head off at the same time. It’s a sport that you have to be fully immersed in.”
After eight career fights, Turner drew attention from Bellator. The MMA promotions company signed her to a 4-fight contract, starting Friday in New York City where she’ll square off against Brooklyn, New York native Heather Hardy at Bellator 222.
“I was always a runner and I’ve always liked athletics,” Turner said. “I’m super competitive but I didn’t do anything remotely related to martial arts. I did crew and rowing in college at the University of Minnesota. I was a marathon runner, basketball player in high school but nothing like this.”
Turner is representing the Knoxville Martial Arts Academy, which is also home to former Tennessee football player turned UFC fighter Ovince Saint Preux. She’s now a co-owner at the academy, along with her husband and head coach Eric, who started the gym out of his garage in 1999.
“To see her get the chance to compete on the biggest stage in the world is, for me, over the moon happy,” Eric said. “Just so excited. On the other side, it’s a cage just like she got done fighting in. It’s a girl just like you fought one million times before. Nothing is different, just go out and do the same stuff.”
Taylor is 3-5 in her MMA career. She’s been through her share of ups and downs and her personality in the octagon at least gives the impression that she is not afraid of anyone.
“She is smiling while she’s throwing punches, she’s smiling while she’s taking punches,” Eric said.
“I know that’s a weird thing but I don’t even know I’m smiling,” Taylor said. “Whether I’m getting hit in the face or I’m the one choking them out, I’m just smiling.
The 36-year-old is hoping to return to Knoxville not just with a smile but also with a win.