SALEM, N.H. -- Lisa Dellarusso debuts as an Mixed Martial Arts fighter on Friday night at Rockingham Park.
In reality, the Derry, N.H. resident has already won her biggest battle just getting to the cage for Combat Zone 53 to fight Hanna Murello of Nashua, N.H. tomorrow night.
Dellarusso had wanted to give MMA fighting a shot several years ago, but there was no support system for her.
“I finally left a long-term relationship where my boyfriend at the time wasn’t supportive of what I wanted. I had always wanted to start martial arts training but was never in a position where I was able to do so,” said Dellarusso, 26.
“As soon as I got the courage to leave and was more independent, I made this choice for myself," she said. "It was something I said I have to do, or at least try to do. It would be a regret I’d always have if I didn’t.”
At the time she was 23, which might be considered ancient for a woman to begin preparing for a career in the MMA "cage," but she let neither ageism nor sexism dash her dreams.
She walked into Professional Martial Arts Academy in Derry, immediately knew it was the right fit, and signed up for classes. As soon as she started training, she became even more convinced this was her passion.
But she wasn’t home free.
“I’ve experienced a lot in my life. But I thought ‘Can I do this? Can I start this at the age that I am?' " said Dellarusso. "I’m not one of those people who has been training since they were two, or whose parents owned a gym.
"This is something I chose to do as an adult. For me to start at 23 and want to pursue this as a career took a lot of confidence," she added. "I had to really push myself and force myself to never give up, and not even think that way."
Dellarusso left not only her boyfriend, but her career to pursue MMA. She gave up her career as a medical esthetician and became a bartender -- at Whippersnapper's in Londonderry -- so as to arrange her work schedule around her training.
At 5-foot-6 and 132 pounds and muscle-bound, she could easily vault over the bar and help the bouncers. But the customers give her no trouble after seeing her come to work covered in bruises and with cuts on her face, from here MMA workouts.
“A lot of the regulars know I’ve been talking about this for a long time and they are coming on Friday night to support me. They want to be involved, which is great,” she said.
In her corner will also be her the current man in her life, Kyle Adams, who won his MMA debut in Combat Zone 52 at the racetrack and is her Muay Thai and karate instructor at PMA.
“Kyle is one hundred percent supportive and positive about what I’m doing. He’s awesome and a very good training partner, and that makes all of the difference,” she said.
Dellarusso has aspirations to go pro and as a consequence does not drink alcohol or party. Her free time, she said, is dedicated to her training.
“In my mentality, it’s not a sport. This is a very real thing. It’s a survival instinct. It’s not like any desk job. It’s real life and as real as it gets,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of obstacles, physically and mentally, so I had to overcome them and it took longer than I wanted to get in the cage. Now I’m just more excited and more ready for this. I’m treating this as if it’s a title fight."
The Dellarusso-Murello fight is one of two bouts featuring women on the Combat Zone 53 “No Way Out” 11-fight card. The fight card will have amateur kickboxing and a pankration demonstration in addition to the professional and amateur MMA events.
The main event will be the flyweight amateur title fight between undefeated Mike “The Animal” Scappicchio (3-0) from Plaistow, N.H. and Carl Langston (7-5) from Windham, Me.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the first fight goes off at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40, $50, $75, $90 and $120 and parking at the racetrack is free. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.czmma.com or call co-promoter Jamison Kattar at 978-361-6772.
The Combat Zone 53 “No Way Out” Fight Card
140 lbs: James Kerivan 1-1 (Boston) vs Chris Vaquerano 1-0 (Beverly)
225 lbs: Steve Walker 0-0 (Boston) vs Owen Finnegan 1-2 (Dracut)
170 lbs: Michael Taddi 0-0 (Boston) vs Erik Tseronis 0-0 (Londonderry, N.H.)
170 lbs: Jared Wolf 0-0 (Salem, N.H.) vs CJ Kelvin 0-0 (Gilford, N.H.)
155: lbs: Ryan Dibartolemeo 3-3 (Leominster) vs Dave Brown 1-0 (Gilford, N.H.)
125 lbs: Lisa Dellarusso 0-0 (Derry, N.H.) vs Hannah Murello 0-0 (Nashua, N.H.)
130 lbs: Kerri Kenneson 0-0 (Hooksett, N.H.) vs Jeanette Pomales 0-0 (Somerville)
145 lbs: Peter Ishiguro 1-0 (Boston) vs Shawn Malanson 0-0 (Nashua, N.H.)
Dylan Davis 11-1 (Salem, N.H.) vs Gunner Anthony Wyman 4-1 (Skowhegan, Me.)
180 lbs: Tim Caron 2-0 (Manchester, N.H.) vs Shawn Summey 2-1 (Framingham, Me.)
Flyweight Amateur Title Fight
135 lbs: Mike Scappicchio 3-0 (Plaistow, N.H.) vs Carl Langston 7-5 (Windham, Me.)