Rachel Wray always has been in the spotlight.
High school pom squad dancer at Springdale High School, Ark. College pom squad dancer for the University of Arkansas. And NFL cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs.
But it's been nothing like these days.
Two weeks ago, the 23-year-old Wray did an interview with a Kansas City mixed martial arts website about moving from cheerleading to fighting, and the attention has been nonstop.
"It's been kind of overwhelming," she said. "I know my story is pretty unique, but I really want to focus on practicing and fighting and trying to not focus on all this attention."
Most people don't realize that Wray has been training to be a MMA star for two years. She caught the fighting bug while working out.
Wray now lives back in Springdale, Ark., where she was raised. She works in human resources at Tyson Foods and she is training for her next fight.
She already is 1-0, beating Ashleigh Tillman in September. Her second opponent no-showed.
The 5-5 Wray, who was at 115 pounds for her first fight, would like to be around 120 for her next one. (Right now, after eating "all this Arkansas barbecue," Wray said she is about 135 pounds. "But I'm pretty muscular!" she said.)
Playbook talked with Wray about the attention and what's ahead.
It's a pretty simple story how you got into this, right?
"I discovered boxing while working out. I thought punching a bag was a good workout. I loved that intensity. It was intoxicating. That spiraled into mixed martial arts. I loved getting fully engaged. I literally love every second of it."
What has been your family reaction?
"My parents are just trying to understand. They both support me. My dad is really excited about it. He loves it. My mom is a little stressed about it."
What kind of person were you growing up?
"I've always been down-to-earth, no matter what I was doing. I was always this bubbly cheerleader. I was always into fitness. In college, I was always in the limelight because I was a cheerleader, but I wasn't stuck-up. When I got to the Chiefs, there was even more media. Now it's unbelievable."
Do you have that killer instinct to be successful?
"I do. When the cage door shuts, I'm a different person. You sign a contract that says you might get killed or injured. I get that animal instinct in the cage. I don't remember anything about that first fight. It's like two animals in a cage. It shows whether you're naturally a good fighter or not. In the cage, your killer instinct comes out. It is your truest test."
OK, so you've had one fight and have been training. Any major injuries?
"I've had a couple of black eyes. But it just looks like eye shadow. I've never had a bloody nose or a broken nose. I've just had a bit of bruises. People ask me, 'Why would you mess your face?' They don't know what they're talking about. My face looks the same!"
So when are you fighting next?
"I had a fight Jan. 25, but it's up in the air. I want to do it. I'm committed to do this, but I just moved to Arkansas and I have a new coach. I'm finding a new gym. He's thinking I should settle down here first and fight in February."
So what it's like being back home?
"I was born and raised here, and I get a chance to be close to my friends and family. I'm also a personal trainer. I'm training my dad now. It's been a blast. I don't have a boyfriend. People think I do. I've been single for a couple of months. I don't have time for boys. I just need to continue training."