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Stephanie Egger fights as a professional in cages

Stephanie Egger, 33 years old, from Berneck, is the first Swiss woman to strive for world leadership as a professional fighter in mixed martial arts. She used to serve cordons bleus. Now she wants to shut up loud-mouthed opponents with kicks and punches.

“I’m one of the decent ones,” says Stephanie Egger. Despite this, she believes she can go far in mixed martial arts. She’s competing in Las Vegas this weekend.

Christoph Ruckstuhl / NZZ

When the cage is closed and the fight begins, Stephanie Egger says to herself: “Now you have to be ready.” Because from now on it can no longer stand being careless. “My fights are too brutal for that,” says Egger. From the first contact with her opponent, she notices how the adrenaline takes over the nervousness. Then the focus is on your hitting and throwing techniques. your chokeholds. The instructions from her corner, where her coach and life partner Kenji Bortoluzzi is. And the goal of knocking out the opponent – with kicks and blows to the head.

Mixed Martial Arts, MMA for short, is the name of this full-contact sport, which combines various combat disciplines, from Thai boxing to wrestling and judo to sambo. A lot is allowed. Even if the opponent is on the ground, she can be beaten. In her penultimate fight, Stephanie Egger hit her opponent with such an elbow that she had to capitulate immediately – “Elbow from hell,” the American TV commentator exclaimed delightedly.

The scenery at these events may have something archaic about it. With a critical undertone, commentators have already drawn comparisons to gladiator fights in antiquity. Blood can flow in the octagons, these octagonal fighting cages. And the spectators in the arenas boo, scream and cheer. In certain locations, MMA fights were temporarily banned or not allowed to be shown on television. But combining sports with martial entertainment is finding an audience and thriving. The UFC, the main organization for MMA, is worth billions of dollars.

She used to help in her parents’ restaurant, today Stephanie Egger is a professional fighter

The sport is booming in some countries, but in Switzerland Stephanie Egger has to do some educational work. She says that only a few initiates in this country deal with their martial arts in depth and that they also understand how much technique is involved in their training. But most of society has a wrong image of MMA. It’s not about acting out pure aggression. And the MMA fighters didn’t fight because they couldn’t do anything else in life: “Many of us are smart and have good professional training.”

Egger, 33 years old, has completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology. And she also finds it surprising how often she hears: “What, you don’t look like someone who does MMA!” She then replied with amusement: “What does someone who does MMA look like?” In an interview with the NZZ, which takes place in their training gym in St. Gallen Winkeln, Egger wears pearl earrings, elegant glasses, a denim jacket and jogging pants. She’s made up, her blond hair is tied back, and she’s curled up barefoot on a threadbare couch.

Stephanie Egger in her training gym in St. Gallen Winkeln: for once she is not in combat gear.

Stephanie Egger in her training gym in St. Gallen Winkeln: for once she is not in combat gear.

Christoph Ruckstuhl / NZZ

The fact that MMA is a niche in Switzerland doesn’t make it easy for her to find sponsors – and since this year she would have been even more dependent on them. Because Egger decided to be the first Swiss woman to practice MMA as a professional athlete. She used to drive regularly to Berneck in the Rhine Valley to help out as an all-rounder in her parents’ brewery restaurant and to serve cordons bleus to the guests. Today she no longer has a part-time job and fills her week with six hours of training a day, video analysis and managing her social media channels.

The UFC attaches great importance to the latter: The organization wants fighters who can also market themselves outside of the cages. “They must find you exciting and hope that you will bring them high ratings,” says Egger. “Either you give them a big show. Or you try like me to blow people away with your fighting style.”

You go the way that is more difficult. But she wouldn’t feel comfortable making such a circus as some opponents do, who can even fake a headbutt in a pre-fight confrontation. “That would not correspond to my nature, I’m one of the decent ones,” says Egger. «My trademark is meticulousness, typically Swiss. I get confidence from her.”

Ronda Rousey, the first female star in MMA, became a multi-millionaire film actress

And so, for Egger, the attraction is to show the limits to opponents who loudly behave as favorites. “This sport is one hundred percent honest. If you have weaknesses, they will be revealed immediately. And you feel the consequences relentlessly.” Is studying psychology even a help? Egger puts it into perspective: “It is difficult to apply my knowledge to my person. It’s easier for me when I can give other tips. In training, I get into brooding here and there.”

Egger has a contract with the UFC that commits her to four fights in the coming months. This weekend she meets Brazilian Mayra Bueno Silva in Las Vegas. A groundbreaking duel: Both athletes are in the bantamweight class, the class up to 61 kilograms, on the threshold of the top 15 in the world rankings. Whoever wins approaches the ultimate dream of one day becoming a «champion». This is the name given to the fighter who is enthroned above all others in her weight class.

Egger thinks she has a chance of becoming number one “if I continue to make such great progress as before”. After all, she won her last two fights in the first round. It would also be financially lucrative. Ronda Rousey, the first female star in MMA, nicknamed Rowdy, even became a multi-millionaire and the Hollywood film industry took an interest in her.

Such spheres are far from Egger. What she is currently earning is enough to make ends meet and she cannot put anything aside yet. Money from the UFC only flows when it has completed a fight. In Brazil she has a manager scouting out fights for her.

Her younger brother Mike is a member of the National Council of the SVP – even in the Federal Palace, “La Stephi” is being talked about

Like Rousey, Egger originally comes from judo. Her parents sent her to this sport “because I had too much energy as a child and had to be physically challenged”. Her three siblings also took up judo, including her younger brother Mike, who is now politicizing for the SVP in the National Council. He is one of the biggest fans of “La Stephi”, as the fighter calls herself. And as he says, he is often asked about his sister in the Federal Palace.

Stephanie Egger also had talent in judo. She was allowed to train at the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen and became European champion in the U-23 category. “But I didn’t earn anything with it, was often injured, lost the fun and longed for a normal life.” She quit judo at age 25. But, paradoxically, life got crazier afterwards – “because I sort of slipped into this MMA”.

The irony is that in the new sport, which seems a lot tougher, Egger is less injured than he used to be. In judo she had to have a hip operation and suffered from back problems. In MMA she might have a minor ailment during training or a bruise, but that doesn’t bother her that much. Egger explains the apparent contradiction with the fact that the stresses in judo are more one-sidedly distributed over certain parts of the body. In MMA, the training is much more variable. “And it certainly helps that I’ve never k in MMA. o. », says Egger with a smile.

Stephanie Egger in the style of a judoka.

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Physical wear and tear, family planning, a different professional career? These are topics for the day after tomorrow

The tasks are getting harder now, but Egger is happy to be able to get back into a cage in Las Vegas after a nearly six-month break from competition. She loves the Octagon because it suits her fighting style. She likes to get into the clinch, and here an opponent has fewer alternatives than in a ring. Egger was getting impatient, she would have felt ready for a duel earlier, but none happened. She says: “At my age I don’t want to lose any more time.” Physical wear and tear, family planning, a different professional career? These are topics for the day after tomorrow.

This attitude meets with acceptance in their environment. Kenji Bortoluzzi is not only a trainer and life partner, he is also an MMA fighter. Sometimes he is her sparring partner because there is no other woman at her level in MMA in Switzerland. And Stephanie Egger sees more advantages than disadvantages in this constellation for her private relationship. She says: «We have the same goals and can spend time together. And I don’t have to explain myself to him for long, for example if I have a black eye.”

When he is by the cage in her corner, it gives her security, because she knows that there is not a national coach with whom she has no personal relationship, but someone who wants the best for her. It might be the hardest for her mom. “As long as I’m winning, it’s fine. But if I take a hit, it hurts her every time.”

Should she ever have problems with her nerves, Stephanie Egger has taken precautions. Because she always has three things that calm her down when she travels to a fight: chocolate, Appenzeller Biberli and dried mango wedges.


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