Pioneer Erin Toughill and keep the fire alive
In the 90s, all those who surrounded the world of mixed martial arts still found their place. Often, it wasn’t even the intention of those who ended up leaving their marks to get involved in the first place.
Currently residing in Orange County, Calif., And working as a boxing coach, Erin Toughill has seen it over the years – she never would have assumed that would have been the case when she was just 18. .
Using a fake ID as a rebellious young adult, Toughill was sneaking into bars before he was 21. Ultimately, this led to a major change in her life as one night she met her future coach Sean McCully – the brother of eventual UFC veteran Justin McCully.
Exchanging a few drunken words, McCully asked Toughill if she thought she was tough to which Toughill proudly responded with confirmation. By offering him an invitation – or maybe a request – to show up to his gym the next day, Toughill did just that and that rest, as they say, was history.
Four years later, in September 1999, an opportunity presented itself for Toughill to make his professional debut in the sport of MMA. In an era when footage of fighters was less than readily available, Toughill recalls ordering a video from Black Belt Magazine to study all kinds of opponents.
“I distinctly remember watching it on the big screen and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can beat that bitch,'” Toughill told MyMMANews. “I don’t know much, because we don’t know any of that because there are no outstanding records – she was 4-0 or 3-0 in MMA and that was my pro debut . But she was like 40-5 in kickboxing.
“I’m 20 and she’s basically my age now, 38. I get there and we’re going to make a thousand dollars – a thousand dollars is good because even these days people don’t get a thousand dollars (laughs). So I’m like whatever, Sean’s brother Justin was going to fight, Heath Herring was on the map, Gilbert Yvel, that was a pretty big thing. And I’m like… I think I’m badass… I think. Then I see this chick.
En route to the Dutch island of Aruba, Erin Toughill of Orange County only knew who she was facing in her first career fight – Dutchwoman Irma Verhoeff. It was only when he arrived that the rules and regulations were defined… with a certain additional “hospitality” from the locals.
In the World Vale Tudo Championship 9 event, the men’s fights were a 30-minute round bout, while Toughill and Verhoeff received half. No winners by decision, no weight classes, Toughill recalls coming in at 165 pounds but still passing.
“The point is, I didn’t know anything like I do now,” she said. “I probably did more Jiu-Jitsu compared to her. She was a stand-up [fighter]. There was no comparison, I wasn’t going to beat her up. So it was just getting her fucked.
“I ended up getting a draw, I loved it. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life because I walked into that cage on Aruba beach. All week long, the Dutch have been thinking, “This chick is going to beat your ass. It was scary but when I got out of there maybe because I’m an athlete I love competition it’s very different from playing in a sports team I went there … I think that it’s kinda when you know, win or lose, just go ahead; “I can do this again. I want to do this again. And I did.”
Certainly understanding the folly of his decision to continue fighting more, Toughill notes that it was like that at the time. Mad people wanting to fight because they are mad, there were no big sponsorship deals or otherwise in place, no career value – especially for women in particular.
They didn’t fight because they thought people were watching, and it wasn’t until many years later that the fights were even more accessible for viewing.
After winning her first fight in Aruba, Erin Toughill, now 43, had a successful career with 10 wins and three losses. Her debut was mostly spent in Japan where, after fighting Verhoeff, she was part of what history sees as the female version of UFC 1; the ReMix 2000 World Cup.
Again an open-weight affair, this one-night tournament resulted in victories by decision and Toughill won the first of his career via a split decision to advance to the semi-finals. Checking out the competition’s biggest contender, Svetlana Goundarenko, the years 2001-2004 saw Toughill build her record at 6-2-1, including a knockout victory over future Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen.
By this time, MMA had started to develop more in the United States and gave Toughill more opportunities than the boxing matches she had scattered between MMA competitions.
From 2006 to 2009, Erin Toughill went 4-0 in the United States and even signed a good deal with the aforementioned Strikeforce. Huge potential fights at 145 pounds with Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Amanda Nunes and a rematch from Coenen were all discussed. Sadly, Toughill never set foot in the Strikeforce cage due to a pain reliever addiction that forced early retirement in 2011.
However, the Chicago native made a return to boxing in 2019 and is still hoping she can do the same for MMA in 2021.
“I. Want. To. Fight. Kayla. Harrison. I called her seven times, I followed her on her Instagram, I texted her the other day,” Toughill said. “With all due respect that I owe you, she’s not disrespectful # 1, but I love to talk shit – I can really talk about shit. But she was never disrespectful. I don’t feel the need because I think it’s classless to create something that doesn’t exist. I have total respect for her she’s a legit f * cking athlete but PFL is f * cking sh * t and they give her – which is good, they complete her f * cking record – this next girl who was a 125-pound champion.
“I tagged her on something and I was like brother, come on. I’m old, right? Like I’m a fucking 40 year old bitch, if you can beat me, okay. I can beat her, I can knock her out.
Having lived this fighter lifestyle and mentally for the past 25 years, Toughill believes her inactivity is a non-factor as she has never stopped training. Other than that, it just helps his state of mind.
Currently walking around 180 pounds, the MMA trailblazer is ready to make the necessary cut that would be needed to face unbeatable 8-0 Kayla Harrison so far in a lightweight 155-pound clash. As touched on, next PFL season is about to start next week and for Harrison she returns and kicks off against Mariana Moraes on May 6.
In terms of name, experience and size merit, Erin Toughill is automatically a strong contender for the PFL tournament where other veterans like Cindy Dandois and Kaitlin Young stand out as far superior to others in terms of MMA distinctions.
“I’m one of the best ever in MMA, I don’t care if I don’t fight,” Toughill exclaimed. “I was supposed to fight two years ago on this Chuck [Liddell] and Tito [Ortiz] Golden Boy Undercard. I hadn’t had an MMA fight in eight years and the fucking eight girls refused. I work out every day at The Bodyshop, Antonio McKee, his kid AJ McKee, all the guys that work out there… You mean the f * cking row of a murderer?
“Do I think she’s an easy fight?” Of course not. Do I think this is a fight I can win and knock him out? Damn yeah. And she doesn’t want that smoke, I messaged her fucking manager, that Azeel, whatever his name is.
“I never said I was the best at boxing – I fought some of the best,” Toughill added. “But I’m one of the best MMA’s ever and I know it.”
In the rare event that Harrison responded to Toughill, it was to tell their managers to make contact. This isn’t personal for the boxing and MMA star, as she respects Olympic gold medalist Judoka – she just doesn’t respect the competition she had in her first eight MMA fights.
For Erin Toughill, it just goes to show that once that fighting spirit starts to burn, it never quite goes out.
“If I’m that easy to fuck, then drop me, starch me.” If someone called me what I called them, I would be like, ‘Let’s go!’ “