By Jordy McElroy | 31 October 2020
Megan Anderson fears no woman.
Even with a scheduled December bout against Amanda Nunes—a two-division UFC champion that napalms faces for a living—a dauntless Anderson remains rooted and unflinching in the crosshairs of the baddest woman on the planet. There’s nothing about the fight that evokes the same sort of fear she has spent her entire life overcoming.
Fear is constantly looking at yourself in the mirror and questioning your own existence in the world. It’s living a life defined by what others think or feel about you. It’s logging into social media and wondering if you’re going to run into that one post that takes you back to the days when you wanted to give up.
A decade ago, that fear brought Anderson to the sort of rock bottom from which some never return. It’s the same hellhole she hopes to keep others from falling into.
The Breaking Point
Everyone’s hell is different. That concept is tatted in ink on two full sleeves on both arms for Anderson. A casual eye might chalk it up as random, gnarly ink work on a tattoo addict, while a perceptive individual would see through to the deeper meaning of the art. The top portion of Anderson’s arm is a reference to the soldiers of heaven attempting to fight back the rising forces of hell on the lower extremity.
In many ways, it’s a visual representation of the fight raging within her mind on a daily basis. Those same demons that nearly consumed her 10 years ago are unrelenting in their efforts to climb back up for a breach of the pearly gates protecting her mind.
Hell Holds the Memories Anderson Has Devoted Years to Overcoming
Her father was an alcoholic during the formative years of her youth. That face-to-face run-in with alcohol abuse seared the sort of scars on her that can’t be seen. It isn’t a topic she enjoys speaking up about because her father has rededicated his life to sobriety for the last six years. But the wounds still exist, nonetheless, even with the rekindled father-daughter bond.
For so many years, Anderson stuffed it down and tried to ignore the issues bubbling at the surface. It wasn’t until she joined the Australian army that things truly boiled over in an unexpected way.
She was fresh out of high school and looking to follow in her dad’s footsteps in the military. What she found instead was inexorable shaming from superiors constantly attempting to make an example out of her. The situation had devolved to the point where her only peace—if you call it as such—came in the form of being tucked away in the barracks of the hushed, wee hours of the night.
“They were focusing on and targeting me, and I was always made the example of,” Anderson told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “It kind of broke me to a point where—I think it was the start of 2010. I actually attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital because I was so mentally broken I didn’t know what else I could do.”
Hell had kicked down the pearly gates for Anderson.
It wasn’t until she was discharged from the military and walked into a local boxing gym that things really started to change for the better. That was the moment when the archangel on her left arm stepped in to repel the forces of hell.
A Platform to Be Heard
While attending a combat sports event, she befriended a local MMA gym owner, who invited her to come out for a few lessons.
She eventually took him up on that offer and never looked back.
Fighting gave her an outlet to redirect all of the pent-up emotions that had consumed her for so many years. More importantly, it gave her a new sense of purpose.
She scaled the MMA ranks, capturing the Invicta and Roshambo featherweight titles along her journey to the mecca of the sport, the UFC. Since arriving in 2018, she has stood toe-to-toe with a former UFC champion in Holly Holm, while also squaring off with a pair of world-class contenders in Cat Zingano and Felicia Spencer.
But being a high-level athlete in one of the toughest sports on the planet never made her immune to many of the mental pitfalls that lead back to the same rock bottom she hit in the army. That chiseled exterior and radiating smile can hide a war raging beneath the surface. Heaven might have won for Anderson, but hell won’t stop fighting.
Fighting through the Pain
She suffered an anxiety attack on the morning of her fight with Spencer. Cyber-bullying brought about some of those same feelings of self-doubt that she had worked so hard to stuff down. Internet trolls were on the attack and relentlessly shaming her for her physical appearance. A snap of a finger, and the cracks beneath the surface were once again showing.
There were real considerations of cancelling the bout, but she ultimately decided to make the walk to the cage and live up to her end of the contract. It resulted in a first-round submission loss on a UFC Fight Night card in Rochester.
That incident prompted her to start seeing a therapist to help cope with her issues. It also inspired her to try and help others do the same.
She has been open and candid publicly with her struggles of mental health in an effort to show others they’re not alone in the fight.
Leading into her last fight—a main card bout on a UFC Fight Night event—she sold t-shirts with all of the proceeds going to the nonprofit organization, Mental Health America.
It’s another way for her to use her platform to help bring awareness to an issue that plagues people from all walks of life. If hearing her story helps even one person step down from the ledge, it would have all been worth it.
Sticks and Stones
Anderson has put together back-to-back wins since her loss to Spencer, but it’s also clear that her purpose is bigger than fighting.
It’s greater than entertaining fans that constantly flood her social media with positive—and yes, still plenty of negative—feedback for every post and performance. She has discovered the true beauty of life is using her gift to inspire others instead of allowing it to become another weight to be carried.
Being in the UFC has put her front and center in the public eye, making her more susceptible to the venomous garbage people can hurl from behind a keyboard. But you can’t please everyone, and everybody isn’t going to love you. That’s probably the greatest lesson Anderson has taken from all of this.
And to think, it could have all ended 10 years ago.
None of it would have ever existed—the UFC contract, reconciliation with her father or the taking on the position as one of the most outspoken mental health advocates in the sport. In a world where athletes are considered unbreakable, Anderson is shining a light on the fragility of the human mind.
But she has also shined a light on its strength. A decade after a suicide attempt and she’ll be challenging Nunes for the women’s featherweight championship in a pay-per-view headliner at UFC 256.
It’s a victory in the war still raging beneath the surface—another conquest for the tatted archangel standing watch at the pearly gates.