From breaking down barriers to training Cowboy: How Shara Vigeant fought to make it in MMA
EDMONTON -- Shara Vigeant is taking a much-deserved break — or trying to, anyway.
Over the last 12 years, she has switched careers into strength and conditioning in mixed martial arts, prepared athletes for more than 150 fights, and broken down barriers in a male-dominated sport.
"I sacrificed a lot to get to this point: building a business, building my expertise up so I could get the call for Cowboy," Vigeant said.
Donald Cerrone, known as Cowboy, recently fought well-known UFC fighter Conor McGregor. The match didn’t last long — McGregor won with a TKO in 40 seconds — but Vigeant worked with Cowboy for months before the fight, and years to make it to his "BMF Ranch."
'WHAT DOES SHE KNOW ABOUT MMA?'
Vigeant didn’t like sports growing up. Her first taste came when she began body building to be healthier. At that point, she was working in law to help other people, but didn’t like being in a cubicle all day.
Enter strength and conditioning training — a "really fun" way to help people.
"I was renting space from a trainer … he was training fighters and he didn't want to do it anymore. He wanted to get completely out of the business and he said, 'Take over my fighters, take over my lease,'" she recalled.
"I was like, 'OK.'"
Vigeant says she loved training fighters immediately, but she quickly realized how challenging it would be to establish herself in mixed martial arts.
The sport was relatively new in 2008, and Vigeant says she was the only woman in her own MMA circles.
"There was a lot of doors slammed in my face, derogatory comments, everything," Vigeant said. "Like, 'What does she know? What does she know about MMA? She doesn’t train MMA. What does she know?'"
Those comments affected her at the start. But instead of giving in to the negativity, Vigeant travelled to other gyms to meet with strength and conditioning coaches and learn from them.
And then her work began to speak for itself — and more and more fighters came over to her gym.
"Then you got the message or the text from the athlete that won the fight and he's like, 'Man, you've changed me.' And all those type of things that you love to hear as a coach that reminds you why you got into it — to help them achieve greatness, help them realize their potential.
"I just wanted a seat at the table. I wanted to be known as a coach, not a female coach."
'I DIDN'T BELIEVE IT AT FIRST'
Vigeant has trained a number of well-known local fighters, including Jelena Mrdjenovich, Tim Hague, Sheldon Westcott and Mitch Clarke.
Hague's death during a boxing match in 2017 deeply affected Vigeant, to the point that she almost left the sport.
"After Tim passed and there was a lot of controversy going on about how it happened, I kind of lost my fire and my passion for MMA because I didn’t feel like the things that were being done were good enough to protect the athletes. And as a coach, that's our job to protect the athlete."
That same year, when Vigeant was down to two fighters and jaded about MMA, Cowboy happened to be in Edmonton filming a movie.
Vigeant reached out to say Cowboy could use her facility while he was in the city.
"Twenty minutes later we connected and he came and he ended up training here six weeks while he was doing the movie.
"We hit it off, just a good rapport."
Their working relationship didn’t end there. Cowboy phoned Vigeant and invited her to come down to his ranch in Albuquerque to prepare for his next fight.
"I didn't believe it at first," she said. "But then I landed in Albuquerque and got set up in the room and was like, 'Wow, this is really happening.'"
Vigeant has now been on Cowboy's team for four fights — including the recent match against McGregor in UFC 246.
She was disappointed in the outcome of the fight, but not on Cowboy.
"Complete and utter devastation. Not because he lost, but because I know how heartbroken he was going to be," Vigeant said.
But after crying for a couple of days following the fight, Vigeant says she's proud of the work the team put in and that it's time to take a break.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Carmen Leibel