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After Fighting COVID-19 As a First Responder, Alyse Anderson Is Ready for the Cage

The Weekly Takedown: How time as an EMT during the pandemic has prepared Anderson for her first fight in more than two years, plus Giga Chikadze’s TKO and more.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Alyse Anderson has ‘nothing to lose and everything to gain’ in ONE Championship

More than two years have passed since Alyse Anderson last fought in the cage. But during that stretch of time, she was never idle or inactive. Anderson fought for her entire team, caring for and supporting patients with COVID-19.

The 26-year-old Anderson steps into the cage Friday for ONE Championship’s all women’s Empower card. ONE is holding the show in Singapore, so there is a considerable time difference. Fights begin to stream on Bleacher Report at 7:30 a.m. ET, which includes Anderson (5–1) meeting the heavily favored Itsuki Hirata in an Atomweight Grand Prix quarterfinal matchup.

Hirata (4–0) is a popular choice to advance to the finals, and she is not expected to lose this fight. But no matter what she throws at Anderson, it will fail to compare to the struggle she endured as an emergency medical technician at a Michigan hospital during the height of the pandemic.

Alyse-Anderson

“Our unit became the COVID unit, and I was chosen to be a sitter for patients that tested positive,” says Anderson. “These were patents on a BiPAP [noninvasive ventilation] but were too weak to remove it. Especially at the beginning, I’d never been so scared in my entire life.”

Her time in the COVID-19 unit began in March 2020, when concerns surrounding the virus escalated by the day. While the country was catching up on how to respond to the coronavirus, health professionals were working tirelessly to ensure that as many people as possible remained healthy. And that is exactly what Anderson did; despite the debilitating fear, she went to work and did her job, wearing her trash bag and an N95 mask (at first, with supplies so limited, she was expected to wear the same mask for an entire week).

Anderson sat with patients for 12-hour shifts. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., she was there to provide care, hoping that the muffled words under her mask served as comfort for those suffering next to her.

“I got 30 minutes off during my shift, and I remember calling my mom and telling her I was so scared,” says Anderson. “The worst was having to be there when families came in for their last moments to say goodbye to a loved one. And then I’d be home the next day, and I’d hear or read that COVID was fake. I could see every day that it is so real.”

The pandemic transformed Anderson into a more complete fighter, she says. Her trademark tenacity is impossible to miss the moment she steps into the cage, and her experience in the COVID-19 unit forced her to resist any and every urge to panic. That is a skill Anderson is going to apply in this ONE fight against Hirata.

“The past year has made me mentally tough,” says Anderson. “When there is adversity, or I need to make adjustments, I’m the calm in the storm. I don’t rush; I don’t panic. I couldn’t take time off from work to go into a fight camp. Instead, I got a lesson in mental toughness.”

Anderson knows there are many who have already counted her out of this bout. Their doubt further fuels her fighting spirit, as she seeks to finish the fight in a manner that will send ripple effects around the globe from Singapore.

“I’m the biggest underdog on the card,” says Anderson. “People already see my opponent in the championship.

“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I can’t wait to be her toughest fight yet. I’m going to prove I deserve to be here.”

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Dana White on Giga Chikadze: ‘He looked incredible’

Giga Chikadze defeated Edson Barboza this past Saturday in the Octagon, earning himself a third-round TKO victory.

The featherweight division still belongs to Alexander Volkanovski, who headlines UFC 266 later this month against Brian Ortega. But Chikadze is proving himself to be a genuine threat, and the win against Barboza elevated him to No. 8 in the rankings, a jump of two spots.

The win marks the ninth straight victory for Chikadze (14–2). A defining feature of this victory was the manner in which he accomplished it, withstanding significant punishment from Barboza.

“Giga looked incredible,” says White. “You saw some high-level s--- in that fight. Edson looked damn good, too. He hurt Giga with some shots, but he ate them and kept coming forward.”

Chikadze made significant adjustments throughout the fight. During the opening round, Barboza checked Chikadze’s kicks, his method of setting up the body kick. Chikadze responded quickly, finding a different entry point to attack with his striking, even after Barboza tagged Chikadze with some painful body shots in the second round. It appeared Chikadze was slowing down after the first two rounds, but then he showcased his ability to adapt in the third round by attacking Barboza with nonstop pressure.

“That was a win Giga wanted and needed,” said White. “It was extremely impressive.”

The next step for Chikadze is a win against an opponent ranked in the top five. A fight against Yair Rodríguez, Chan Sung Jung or Calvin Kattar would serve as a great proving ground as he seeks to rise to the top of the featherweight division.


The Pick ’Em Section

Middleweight Bout: Darren Till vs. Derek Brunson
Pick: Till

Heavyweight Bout: Tom Aspinall vs. Sergey Spivak
Pick: Aspinall

Flyweight Bout: Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell
Pick: Perez

Welterweight Bout: Alex Morono vs. David Zawada
Pick: Morono

Light Heavyweight Bout: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
Pick: Bukauskas

Lightweight Bout: Paddy Pimblett vs. Luigi Vendramini
Pick: Pimblett

Last week: 3–3

Current record: 10–12

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.