The top fighters often start very early in life but ONE Championship strawweight Natalie Gonzalez Hills began martial arts at a young age, lost interest and then rekindled her desire to train and compete after finding herself the victim of an unprovoked assault.
Gonzalez Hills was born in the Philippines but moved to England as a child. She began to train in Karate when she was a young girl at the instigation of her father.
“I was into sports as a kid and my dad was doing karate. When I was 8 he introduced me to Higashi style and I started training at age 8 with him. I loved it and I trained up until I was 14 when I got my brown belt.”
By her own admission Gonzalez Hills went off the rails as a teenager and found herself living a lifestyle that left no room for fitness or martial arts.
“There’s a binge drinking culture in England and when I was 14 I got distracted from my studies and started going out. I was out all the time and a bit reckless. I didn’t come back to martial arts until my last year of university.”
Unfortunately it took a racially motivated and totally unprovoked assault in the street to inspire the English-Filipino student to return to her martial arts roots.
“When I was in university I was studying for a degree and I had a part time job working for a charity. We would fund-raise for different campaigns. One day I was out on the street with a team of people and a gang of young people attacked us. They basically just called me a ‘chink’ and started attacking us at a bus stop. After that incident I thought I needed to do something to improve my confidence so I started boxing.”
As well as rekindling her interest in Karate the incident drew Gonzalez Hills to the sweet science of boxing.
“I had done karate as a youth but there was just something that attracted me to boxing. Near my there was a martial art gym and I remember that the work out was really hard for Karate and it was the same thing for boxing. It was empowering to be physically strong as a woman so being about to punch and defend myself was why I kept coming back.”
What started out as a reaction to a traumatic assault turned into a passion for Gonzalez Hills who was not content to just train in two martial arts and branched out to study multiple disciplines.
“When I first started training the biggest female fighter was Gina Carano, she fought Cyborg and I remember that was the first time I thought that there were actually women out there doing this professionally. When I saw that I was really impressed and started researching female fighters and I started taking other classes. I started picking up Muay Thai and from there I got into grappling.”
When the time came to graduate from university Gonzalez Hills was in no hurry to throw herself into the job market and instead decided she wanted to travel and train,
“When I started boxing and doing Muay Thai I was obsessed and by the time I finished my degree I had decided I was going to go travelling. So I saved up some money and went to Thailand. I fought Muay Thai twice in Thailand and won both of them there.”
Her travels took her to Australia where Gonzalez Hills eventually decided to settle down and make a new life for herself. Initially she was looking for Muay Thai fights but when these proved hard to come by she turned her attention to MMA.
“I was actually only meant to be in Australia for three months. My plan was to head to Brazil but I met my boyfriend in the gym and I’ve been here for three years now. I ended up having my debut MMA fight because I was looking for Muay Thai matches but wasn’t finding any.
“There was an Australian promotion called BRACE who were putting on a card with just female fighters and no men on the card and I found a match at 50kg and that’s how I ended up having my first MMA fight.”
Gonzalez Hills would go on to win two out of her first four fights and this brought her to the attention of ONE Championship which has a rapidly expanding women’s 115 lbs division. She is set to make her promotional debut this Friday night at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and says she hopes to be an inspiration to other female fighters,
“I’m really excited to be a part of ONE Championship, especially the growth of women’s MMA in Asia. If people start to see women fighting regularly it will definitely create a lot of interest. That’s what I think everyone in the sport is trying to do, to support each other and show that women are just as talented and skilled as men.”
Standing opposite Gonzalez Hills at ONE: ‘Pride of Lions’ will be the fastest rising female star in Asia. Angela Lee is already 2-0 and the Filipino-English strawweight knows she’s in for a tough night.
“I know that she is the favorite and that she has finished her fights pretty quickly, so I think that she’ll come at me pretty hard in the first round but from there it’s anyone’s guess. I know what I’m going to do and I’m not going to give anything away and we’ll just have to wait and see on the night. It’s MMA and anything can happen so don’t blink.”
Gonzalez Hills was born in the Philippines and says it has always been an ambition of hers to eventually fight there. With ONE Championship putting on regular events in Manila that dream could be close to becoming a reality.
“I’ve always wanted to fight in Asia and especially the Philippines so to have an opportunity to fight for a show where they regularly fight in those areas, that’s awesome. I’ve always dreamed of fighting internationally. To have a chance to fight on a show in the Philippines, it couldn’t have turned out any better.”
Who knows where Gonzalez Hills would be today had it not been for that unprovoked assault? Probably not living in Australia, and definitely not preparing to compete in front of 10,000 fans in the biggest indoor arena in Singapore. Being attacked in the street didn’t just make the 27 year old stronger, it changed her life and on November 13th she will have an opportunity to show the whole world how she responded.