The road back to the cage has been fraught with waiting and recovery from injury for Natalie Gonzales Hills.
She tapped to a vicious, first round armbar from April Osenio at ONE: Global Rivals and has been on a long road to recovery.
The 29-year-old English-Filipina fighter was undaunted by this loss and displayed the stubbornness and tenacity that’s been the hallmark of her MMA career.
If warrior spirit is defined by how many times you get back up, then Hills possesses it in abundance, just like bouncing back is a primarily a matter of mental toughness.
“Backstage, I was devastated [after the Osenio fight],” said Hills who wrote to us from her fight camp.
“But by the time the ambulance had arrived, I was talking with my punong guro [head coach] about my next fight. I was eager to get back into training and was messaging my coaches back home from Manila airport.”
What was unexpected though was the time it would take for her arm to heal and be ready to perform in a pro-MMA environment.
“A specialist in Sydney advised me that this injury could take up to 12 months to heal. I was forced to take a time out to complete my rehab. This was a blessing in disguise as I had been overworking and overtraining.”
On 21 April at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Hills will once again fight and welcome Gina “Conviction” Iniong, another Team Lakay fighter just like Osenio, who has three submission wins in her pro career.
It will be Iniong’s debut match at atomweight and this will be Hills’s third for the Asian promotion. Iniong has a pro record of 4-2. Hills will be looking to better her record of 1-4, and snap her lack of wins inside the ONE cage.
Hills has always been a good blitz fighter, at her best when dictating the pace early with her array of strikes drawn from Muay Thai, Capoeria and Arnis, and executing them with devastating explosiveness.
To be fair, she bowed to the current strawweight champ Angela Lee from a slick twister and to Osenio, her performances have always been entertaining and show a distinct willingness to finish despite the risks.
It was with an eye to minimizing these risks and fighting smarter that cemented her next move. The big difference this time? A trip to the USA to hold her fight camp at Jackson-Wink MMA.
She wrote in one of her early Instagram posts “When I got injured last year, I planned this trip but had to wait until I completed my rehab. It seems surreal to be here now, surrounded by badasses that I’ve been following for years!”
Hills has been living and training at the new facility of Jackson-Wink near downtown Albuquerque in New Mexico since early this year.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet and train with a lot of high level athletes I’ve been following for years,” Hills said.
“I’ve met and trained alongside living legends, which has been very inspiring. A lot of my team mates have fights in April so there is an intense buzz in the gym and it’s great to be part of it.”
Jackson-Wink MMA is considered one of the top training camps for cagefighters and is home to many big names in the UFC and other promotions including Carlos Condit, Frank Mir, Gina Carano, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, John Dodson, Holly Holm, Diego Sanchez, Andrei Arlovski, Holly Holm, and Jon “Bones” Jones.
BACKSTAGE I WAS DEVASTATED. BUT BY THE TIME THE AMBULANCE HAD ARRIVED, I WAS TALKING WITH MY HEAD COACH ABOUT MY NEXT FIGHT.
Coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn have been hailed as genius trainers who’ve not only crafted athletes into champions but have taken the sport of MMA into innovative new heights. Their fighters, as a collective, boast of a winning ratio of 81 percent according to a top MMA site’s data.
All in all Jackson-Wink’s 30,000 square feet, that includes the dorms, apartments and accommodations for the live-in fighters, and 9,000 square feet of gym facilities is a state of the art place built for the explicit purpose of training killers. If getting better is your obsession, then there’s no better place for a cage fighter.
Hills pretty much came to the same conclusion: “JW’s new academy appealed to me for numerous reasons. By living on site in the new dorms, everything would be in one place streamlining my training and recovery. It’s also a beautiful location surrounded by mountains with the bonus of being at high altitude.”
For sure, Albuquerque being at elevation only adds to the excellent conditioning of JW’s fighters. A quick check does reveal that Albuquerque, New Mexico stands at 5,312 feet above sea level, while Baguio City, Benguet in the Philippines (where Hills’s next opponent Iniong trains at) is at 5,050 feet above sea level.
“I haven’t trained at elevation before so there was an adjustment period,” said Hills.
“But now I feel the benefits. Although April Osenio and Gina Iniong are from the same team, they are unique fighters with different styles. I’m a fast starter and explosive, too, so it will be a good match up.”
Jackson-Wink also has a lot of women’s MMA fighters in Hills’s weight class. She can be seen in photos with UFC strawweight Michele Waterson, former The Ultimate Fighter alum Lanchana Green, and pro fighters Bi Nguyen and Kerry Hughes.
“I felt like it would be the best place to be challenged and improve,” said Hills about training with top level women’s MMA fighters. JW has a great system for MMA, they look at the game as a whole and don’t teach individual disciplines without reference to the end goal. I hope I’ve picked up a few tricks, you will have to wait until fight night!
It’s been an interesting journey through martial arts across three continents for the young English-Filipina fighter who fights as The Kilapino (a portmanteau of “killer” and “Filipino”), who also holds an English and History Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the West of England.
Born in Cavite City, Philippines, raised and educated in Gloucestershire, England, and now lives and works in Sydney, Australia running accounts for a family-run, ethical business, she still considers martial arts as the passion that’s fueled her evolution.
“I still strive for that personal growth and I’m always surprised where the martial arts leads me,” she told ROUGH.
“Self-development in the pursuit of happiness is what continues to motivate me.”
On the night of 21 April for the ONE: Kings of Destiny card, Natalie Gonzales Hills will look to capitalize on her new training from one of MMA’s top camps to snap her losses against Team Lakay’s debuting prospect Ginia Iniong. To start fast and explode to the finish just might be the key to a great atomweight clash.
“ONE has done an amazing job at building the sport up from a grass roots level and allowing Asian fighters to represent in an authentic way,” Hills explained.
“The growth of women’s MMA in Asia is really important, too, especially for the development of women’s rights. It’s an exciting time to be part of something so expansive.”