LAS VEGAS (KVVU) — A Las Vegas woman is stepping inside an octagon in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday. Serena DeJesus will be fighting on the main card of Invicta FC 38. Her journey to professional fighting is unlike any fighter before her: DeJesus is the first female professional MMA fighter with autism.
“Autism doesn’t have a look, doesn’t have the stereotypes people attach to it,” DeJesus said. “People can see that everybody can be who they want to be.”
Serena DeJesus wants to be a fighter. Tonight she’ll step into the cage for the second time as a professional fighter. DeJesus won her first professional fight by unanimous decision.
Like many kids on the autism spectrum, DeJesus was bullied as a child.
“Growing up I was bullied,” DeJesus said. “I didn’t talk much. I stayed in my own world.”
One day DeJesus stood up for herself.
“There was a girl always mean to me. I fought back and she never tried anything again. It clicked in my head. If I fight back, win or lose, bullies see it’s not just harmless fun anymore.”
Serena always loved watching the UFC with her father, so one day she went to a local gym, put on some gloves and started hitting the bags. She’s been doing it every day since. DeJesus says the MMA community has welcomed her with open arms.
“That whole, ‘you don’t look or act autistic,’ I get annoyed by that,” DeJesus continued. “So far I’ve been accepted by the MMA community for fighting. No matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard it’s OK.”
DeJesus has become a champion for autism out of the octagon, too. DeJesus and her brother Brandon run self-defense clinics for children with autism at the Syndicate MMA gym in Las Vegas. Like DeJesus, many of these children have been victims of bullying and physical attacks. She’s teaching them how to defend themselves and get away from the danger.
“I want to make sure none of these kids get bullied,” DeJesus said.
Heather Roberts is a Las Vegas mother who has an autistic son. Roberts says having a role model like DeJesus is important for children like hers.
“When we came across Serena and what she was doing and how she could help, it was huge knowing someone wants to help these kids.”
Roberts added, “It’s amazing to have such a role model that has experienced it, lived it and she can hands-on show and teach you things she’s done.”
DeJesus will step into the octagon tonight in Kansas City as the underdog, but she’s ready to prove the doubters wrong again.
“Win or lose, I’ll fight my butt off!” DeJesus said. “A woman on the spectrum pursuing their dream.”