From 18 stone to fighting phenomenon - UFC prospect Kerry Hughes’ remarkable journey
December 30, 2010 is a date that will be forever etched in Kerry Hughes’ mind.
It was the day that she looked in the mirror, aged 25-years-old and weighing in at 116kgs (roughly 18 stone 3lbs), and decided to change her life.
Today she is not only much lighter and fitter, but also one of the hottest and most exciting prospects in women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) in Europe.
And it all started on that December day.
“I was always aware that I was getting bigger,” she recalled. “There were certain shops that I wouldn’t go into for clothes, that sort of thing.
“But I saw a couple of photos of me at a Christmas party and thought ‘wow, I’ve piled it on!’ Then I was looking in the mirror and just said to myself ‘how did that happen?
“At the time there was a Fitness First gym next to work and I went and joined up the next day.”
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Of her weight gain, Kerry, from Colchester, recalled: “I was always quite a chubby kid but I was active – I did lots of sports, including Muay Thai (Thai boxing) which I was involved in until about the age of 17.
“Then I hurt my back in a car crash and all of the stuff I hadn’t been doing - eating badly and going out - started having an effect.
“I joined the police aged 20 and I was already pretty big but it just spiralled from there – working a lot of long hours in a sedentary job and not having time to do much else, I was in a rut.
“I remember one week my partner at the time and I had a takeaway every single night - it all creeps up on you.”
Having made the decision to change Kerry, now an Inspector in the Met Police, threw herself into it - even if she wasn’t really sure what she was doing.
“I didn’t know a lot about healthy eating, but I was determined not to eat any more junk,” she explained. “I decided that I wouldn’t have anything I hadn’t made myself, so I was doing things like taking a salad to work and chucking some chicken into it, and I stopped drinking alcohol, which was a big step.
“I was going to the gym three or four times a week and just sitting on the stationary bike for 45 minutes - I remember I could literally feel my stomach on my legs as I was cycling, which was disgusting. I wanted to try the weights, but I just didn’t have the confidence.
“I’m a highly introverted personality and very, very shy so I felt really self-conscious at the gym - I’d always wear my baggiest clothes and avoid using the changing rooms if I could.”
Nonetheless, her approach was paying dividends. Having gone from a totally sedentary lifestyle, her increased activity meant that by February 2011, she was wearing size 16 dresses that hadn’t fit her for four years.
She also invested in a personal trainer, absorbing as much advice as she could, and got even stricter with her diet, meaning that by June 2011 - having also quit smoking - she was down to a size 14.
But she’d hit a wall with her training. “I was getting really bored with just going to the gym,” Kerry said. “Nothing was really motivating me other than losing weight.
“I was on a night out with a mate and they said to me you can’t just train for the sake of training because you won’t keep it up.
“The only thing athletically I had ever done that I really loved was Muay Thai, so they suggested I try to get back into that.
“I found BKK Fighters in Colchester and dragged my friend up from Kent to go to the first class with me. I was still pretty big by athlete standards but I did that first class and fell in love with it all over again - I was down there five times a week if I could.
“That December I got a call from my coach asking if I could make 72 kgs (11st 3lbs) for a fight - I was 75 at the time but I went for it, lost the weight and won the fight.
“In the space of a year I’d gone from 116 kgs to 72, which was pretty special.”
The next year her coach Stephen Byerley suggested she try MMA and - despite a first lesson she recalls as ‘horrific’ - she was soon hooked again.
That June, head MMA coach Jack Mason put her in for her first MMA fight at 66kgs (10st 3lbs) and she has since gone from strength to strength, winning both the amateur and professional bantamweight titles (9st 6lbs) for the highly respected BCMMA promotion, based in Colchester.
Her exciting style means she’s sponsored by multiple companies - Velvis Cars, Combat Dollies, Lockdown Fightwear, Stephen Byerley Personal Training, Anytime Fitness and Ollie Matthews of Bodycatchers Fitness and Nutrition.
Indeed, as one of the best female fighters in Europe, she could well end up fighting in the world-famous UFC - the Premier League of MMA competition across the globe.
She has also fought for the low-kick kickboxing world title, training under Jez Lord of Semtex Gym, losing narrowly on points.
“I remember before that fight they played the national anthem and I was standing there thinking to myself ‘bloody hell, how did this happen?’ I’ve been very lucky in finding the right gym to foster my ambitions.
“When I look back at those old pictures now I remember how I felt that unfit and unpretty - I don’t know where I put it all, I don’t have that much body space!
“I post one of those pictures on my Facebook every year because I know there are a lot of people out there with very negative, nasty attitudes, which really make me angry.
“When I first started out one nasty comment could have put me off the whole thing. Maybe a lot of people who try to change won’t get anywhere, but some of them will - and they’ll change their lives.”
- Kerry defends her BCMMA bantamweight title at BCMMA 18 on February 18. Visit www.bcmma.co.uk for information and tickets.
Kerry’s top tips
1) Invest in a professional, there’s no shortcuts:
You wouldn’t try to fix your gas boiler yourself, or maintain your own car without the requisite specialist knowledge. Treat your body with the same care you afford your possessions. A good personal trainer will talk you through your lifestyle, goals, ideas, medical history, likes and dislikes and work with you to make training fun, your goals attainable and your progress measurable. The same goes for nutrition, the market is packed with fad diets, ‘detoxes’ and products that promise to promote slimming. Many of these are likely to do more harm than good in the long term.
2) Find something you love:
Whether it’s running, trampolining, badminton or getting punched in the face - find something that you look forward to and enjoy and you will never struggle with the motivation to get out there and participate. If you don’t know what you like yet then try everything you get an opportunity to, there really is something out there for everyone.
3) Surround yourself with the right people:
When you’re training you take a lot of your motivation from those around you - find an instructor who makes you want to push that extra mile, go to the gym with friends who are positive and encouraging and look toward those that you admire and give you something to aspire to. On the days when you are tired and not feeling up for hitting the gym, these people will be your catalyst and inspiration.
4) Be realistic:
Don’t try to do it all at once, so many people try to change their entire lifestyle overnight and you’re usually setting yourself up for failure, one thing at a time and then progress. Maybe start by cutting out take aways and weekday drinking, then progress to getting rid of the cigarettes and lowering your refined sugar intake. Get used to one adjustment before you try to bring in others and you’ll be more likely to maintain them.
5) “You can’t fail if you don’t quit”:
My coach, Stephen Byerley, told me that before my first ever fight and it’s always stuck with me. You might be tired and miss a day at the gym, or go off out to an office party and have a cheeky smoke or bottle of wine… Whatever it is, we all slip up occasionally, don’t let that derail you completely. Simply move on from it and enjoy the fact you had a little treat, after all, you’re only human and a one off doesn’t really do any harm - as long as you regroup and carry on the way you were going!