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Talking to Sarah Alpar, it doesn’t take long to figure out how she acquired her nickname. Speaking to Sherdog.com ahead of her fight with Shanna Young on Dana White's Contender Series this week, the 28-year-old who goes by “Too Sweet” was asked if she would prefer a finish by knockout or submission.
“I would definitely like the KO or TKO, just to show what my standup game is about. Also, I love that feeling of [looking down] and watching someone be conquered; there’s just something about that,” Alpar said. She paused, crinkled her nose in apparent distaste and then laughed at the un-sweetness of her own comment. “Ugh, that sounds so evil!”
“But my fight against Pamela,” she elaborated, referring to a first-round TKO of Pamela Boveda Aguirre in November 2017, “I had her right up against the fence, hitting her, and the ref ended up having to pull me off her. In my daily life I’m a nice person, so to be able to get in the cage and go a little crazy until someone has to tell you to stop, that’s kind of a cool feeling.”
The topic of finishing fights is especially relevant to this conversation; the titular head of the Contender Series made headlines earlier this year for denying an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract to Brendan Loughnane because he was perceived to have been playing it safe by going for a takedown in the final minute of a fight he had been winning. Alpar is well aware of White’s angry reaction that night, and his now-famous assertion that the Contender Series was looking for “killers,” but they only reinforce what is already in her mind.
“He’s made it clear that he’s looking for ‘killers,’ that he’s looking for a certain kind of fighter, and it might not be enough to just get the win,” Alpar said. “So in training and preparing, I’m looking for ways to be aggressive, to show all the skills I have, but I’d already rather not leave it in the hands of the judges or let the fight stretch out any longer than it has to, so it’s all the same idea.”
When Alpar makes references to showing what her standup game is about, or showing all her skills, she sounds very much like the former wrestler she is, eager to display her transition from a specialist into a well-rounded martial artist. However, the Amarillo, Texas, native now residing in Oklahoma is quick to call wrestling her core, in a greater sense than just her skill set as a fighter.
“I started in middle school,” she said. “That’s when I first found my love [of wrestling]. I was kind of picked on, bullied a little bit, and my self-esteem was low. My brother, who had wrestled, turned me on to it. I found out the school had a team, I joined it and I’ve never stopped since -- even that first year when I was the only girl on the team and it was hard and awkward and I felt out of place. I fell in love with it, it’s grown me to be the athlete and person that I am. I’ve been blessed all along the way with great coaches who have helped me become the person I am. I wrestled all through high school and a year of college.”
While Alpar’s wrestling background is deeply ingrained, her development as a fighter has been a form of on-the-job training, as Alpar did not fight as an amateur at all before her professional mixed martial arts debut in 2011.
“I did have one kickboxing match before [my pro debut], just because you had to have at least one fight in some kind of martial art before I could go pro,” she said. “And of course I’d had plenty of competitions in wrestling. But other than that I just jumped right in. No amateur MMA fights.”
In light of that quick entry to the sport, it seems reasonable to ask whether Alpar is better than her 8-4 record. While she refuses to excuse any of her losses, she’s more than willing to call her MMA game a work in progress.
“I gain confidence with every fight that I have, and I grow as a fighter,” she said. “Sometimes I’m disappointed because I didn’t get to show a particular skill, but each fight I feel I’m getting to the next level.”
Tuesday’s tilt with Young will be at bantamweight, where Alpar has conducted the majority of her fights. However, she admits to feeling conflicted at times about dropping down to 125 pounds, where she fought several times early in her career. The 5-foot-4 Alpar gives up height to virtually all of her opponents, but due to her powerful build, she has a significant weight cut even at 135. Alpar maintains that she has never felt a strength disadvantage in either weight class, but admits the height and reach that many of her foes have can be tricky to deal with.
“Strength-wise it’s never an issue, but length-wise, my last opponent, [Joselyne Edwards Laboriel] was quite a bit taller, and her reach was so much greater than mine that I really had to consider it and change my game,” Alpar said. “I ended up relying on my wrestling a lot more, because in the standup, I could have held my arm straight out and she would have been able to hit me. So a lot of these [bantamweight] women are much taller than me, and I have dinosaur arms already! I’m like a little T-Rex here, trying to fight these giants.”
The question of her future weight class is one to be decided another day, however. For now, Alpar is focused on the job ahead of her, the once-beaten Young. Alpar is very conscious of the fact that unlike earlier seasons of the Contender Series, where there was usually only one contract awarded per episode, two-thirds of the winning fighters this season have had their passports stamped to the UFC. Alpar sees an open door to a career-changing, life-altering win, and perhaps even the chance to one day quit her day job as a Starbucks barista.
For now, though, she appreciates that it affords her the ability to schedule her work around training while paying her bills, and she’s aware of the example of previous barista-turned-UFC-fighter Patrick Cummins as well as that of Larkyn Dasch, who was working at a Hooter’s when she received the call to fight Valerie Loureda in Bellator MMA earlier this year.
“Shoot, I’d be a Hooters girl, though I’m right in the middle of the Bible Belt and I’d probably lose some sponsors over it,” she said with a laugh.