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Washougal mixed martial arts fighter preps for second professional bout

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Mihaela Keller-Loss, who trains at The Base Camas jiujitsu academy, will compete March 10, 2024, in her second professional mixed martial arts fight in Houston, Texas. (Contributed photos courtesy of Mihaela Keller-Loss)

Mihaela Keller-Loss has worked diligently to improve her grappling and wrestling techniques since switching from sport karate to mixed martial arts (MMA) several years ago. But the Washougal resident’s greatest strength continues to be her striking ability, which she used to win more than 20 world championships during her two decades as a karate fighter.

“She has so much knowledge and skills (from) a lifetime of stand-up fighting that I am so excited for people to continue to see,” Taylor Loss, Keller-Loss’ husband and coach, said. “Skillswise, in my opinion, I would say there are not many stand-up women’s MMA fighters on the planet that you will see with this type of skill, power, and knowledge of striking.’”

Keller-Loss will put all of her talents on display in her second professional MMA fight, FC Fury 87, in Houston on Sunday, March 10, competing against Mia Grawe in the strawweight (115 pound) weight class.

“I’m feeling great,” Keller-Loss recently told The Post-Record. “My first (professional) experience didn’t go as I had hoped. I wasn’t able to come out of that fight with a win, so I feel like it just fueled the fire for this next one to go out there and really be able to showcase who I am as a fighter. I didn’t really get to do that in my first fight, so I’m really eager to get back in there. There’s an extra push to just dig even deeper to be able to showcase that.”

Keller-Loss was defeated by Nejra Repp via technical knockout in their flyweight (125 pounds) match at Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) 164 in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 4, 2023.

“The moment we were done, I knew that I could be that level, and I knew I could compete, especially with the girl that I fought (against),” Keller-Loss said. “I do believe that skill wise, I was the better fighter. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the exact nutrition and rehydration process that I should have (followed). It was hot in Texas, and unfortunately, I overheated. I just didn’t provide myself with the proper nutrients to bounce back from the weight cut and prepare for the fight, so that was unfortunate.

“But it was a good learning opportunity because I definitely overlooked how important the nutrition aspect was. I knew it was important, but I had never actually seen the side effects of what happens if it goes bad. And it went bad.”

Keller-Loss was introduced to martial arts when she was 4 by her parents, who signed her up for a self-defense class at Battle Ground Martial Arts.

“I ended up doing my first tournament shortly after that, maybe like within the first six months, and I was hooked on competitions and tournaments at that point,” she said.

She went to to participate in many national and international sport karate competitions and won 22 world titles before graduating from college.

She also earned a fourth-degree black belt in we ying tao karate, as well as a human resources degree from Portland State University, during that time.

“At the beginning of the MMA journey, she was working 50 hours a week, was a full-time college student at PSU, teaching karate and training for MMA,” Loss said. “There wasn’t a lot of time for outside activities beyond MMA training, college and work. There were also the same type of financial things that come from being a college student as well because neither of us came from a family of means. This was a huge struggle, and something that took a lot of mental fortitude on her part to push through.”

At that point, Keller-Loss knew she was ready for a new challenge.

“As I was wrapping up with college, I approached my coach and was like, ‘What’s next?’ because sports karate was kind of at a standstill,” said Keller-Loss, who works as a human resources representative for an emergency animal hospital in Vancouver.

“Karate combat was newer, but that really wasn’t (my) goal. I wanted to push my abilities even more and learn much more about martial arts, so I brought up MMA. I did a couple of (fights), and then jumped into it, and absolutely fell in love with the fact that I get to learn so much more about fighting than I ever have. I haven’t looked back since.”

Keller-Loss won five of her six amateur MMA bouts and earned championship belts at regional Full Contact Fighting Federation and Arena Wars events before turning professional in 2023.

“I had my last amateur fight in October of 2022, and probably a couple months before that, when Rick Story became my wrestling coach and career mentor, he said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to get a whole lot of fights after this, so you might want to put it in your brain that you might want to turn pro in 2023,’” she said.

“So I was like, ‘OK, cool.’ I had my fight, and then I really didn’t have many matchups to start out 2023 as an amateur. After chatting with my team about the next step, we were like, ‘Let’s turn pro.’ So I sought out a management company — I signed with Sucker Punch Entertainment — and then I locked in (my first professional) fight with LFA last year.”

Keller-Loss began training at The Base Vancouver jiu-jitsu school, in 2020, then followed lead instructor Gil Mendiola, who decided to launch an academy in east Clark County, The Base Camas, in the fall of 2023.

“I love the family environment that’s created and maintained at The Base Camas,” Keller-Loss said. “I just mesh with (Mendiola) really well — that family, go-with-the-flow type of vibe. There aren’t a bunch of egos in the room. It’s all about promoting and helping each other get better, regardless of the level that you’re at.”

Mendiola said Keller-Loss is “is easy to work with” and “coachable.”

“Her work ethic and focus on the tasks at hand speak to the type of athlete she is,” he said. “She challenges herself and is willing to listen to recommendations on how to better execute a move. Simply, she sets a high bar for herself (to attain) the goals she’s after.”

Keller-Loss also receives strong support at home — Loss is also a fighter, and serves as his wife’s coach, lead trainer and schedule-maker.

“It has been amazing to watch her journey up close from both sides of the fence as a trainer and as her husband,” Loss said. “We have been together for over nine years now, and I have gotten the privilege to watch her, help train her, and train with her during her switch from being a world champion karate competitor to a whole new world of MMA. Every single fight camp has come with new challenges and new experiences, but she has embraced them and tackled them head on since the start of this journey.”

Mendiola believes Keller-Loss’ “mental toughness” is a big reason for her success.

“Some of her strengths are her discipline and her unwavering drive to succeed in her MMA career,” Mendiola added. “The words ‘I can’t’ do not exist for her. If it’s a new thing she’s working on, that is all it is — new. She won’t say she can’t do it. She’ll acknowledge the areas she needs to work on, and she’s determined to work on them so she’s better at it than the day before.”

That mindset is the reason why Keller-Loss loves martial arts so much in the first place.

“I love that I get to continuously grow and push myself (through martial arts),” she said. “There is no cap on what I can learn. I’m obsessed with growing and learning and constantly finding and setting new goals, and moving forward all the time.”

Right now, her goal is to defeat Grawe in March. She’d then like to schedule three or four more fights for the rest of 2024, climb the rankings and continue to gain exposure. But she also has several major long-term goals.

“In regard to MMA, I want to get into the UFC (United Fighting Championship),” Keller-Loss said. “That’s what I’m fighting for at the moment, to bust through my pro fights and get the call to the UFC. And then I would love to become a UFC champ. That is the ultimate goal. (But) I know that fighting will never last forever. I have a great career outside of fighting that allows me to participate in MMA, but I would love to own my own gym and be able to coach and teach, essentially for the rest of my life.”

Keller-Loss is fully capable of achieving those goals, according to Loss.

“I would say the things that make her special beyond the skills aspect of fighting and the reasons I think she will be a UFC champion and champion in any professional federation she is part of is her willingness to learn and adapt to all situations, her non-stop work ethic, and her determination to always reach her goals she sets for herself,” he said. “She has a champion mindset every day no matter what is going on. I’ve been around a lot of very good athletes in other sports, and I can say that she is the first one I have been around that genuinely carries the champion’s mindset into every aspect of her life. I think that is something special in itself that is very rare with athletes in general.”