It’s not too often that you get to speak with a person so genuine. Growing up on a ranch in Montana, Ariel “Sunshine” Beck was one of the first female fighters to be featured exclusively on the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter.
During the show Beck had a panic attack. As someone who has and currently deals with the same thing, I was aware of the difficulties she was facing. To see her bounce back and keep on going was motivating, not only to me, but I’m sure countless others who were watching.
I reached out to Beck knowing that I wanted to understand what drove her in her profession and how mental health played a role in her growth as a person and a fighter.
The GM’s Perspective: For those unfamiliar with your career, how did you get started in MMA?
Ariel Beck: I was actually in rodeo. I was college rodeoing. One of my friends’ mom taught a fitness boxing class. I tried that out and thought I could punch hard and wanted to try fighting from there. I was boxing for approximately three years before switching over to MMA. I thought I would try it before I got too old.
GMs: The number of people who do what you do is extremely rare. What’s it like knowing that you’re in the top x amount of percent of people who are the best in the world at what they do?
AB: It’s intense. MMA is a lifestyle. When I started fighting I could get away with a lot of little things like going out and staying up late when I was an amateur. The higher you move up the ranks, it becomes a lifestyle. It takes everything. From eating and sleeping, to watching what you do on weekends. There’s a lot to it, but also very rewarding when you’re fortunate to be where we are.
GMs: Your partner, also an MMA fighter, Shea O’Neill has to be a huge influence and motivator for you?
AB: He gets me to the gym a lot when I don’t want to go. It’s always great to have someone to feed off of. To have someone to keep me on the straight and narrow is a massive positive.
GMs: You were featured on the first “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF 26) to exclusively feature women in the flyweight division with the goal of being crowned the UFC’s inaugural 125-pound champion in the season’s finale. What was that experience like?
AB: It was an opportunity of a lifetime. We were making history and no one can ever take that away from us. The house is crazy. It’s the most loved and most hated thing all at once all the time. I wouldn’t trade being there for anything.
GM’s: During the show, you had a panic attack. And while many people experience that behind closed doors it was on live television. Perhaps those close to you were aware, maybe they didn’t. Can you delve into that?
AB: I get panic attacks and I know that they’re coming. Before I went to the show, I let people close to me know what we’d do if I did get one because chances are it could happen. We tried to prepare for it, but it did happen and it did happen on TV. I’m at a point in my life when it does happen, I’m better prepared.
Knowing that I’m always going to be OK helps. Fighting in general has helped me a lot. Jiu-jitsu has allowed me to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We’re all human and have our flaws that we have to deal with.
GM’s: I have been pretty open about this lately, but I suffer(ed) anxiety/panic attacks/depression for over 20 years, and only a very small group of people even knew what I was going through. When I saw your attack on TUF, I knew immediately what you were facing. I can tell you that you inspired me, but I’m almost positive you inspired many others…
AB: Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s not nice when the attacks happen, especially when everyone sees it. The number of people that reached out to me after the episode aired was something special. It’s worth the ridicule and the whispering.
People who haven’t experienced one have no idea. It’s not that we’re mentally weak and that’s what I originally thought for the longest time. So it’s been cool having others reach out to me and knowing that others are going through the same struggles. To be honest, I struggled getting help. I didn’t want to come off as weak. The experience has been eye-opening. All in all, the best scenario came from a terrible situation.
GMs: You are one of the best in the world at what you do? Did you ever imagine this even five or 10 years ago?
AB: Nope! Definitely not. Ten years ago I was a little rodeo kid. I didn’t box, never watched boxing, and was not that familiar with the UFC. Wrestling wasn’t even in my background. I went to that fitness class, and with my ranch background, I thought I was tough enough to make something from it.
I’ve had so many amazing opportunities that came from this. Like my boyfriend says, keep grinding and good things will come from it. I kept fighting and the next thing you know we’re going to boxing nationals. I started training in MMA and was decent at it considering how little I knew.
My first amateur fights had no game plan if it went to the ground. I continually trained and kept that fire burning. I eventually got a shot against Andrea Lee for the Legacy title and the rest was history. Amazing things keep happening.
GMs: What’s next for Ariel Beck?
AB: There’s nothing set in stone. I’m heavily involved in grappling at the present time. We’re looking at getting Shea a fight. He’s been taking care of my career for a while and we’ve neglected him!! All doors are open at the moment.