Charlene Gellner's pro career could be back to square one.
The 27-year-old MMA fighter from Newark suffered a first-round TKO on Saturday night in Redding at the hands of an 18-year-old opponent who was making her professional debut.
But Gellner says she’s always been a fighter, and she’s “got a fighter’s heart.”
“I’ve been a fighter my whole life. Not just physical fights, but adversity,” she said in an interview last week. “I’ve lost my dad. I definitely got a fighter’s heart.”
When she mentions her “dad,” she means her grandfather, Larry Keegan, who died in 2007.
Raised by her grandparents, Gellner acknowledged that she got into fights all through high school, eventually leading to her expulsion from Newark Memorial in the 10th grade. She attended Kennedy High School in Fremont and, after high school, moved to San Jose, attended medical assistance school, got a warehouse job and started getting a tattoo about once a month. Her body is now almost entirely covered in them.
Five years ago, she returned to Newark and started training at friend Eric Mananzan’s Bay Area Fight Academy in south Hayward. That’s when she got into MMA.
“I was looking to get in shape, and he offered me a free membership … It was just for weight loss at first, and then I got a competitive edge,” Gellner said.
She now teaches and trains with both men and women at the academy.
Mixed-martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, but opportunities are limited for women in the sport, especially at Gellner’s 115-pound weight class. Most mixed-martial arts athletes gravitate to it after mastering a single discipline like karate, taekwondo or even wrestling, but Gellner went straight to MMA.
She fought as a amateur for about a year and half, posting a 5-0 record, before getting the offer to fight in her first pro Strikeforce match.
However, Gellner now faces some more adversity to test her heart.
In her third professional bout Saturday night, Gellner was stopped at 2:32 in the first round of her 115-pound match against Briana Van Buren of Gilroy — one of the featured cage bouts before a sellout crowd of about 1,000 at the Win-River Casino.
In retrospect, Gellner may have been rushed into the professional ranks.
She turned pro in January 2010 in a Strikeforce match at HP Pavilion in San Jose. That night, she became a second-round TKO victim of Jenna Castillo of San Jose, who at the time was 25-1 as a pro and already a champion.
Her second pro match did not come until more than a year and half later when she lost a close decision in August 2011 in a match in Redding.
Gellner could not be reached for comment early this week, but her manager and coach, Eric Mananzan of Union City, said Gellner may be at a crossroads.
Mananzan, who owns and operates Bay Area Fight Academy on Industrial Boulevard in Hayward, where Gellner and other MMA fighters train, said Gellner needs to focus if she wants to advance in her professional career.
"Fighting is not just preparing for a fight at a camp, it’s a fighter’s lifestyle. You need to work every day,” he said. “The first moment that girl touched her face, [Gellner] had to fire back. Then it ended up a brawl, and she got caught."