People have told Solveigh Skarhus that her nickname “The Evil One” just doesn’t fit. You’re too nice for that. You’re always smiling. To which the 17-year-old mixed martial arts fighter retorts, “Well, doesn’t that scare you a little more?”
That moniker was given to Skarhus during a seminar at Briar Cliff University last year lead by AnnMaria De Mars, the first American judo practitioner to win a world championship. De Mars is also the mother of UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey. Skarhus carried that name to her first MMA bout in May against Mercedes Timmerman.
When the match was over, Skarhus smiled at the camera with forearms and hands smeared red -- her opponent was left a bloody mess.
“It really couldn’t have turned out better,” she said. “I wanted an actual fight and it was dynamic enough where people liked watching it. And it felt pretty great.”
Her second King of the Cage match came in August. Almost as soon as she and fighter Christina Toth touched gloves, Skarhus knocked her adversary to the ground and pummeled her with a barrage of punches before the referee called her off. As a sign of respect, Skarhus returned to her corner and sat in a meditating position until a decision was made. The refs called it. Skarhus knocked out Toth in a nine-second victory.
The radio called her “the pride of Hinton,” an unofficial title Skarhus is honored to have.
“I’m proud of that -- I get to represent my high school, middle school, the whole district,” she said.
Skarhus has already begun her senior year at Hinton High School. As such, her MMA fights will be put on hold until spring. The straight-A student will instead focus on her academics and other school activities like cross country, quiz bowl and math club.
She will continue to train heavily and serve as an assistant instructor for a variety of classes at DeVall MMA & BJJ. Skarhus spent three years there as a student herself. She had been a devout student of martial arts since she was 7 years old. Her dad wanted Skarhus to box but mom wasn’t too keen on that idea.
“They settled on taekwondo,” said Skarhus. “I was shy and wouldn’t talk to anybody. I’d just kind of shake my head ‘yes’ or ‘no’ all the time. They thought it would build confidence.”
She maintained her love of martial arts through the years but she wanted a harder workout. She eventually found her way to a woman’s fitness class at DeVall MMA & BJJ led by Sioux City MMA fighter John DeVall.
“I was the only one to show up,” Skarhus said. “A lot of times it was one-on-one and he just got to beat me up. I thought I was in pretty good shape with my judo, jiujitsu and taekwondo [backgrounds]. The first three days I was so sore I couldn’t sneeze. I knew I had to keep doing that.”
She never took the thought of having a career in MMA seriously until six months before her debut fight with King of the Cage.
“I ended up loving it and I wanted to keep doing it.”
DeVall saw her potential almost immediately.
“She has a very good attitude and learns things instantaneously,” he said. “She can retain it all, which is a very hard thing to do, and she can put it all together. Most people can’t. She donates so much of her time; I don’t know how the hell she does that.”
The opportunity is there for Skarhus, especially with the resurging popularity of MMA.
“I’m glad the sport is gaining more momentum and more people actually know about it,” said Skarhus. “I have to thank Ronda [Rousey] for a lot of that. She’s bringing it back 'round again. It’s going to get better over the next couple generations.”
Once Skarhus gets a few more fights under her belt, she would like to compete for amateur titles and eventually become a professional UFC fighter. But she has some time before then -- competitors must be at least 21 years old to be eligible to fight for UFC.
But Skarhus already has a plan. She’ll continue to train, of course, but by the time she finishes high school, she will have a full year’s worth of college credits under her belt. She reckons if she works hard enough, she could have a four-year degree by the time she’s 20. And her coaching at DeVall MMA & BJJ?
“That will stay the same,” she said. “I’m looking into teaching a women’s class soon with my own students. I’m making it more self-defense [oriented] but also more sport-combat style. My goal is to get enough students to be able to handle themselves.”
In addition to self-defense and fighting techniques, Skarhus will pass down the same values she learned from her parents, enhanced by her 10 years of practicing martial arts.
“A lot of it is self-discipline, respect and going out and trying your hardest,” she said. “Most of that came through parenting -- always be nice, don’t judge somebody else and have respect for authority figures.”
Teaching and passing on those values, she said, is more fulfilling than defeating an opponent in the cage.
“I like my own career and everything, but teaching someone else grows the sport more and enhances it more as a whole,” Skarhus said. “I like watching the kids improve, too – the kids that enjoy it a lot. We have a couple 8- or 9-year-old girls right now and by the time they’re my age, I’m going to be afraid of them.”
For Skarhus, the quote “with great power, comes great responsibility” rings true.
“I would definitely say that’s spot on,” she said with a smile. “My power is the knowledge and the responsibility is sharing it.”