Today we’d like to introduce you to Betsabe Esparza.
Hi Betsabe, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Black Widow MMA was officially founded in January 2019. I had never intended to open a gym. In June 2018, I was an assistant instructor in a very small Muay Thai gym in a shared space with another school. Everything changed June 10th and it paved the way for Black Widow MMA to form into the gym it is today.
Have you ever seen that scene in a movie where someone is thrown out of a vehicle and their luggage is tossed out after them? Well, that’s exactly how my relationship ended in 2018. It was Father’s Day weekend and I was tossed 4 hours away from Austin with no way to return. To further complicate things, I was living with this now ex and we were both running the Muay Thai program together. But the breakup was long overdue. He had been physically and mentally abusive for years and facing homelessness with seven doggies and not much else to offer, well it wasn’t as bad as staying trapped in a toxic relationship.
After dusting myself off, I get a text from the ex stating he is shutting down the program because “he wanted a gym full of legit fighters and not a bunch of lame hobbyists”. I begged for him not to shut it down. We had 12 students at the time and we owed them a place to train. He told me to take over then. In a panic, I called my best friend and training partner, Jorge Castaneda. Jorge was one of the few that knew all the abuse and turmoil I had faced. “Take over! This is your chance to turn this into something great!” he pleaded. “I am not a Muay Thai coach! I assist at best… there is no way I can do this alone” the tears and overwhelming sinking feeling kept me on the phone for another two hours, trying to if I could do this. It was when Jorge said, “I promise I will be there to help you every single day”. Jorge is not only one of the most well-known grapplers in Austin, he has been teaching and actively fighting since the white belt.
I decided to text my ex back and accept his offer of taking over the gym. He agreed but then sent me a text after text putting me down. “You’re selling them snake oil.” “No one is going to want to train under you.” “You will never have any legit fighters under you”. “I’m gonna start my own legit gym and it’ll be better than anything Austin has ever seen”. I ignored it. I had bigger problems to deal with now.
Jorge was kind enough to drive four hours to pick me up and four hours to Austin. By Monday, I was teaching Muay Thai with Jorge to assist me. I was a nervous mess. Still emotional from everything that had happened, unsure of myself but once we lined up and I saw the team’s smiling faces, I remembered why I loved the art of Muay Thai and how much I enjoyed sharing it with others. And so it continued, six days a week every week. I had no place to stay so I would hang out in the gym as late as I could, hid some blankets in my locker, a pillow in my car and I would sleep on the fold-out futon we had in the lobby. I would wake up early to not get caught there.
The guy I co-owned the gym with became more and more critical of my every move. I recall him asking that I explain myself. What did I do to drive away from the other coach? Who was I sleeping with because? There were all kinds of rumors and they were bad for business. It was at that point that I knew I had to tough it out on that couch for a few more months, save every dime I had and get my own gym. I was already facing so much scrutiny from the community. I was one of the few female coaches, I wasn’t a fighter and overnight I had a gym that suddenly was doing very well for itself. To say it was rough was an understatement. I remember getting a gym membership at a local 24-hour gym. I would shower there every morning. I would turn the water to the coldest setting and force myself to stand there for a few minutes. I would tell myself, “If this can be the worst part of your day, anything you face will be easier”.
Six months later, I signed the contract to open Black Widow MMA. A facility twice the size of the old location and so much cleaner, chic and in a better neighborhood. We were no longer just a Muay Thai program, Jorge got his own Jiu-Jitsu and MMA program. We offered kids classes, fitness, boxing and so much more. The team began competing more often and we were bringing home medals in every level, belts, and other accolades. Jorge continued to compete at the pro level and leading his students by example. Slowly we made a name for ourselves. And despite what my ex had said, we have a team of fighters, I’ve had some of the best in the world come train my team and they know we’re legit. We make everyone feel welcome from hobbyists to pros. Through the ups and downs, Jorge was there every single day like he promised. It was his support and that of the team that helped me push through.
Today we offer a full schedule of classes to help everyone looking to learn the art of Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, MMA and Boxing. I take pride in offering a Women’s Only Muay Thai Class every week in hopes that more women jump into this art. I’ve been training for years and I am always vastly outnumbered but soon, we will see more females training. Three years in and we are still going strong. Soon we will be expanding our location and offering more programs to help the community.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There were a lot of struggles along the way! I think for me the hardest part was being away from my dogs. I had seven doggies and after the split, I was only allowed to see them a few hours a day a couple of days a week. I remember one night I had a dream that I was calling them and I could hear them all running towards me, I was so excited to hug them and right before they jumped on the couch, I woke up. I was in tears when I woke up. It was that moment that I decided I needed to hustle harder than I ever did to rescue my doggies and give them the home they deserve.
After six months of being homeless, we were able to rent a one-bedroom place that had been attached to a run-down shed. My ex told me I had to get my dogs out or he was going to put them up for adoption. It was an hour away from Austin but it allowed me to keep all seven dogs and there was plenty of room for them to run around outside. But that commute was tough. Waking up at 5 am to be out by 6 am. The doggies had someone to watch them because we would be gone all day, sometimes getting home at midnight after competition training. Again, I was motivated more than ever to give them a home that would allow us to see them more often. Six months later, we did it. We bought our home in Round Rock, only 15 minutes from the gym. The dogs have their own room, a giant backyard and we even adopted an eighth puppy, Ocho. Every morning we get to wake up and spend time with them. I can leave midday just to hug them. It’s the greatest thing. They motivate me to work hard every day so they never have to face hardship again.
I’m grateful for my grandparents giving me a small loan to start off the gym and my brother paying the deposit for our new spot, and Jorge’s parents for helping buy the mats. I had very little and they willingly gave, no questions asked to help make our dream come true.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am one of a few Latina MMA gym owners. I specialize in teaching the art of Muay Thai. I would say one of my strong suits is fundamentals. I’ve learned to break down each movement and help people who have never trained before feel comfortable enough to step into sparring, competition and more. Before Covid, we had started two programs, one in an elementary and one in an alternative school to help train kids. It was great to see these kids flourish and gain confidence in themselves.
We also sponsored several veterans struggling with adjusting to civilian life or dealing with mental health issues. We have done a couple of self-defense seminars for women and the LGBTQIA community with more to come. I’m also proud to have started a Women’s Only Muay Thai class every week free to all women. I’m also proud of all the championships, gold medals and all the awards our fighters and competitors have received, I could go on and on about how proud I am of our students and staff.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to stay positive. I have Jorge to thank for that. I am sarcastic and before I met him I had a lot more negativity in my life. Thanks to him I take more time to be grateful and not take things for granted. I suppose losing everything helped me with this as well. Learning to be positive has allowed me to hear some terrible things about myself from others and not let them destroy me. I am more confident in who I am and what I do. Learning to believe in me not just for my own sake but to help others has helped me tremendously.
One phrase has carried me along the way as well. “Echale Ganas” my dad says this to me every time I face something difficult. It means give it your all but more so give it your all with all your heart. My family has always been there to help me and motivate me along the way. This phrase is painted on the wall of the gym, it’s all over the Samurai Swag gear that Jorge designs for the team, it’s essentially our motto. You have to give it your all to get anywhere in life.
- $150 for Unlimited Training for Adults
- $125 Unlimited Training for Kids
- $125 For Veterans
- $80 for Private Lessons
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.BlackWidowMMA.com
- Instagram: @blackwidowmmatx
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