By Keith Pierce and Philip Walzer

It didn't take long for Old Dominion University graduate student Miranda Maverick to win her debut UFC fight.

Maverick, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, defeated Liana Jojua after just five minutes during a match on Oct. 24 in Abu Dhabi.

In its account of the match, said Maverick "looked absolutely incredible." Afterward, Maverick warned: "I'm ready to scare this entire division."

In June, the 23-year-old earned a place in the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

"It's the highest level there is for MMA," or mixed martial arts, she said at the time. "It raises not only my pay. It raises my exposure and my chance to be world champion. It's the pressure I've been waiting for. It's the dream."

But Maverick wasn't planning a big celebration of her debut victory, she said in an email two days after the fight. She has to get back to schoolwork.

From the time she was a 3-year-old arm-wrestling with her siblings to her days as a teen picking up heavy buckets of feed on the farm, Maverick excelled physically. In middle and high school, she competed in a variety of sports, including wrestling.

Originally from the small farming town of Tunas, Mo., Maverick enjoyed roughhousing with her siblings and her father, Cordell, who introduced her to watching UFC fights on TV. "I said, 'Wait, girls do that?' I knew I wanted in."

At 16, she began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at a gym 90 minutes from her home. Maverick was so good that she began beating the men in practice.

She went to Drury University in Springfield, Mo., to study psychology and sociology. Drury was within 2 miles of a gym, where Maverick spent every day practicing to earn her first amateur MMA match.

Maverick won in the first round and became the No. 1-ranked MMA fighter in the Midwest.

In five years of MMA competition, the 5-foot-3, 125-pound flyweight has compiled an overall 8-2 record.

"She's had many obstacles and has a workload larger than anyone in the gym by far, and she's consistently the most consistent person in the gym," said Mackens Semerzier, a retired UFC fighter who has coached Maverick for the past 2½ years.

His prediction: "I think, with the natural ability she came to us with and with us refining them, she can be the champion in her weight class in the next few years."

In the classroom, Maverick said she was drawn to industrial psychology because "I've always liked business and numbers, and I've been good at math. I loved psychology, as well."

The subject has helped her in the ring. "You learn how to read people more, and you understand what's going on in their minds," she said. "That helps your own mind during fights."

Maverick chose ODU's graduate program "because of the gyms in the area and the academic prestige of the school. Plus, I like the Southern feel of Virginia."

There was another reason: When she toured ODU, "I didn't feel like a number. The professors seemed genuinely interested in talking to me and finding out more about my personal interests."

Her secret to maintaining her academic and workout schedules: "I have a planner where I write down when I sleep and what I'm doing for every 15-minute period."

Her master's thesis is on COVID-19's effect on gyms. She hopes to receive her doctorate in 2022.

"Miranda is very driven, diligent and persistent in her graduate studies as she is in the gym. She had nurtured enviable work habits and ethics, discipline, and a thirst for feedback and learning," said Konstantin Cigularov, associate professor of industrial and organizational psychology.

If her fight dreams get beaten back, she'd like to work in leadership development with the UFC.

"ODU is providing me with a future I can count on," she said.

Read a longer version of this story in the upcoming issue of ODU's e-magazine, Monarch Extra, at

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