The Wolf Queen appears in lore across cultures, from the Ancient Romans to the Celts and can even be found in African folktales. Although the stories of her origin may differ, one thing remains the same, the Wolf Queen is always described as a fearless female warrior of mighty strength and beauty. Samantha Seff personifies the legend and she’s taking a bite out of combat sports confirming her status as MMA royalty. Inspired by her journey, we asked her to share with us her personal experience from humble beginnings to the center stage of Invicta, the largest women’s MMA organization in the world. Samantha is also a blogger (check out her blog) and contributing writer to several publications, including our own Jiujiteira Magazine. Her well-crafted words and honest approach to controversial subjects women in combat sports deal with on a daily basis have motivated countless women to take action and control their destinies. A natural born leader, this queen leads her army of Jiujiteiras as the wolf queen leads her pack, guiding, teaching and empowering.
Intro: Evelyn Sutton | Autobiography: Samantha Seff | Photos: Michelle Chopp Photography
Small in stature, big in heart; a phrase I have often used to describe myself and my larger-than-life dreams that required dedication, sacrifice, hard work, and effort. Just like almost anyone in existence, I have had a multitude of setbacks and roadblocks threatening to impede my journey in the martial arts world, but by learning to prioritize and starve my distractions while nourishing my mind and feeding my focus, I have found to be more than capable of accomplishing great feats I once thought were far-fetched and impossible. Turns out I am not just the little engine that could, I’m the freaking tank train that chugga-chugga-choo-choo’d herself to the peak of the railroad tracks.
A FIGHTER FROM THE CRADDLE
I was born in New York, at Long Island Jewish Hospital as a preemie triplet 5 weeks early. It seems to be that even from birth, I had challenges thrust forth in my direction to teach me to learn how to cultivate my inner most strengths and become more and more determined to succeed. My genetics and premature birth as a multiple always kept me at the bottom of the growth charts, which perhaps led me to become more stubborn than ever to take on bigger and bigger tasks. Napoleon Bonaparte apparently has nothing on my “little man syndrome” as I decided to pursue my dream of an inherently violent sport usually associated with gargantuan male Spartans.
I was an athlete my whole life, using sheer willpower and tenacity to make up for the deficient areas in which my size lacked. I played varsity sports throughout my high school career and excelled in academia. I always dreamt of pursuing martial arts as I constantly displayed my aggressive tendencies on the soccer field and thirsted for something more liberating when it came to the amount of allowable force executed. I was, and still am, fiercely independent and wanted to pursue a sport that was much more reliant on an individual performance rather than depending on the inclusion of those on my team. It’s one of the reasons that drew me to my current gym, where my teammates are much more like family and excellent in their support but it is still up to me to execute a skilled performance on my own. This independent streak is also one of my biggest flaws, as I have difficulty trusting others and building bonds because I always assume the worst of inevitably being let down and hurt.
“…I always felt I was destined to achieve so much more in my life and wanted to break free of the barriers threatening to hold me back.”
Because of my excellent academic standing, I followed the only path in which I received guidance and advice, which was to continue my secondary education at a university, specifically Florida State in Tallahassee. I studied Criminology and Psychology and used my time in school to focus on behaviors, mannerisms, social cues, body language and tics, and the whole nature versus nurture theory on why people commit certain acts or grow up to become the way that they do. All while dreaming of doing something more meaningful with my life in a way that impacted others.
It’s hard to explain it, but I always felt like I was destined to achieve so much more in my life and wanted to break free of the barriers threatening to hold me back. I graduated on a Friday and that day packed everything up to move with family in North Carolina and begin my training days later on Monday, never once looking back.
BJJ + MMA
My first day at a BJJ gym was riddled with insecurities. I was one of very few women training, easily the smallest person there, in mismatched attire, and knowing almost nothing about what I was getting myself into. Every day I felt like I was wasting every single person’s time that got stuck working with me. Only realizing years later that it is sometimes more beneficial to teach the mechanics and fundamentals to someone newer to the sport. Still, I showed up daily, morning and night, in order to embrace the suck and hopefully also start to suck less. Little by little, I was learning, and utilizing strengths I never even knew I had.
I began vigorously training. I spent all of my free time in the gym, learning Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and weight-lifting. I would forgo a social life in lieu of this pursuit (although I had plenty of a rebellious and downright dangerous social life as an adolescent in south Florida and later in my college years). I set out goals and put lots of pressure on myself to achieve them. My knowledge was limited and after some trial and error and faltering in local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, I started devoting some time to educating myself on nutrition and the human body as well. I never went into anything half-assed, and I was determined to bring my full-cheeked A-game to this dream.
After about 15 months of consistent training, I was awarded my blue belt. Soon after that, I took my first MMA fight, finishing by arm bar submission in the first round. Getting my hand raised was an exhilarating feeling and I knew that this was the path I was supposed to be on. I trained hard and began working towards my second fight, where again I won with a first round submission against a more experienced opponent. I was determined to make this my future. And then, it all came crashing down.
I was young and naive and didn’t recognize what the signs of being in a toxic relationship were, and unbeknown to me, I was also repetitively cheated on. We lived together and the termination of this relationship came to final blows when a shotgun was pulled on me with the threat of imminent harm and suicide. It was one of the lowest moments of my life. And then it got worse. My job had suddenly closed leaving me without work. Then, as I was about to start camp for my third amateur fight, I suffered a catastrophic freak accident in training where I tore my ACL, my MCL, LCL, meniscus, and dislocated and fractured my patella. I required immediate reconstructive surgery and was wondering when all of these negative occurrences would cease to overwhelm me.
While I was going through one of the darkest periods of my life, something incredible happened. I had started spending a lot of time with someone I actually met at a Royce Gracie seminar when he paired us up as partners. We occasionally cross-trained together at another gym and he was helping me pack up my place to move and then came to visit me when I was stuck at home recovering from surgery. I wouldn’t say we were dating, it kind of just happened, but pretty soon we realized we were spending a lot of time together and a relationship blossomed. It’s crazy how these things find you without you even looking for them, and just when you need it the most.
“Getting my hand raised was an exhilarating feeling. I knew this was the path I was supposed to be on.”
I rushed back into training and fighting without being fully healed from a traumatic injury and surgery and lost my next fight by decision with a very swollen knee and a very hurt heart. After recovering fully, I threw myself into rehabbing my injury and preparing for my future. Even switching gyms to the one my new boyfriend ran as it was very competition-oriented and just what I needed to shift my focus into fighting. I was simultaneously working a well-paying office job, which I found out, was detrimental to my mental health. I was meant to be active and creative and couldn’t stand the structure of a rigid and robotic work environment. Just another hurdle to overcome. I also had to learn the balance of figuring out my role in a pre-established family where kids were involved, a task I am still not sure I’ve gotten the hang of all these years later.
With my new boyfriend as my head BJJ instructor (who would win Master’s Worlds as a brown belt a short time later) and a new expert level Muay Thai instructor (and former pro fighter) that moved to our gym, I was more than prepared for my next bout which I won by submission. It was also my first time cutting weight (approximately 15 lbs) to fight at my current weight class of atomweight (105 lbs). I felt unstoppable. That is, until I got TKO’d in my next bout. Fortunately for me, rather than dissuading my passions, I became reinvigorated and began working on my shortcomings and fixing my mistakes. Next fight was my fastest submission win ever. Then another loss via stoppage that again, I learned from. Onward and upward.
I then began preparing for a title fight a weight class up (strawweight, 115) solely because I would get to rematch and try to avenge my first ever loss against the same opponent. Right before stepping in the cage, we got the call that a beloved training partner was on the brink of life and death after a severe car wreck. I was determined to win for him. Another first round submission win and nothing feels better than recovering from your past and growing as a fighter and athlete and bringing your belt to a warrior who survived the odds. Then I won another title fight at atomweight with again another first round submission. Then won a kickboxing fight. I was ready to turn pro.
The Road to Invicta
I had a lot of difficulties locking in that first fight. And when I finally did, I was so rundown with exhaustion and recovering sicknesses and stressful situations in my home life that I had such a lackluster performance where I lost by decision. Mentally, I wasn’t there, and my cardio even failed me, something that has never happened before. I was disheartened to lose my pro debut, but I never stopped training, and even through the chaos of 2020, kept to my vigilant routine. I dealt with loss of friends and loved ones, through deaths and alienations, but I remained steadfast in my dreams and kept a positive front despite whatever inner turmoil I was dealing with. Bouts of depression and anxiety constantly threatened to hold me back, but I kept climbing. Motivation always waxes and wanes, but establishing schedules and routines help you find your way back on track, and I am forever grateful to remaining true in my disciplinary nature to never quit.
2021 started with a bang. First, my brother and his wife gave birth to a baby over 7 weeks early and he finally was able to come home from the NICU. Then, I turned 30, which I still haven’t come to terms with. After that, I was taken on a trip to Jamaica and after over 4 years together, my partner hit me with a surprise proposal during dinner at the beach. Out of all the good things to happen, this was easily the happiest day of my life.
Then, my big break came. My name was given to Invicta FC by integral people who had seen me put in hard work. They needed a last minute alternate for their upcoming atomweight tournament. I had 15 days to lose 18 pounds and welcomed the challenge. Hardest struggle of my life (read all about Samantha’s weight cut). Covid protocols allowed us only one coach, my fiancé was out of the country, and I suffered a close betrayal as well. But I learned I was mentally strong enough and by hard work and sheer willpower, I made the weight, won my bout, and solidified some strong connections in the sport.
I won’t pretend that I don’t suffer from some internal struggles day in and day out. This sport can be incredibly isolating and only the strongest people physically and mentally can endure the grueling weight cuts, strenuous fight camps, lack of support from family, outside ridicule and criticism from strangers, and all the other negative consequences that come with being in the public eye for a mere few minutes of fight time where anything can happen, even with the most prepared athlete. I constantly question if I am doing the right things, over-train my body riddled with nagging injuries and pained joints and ligaments, struggle with guilt if anything wavers, and punish myself every time my expectations of myself fall short. But I am trying to learn healthier ways of coping and more positive self-talk and affirmations within myself.
Fortunately for me, I am in an incredibly happy and healthy relationship (soon to be marriage) and I train at a gym with an excellent atmosphere. Even on my hard days I know I still have a good life and I get to keep chasing this dream every day. I have been at it over 8 years, 2 stripes on my brown belt, countless IBJJF gold medals, 13 fights, and lots of opportunities for growth. I have put on seminars, raised money for charity, organized events, been a reliable training partner, assisted in coaching endeavors, been vulnerable in various writing jobs and compilations, and will always be willing to face a challenge head on. I have people who believe in me and I won’t let them or myself down. I feel like there is so much more I need to accomplish in this life and I am always worrying that I am not doing enough, but I promise to keep on trying every single day. And hopefully by the time I depart this world, I will have impacted others and left the world a better place simply because I existed.
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