The Renewed Focus of Amber Leibrock

By Jason Burgos Feb 13, 2019

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Amber Leibrock plans to rebound from her September defeat to Arlene Blencowe -- a loss she admits likely removed her as a viable contender for Bellator MMA women’s featherweight champion Julia Budd. She has a history of bouncing back. Mixed martial arts rescued Leibrock from difficulties in her youth and gave her a purpose: to one day become a major champion. With a renewed focus, she has designs on getting back in the win column and returning to title contention.

The setback against Blencowe still stings.

“I was extremely disappointed,” Leibrock told Sherdog.com. “I was disappointed in myself. I was disappointed in my performance.”

When she faced Blencowe at Bellator 206, Leibrock knew there was more on the line than just career progression. As a former No. 1 contender, Blencowe was one of the faces of the division. A win over “Angerfist” could conceivably have put Leibrock in position to challenge for divisional gold. In hindsight, the 31-year-old California native believes the thought affected her state of mind before and during the fight.

“I think I let it mess with my mind a little bit,” Leibrock said.

That was not the only mistake the Invicta Fighting Championships veteran made. In the third round of what had been a competitive bout, Leibrock locked in what she thought could be a fight-ending armbar. However, Blencowe defended the submission and lifted her off the mat and into the air. Instead of releasing the maneuver or hooking the Aussie’s leg for more leverage, Leibrock clung to the arm. It was a decision that cost her, as Blencowe slammed her to the canvas and followed up with punches for the technical knockout. Leibrock admits it was a mental lapse.

“I wasn’t thinking let go. I wasn’t thinking hook the leg. I was just thinking let’s get this armbar,” she said. “I wasn’t really thinking. When I held on to it, all I was thinking was, ‘Oh man, I’ve got it,’ and then she slammed me.”

Although the defeat was punishing, mentally and physically, Leibrock has never had an issue with dusting off herself. She enjoys what she does too much to allow adversity to sidetrack her, especially since she credits the sport for helping her get her life back on the rails. Leibrock grew up in Hayward, California, a place not known for its affluence or influence.

“I come from a rough neighborhood,” she said. “I come from a place where the community is poor. There’s not a lot of opportunities, and life is a bit of a struggle.”

Leibrock admits her life was headed down the “wrong path” and that drug and alcohol use had become an issue. That was before she found mixed martial arts -- an outlet for her inner turmoil -- and everything changed.

“When I found fighting [and] training, it just changed my world,” she said. “I found something I can put all of my energy into. I found something that would help me release a lot of the stuff I was holding on to, and it gave me a purpose.”

Leibrock has focused on one day becoming a world champion, so it should come as little surprise that she would look for positive lessons to take from the loss to Blencowe. Looking back, one such lesson became clear: She needs to believe in herself more.

“I think I kind of went in there giving Arlene a little too much respect, feeling a little bit like I was out of place [or] I didn’t belong, and I think I let it mentally get to me,” Leibrock said. “I’ve really been working on just believing in myself. That title shot is still very close, and I can feel it. I know I’m right there on the edge of it.”

Leibrock will return to the cage opposite Amanda Bell at Bellator 215 on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Bell has been on her radar since the two rose through the Invicta ranks together.

“She’s somebody that I’ve had my eye on,” Leibrock said. “I knew this fight was coming.”

In addition to her normal training at the Combat Sports Academy in Dublin, California, Leibrock enlisted the aid of Team Alpha Male. There, she looked to sharpen her wrestling skills, because she does not expect Bell to try and test her on the feet.

“I don’t think she wants to stand in the middle of the cage with me,” Leibrock said.

Along with her daily work with former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto and muay Thai specialist Eddie Abasolo, Leibrock has turned to teammate Gaston Bolanos to guide her nutrition program for this fight camp. “The last fight camp I kind of fell off [the wagon], with being bad and not really sticking to it,” she said. Leibrock also continued her strength training for the full duration of her camp, instead of dwindling down later in the process. With the mental and physical adjustments, she thinks fans are in for a treat.

“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” Leibrock said. “I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a fight, way better than last time.”

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