Amateur athletes teach mixed martial arts


MMA Sparring
Chico State seniors, Veronica “Ronnie” Carousos and Alex Thill, practice sparring with each other after teaching an MMA class at the WREC. Photo credit: Emily Teague

Veronica “Ronnie” Carousos, 20, and Alex Thill, 28 both instruct the mixed martial arts program at the WREC on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. While both teach the classes, Carousos is pursuing a possible career in MMA. Thill is her trainer, boyfriend and an amateur fighter as well.

The Orion caught up with the workout partners for a Q&A; about the program, their careers and the relationship they have.

What would you say to describe this class to people trying to join?

Carousos: I teach Muay Tai and Alex teaches Jiu Jitsu, both part of the mixed martial arts program. Essentially what we are trying to teach or get across for students who come really varies on their previous experience and we try to help them continue trying to learn mixed martial arts. Overall, we just accommodate people at their individual level and try to continue from where they left off.

Thill: Some people have had some training before they come here, but for the most part it’s people with no training whatsoever. They just heard about the class from a friend or happened to walk by and wanted to give it a try. That’s how I like it though, you can start from the ground up with technique and training before they develop any bad habits.

So what is your background in mixed martial arts?

Carousos: I started in a traditional type of tempo karate martial art at five years old, and as I got older I realized that staying in one art wasn’t going to do it for me. It wasn’t challenging enough, so I started training at a gym in Vacaville, where I am from and started doing boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. When I came to Chico and met Alex is when I really started focusing on my skills, and I have seen a lot of improvements because of this.

Thill: I actually dropped out of high school my senior year after wrestling season. I was homeless in Vegas when I met Ricardo Calvcanti, who’s a fifth degree black belt trained by Carson Gracie of the famous Gracie family, and one of their apprentices. He saw something in me and really turned my life around; he took me off the street, trained with me, found fights for me and just helped me a lot.

Where do your fights take place?

Carousos: They happen everywhere, but I prefer to fight in Reno, Nevada because the rules are a lot less constricting. For example, in Nevada you can knee to the face, something you can’t do in California. One thing is that California is a lot more protective and safe for amateur mixed martial arts.

Thill: I have only fought in California. My last fight was on five days notice and I had to cut 15 pounds. I actually had to fight some popular fighter out of Sacramento, and I messed him up so bad, that after the fight was when promoters asked me to go pro. I turned it down.

MMA Sparring
Chico State seniors, Veronica “Ronnie” Carousos and Alex Thill, practice sparring with each other after teaching an MMA class at the WREC. Photo credit: Emily Teague

How is it being in a relationship with someone who is also in the mixed martial arts field and also your trainer?

Carousos: It’s interesting; I don’t think I could ever be with someone who wasn’t in the same sport as me, because it’s so demanding. The month before you compete you are trying to cut weight, and it’s just nice to have someone who knows what you are going through. We’ve been together for more than a year and consistently training together for about a year and a half and it has been great.

Thill: It’s awesome, I get to do the thing I love with the girl that I love. It’s mushy but it’s true. We’ve both had enough training that we can go full speed and know we’re both safe.

How did you get started training together?

Thill: I’m the president of the wrestling club and I knew that she was a fighter with an upcoming fight. She came into the wrestling club looking for help because the girl she was fighting had a wrestling background, so I started working and training with her. We started spending all kinds of time together at the gym and it kind of just went from there and now I’m her manager, coach and boyfriend.

How much time do the two of you spend training outside of class?

Thill: It depends on if one of us has a fight coming up. If we’re training for an upcoming fight then we’ll be in the gym every day for at least three hours. If there’s no fight scheduled then we’re still in there for an hour and a half or two hours nearly every day.

MMA Sparring
Chico State seniors, Veronica “Ronnie” Carousos and Alex Thill, practice sparring with each other after teaching an MMA class at the WREC. Photo credit: Emily Teague

Why haven’t you turned pro?

Thill: I actually turned down a money offer to turn pro after my last fight. Everyone hears about someone like Floyd Mayweather making $41 million a fight, or UFC fighters’ sponsors, but really most mixed martial arts fighters are doing well if they make $30,000 a year. Plus as a pro you have to train all day, every day and I’m still working towards getting my degree.

Carousos: I’m majoring in business marketing, and that is not necessarily what I want to do. I want to be an athlete, but if I were to get injured it is nice to have something to fall back on. Ideally, I would love to get into a great gym. I worked with one this past summer – it helped me grow and learn more about the industry. Invicta would be my ideal place to be, which is an all female fight group, but the great thing about it is that it’s a stepping stone to the UFC. So in essence, the UFC would be the ultimate goal.

Kevin Lucena or Chance Keenan can be reached at [email protected] or @chancelikelance or @kevinlucena824 on Twitter.