Follow her progress through the sport
She’s competed in well over 100 grappling matches — holding a record of 107 wins and 8 losses in the women’s division, with eight world championship gold medals to her name.
This year alone, she stepped into the realm of professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting and decisively won her first two professional bouts in the 135 pound women’s division. She finished both fights in the first round.
Sheila Bird recalled her first memorable grappling moment as her first loss at a high-level international tournament — a learning experience she would never forget.
“Losing wasn’t a big deal, it was mostly what lost the fight. I was in the match and physically shaking I was so nervous,” Bird said.
“I had never felt that way before and it really affected me, but having said that, it was also the point in my career where I really knew that’s where I needed to go, if I was going to get anywhere further.”
Grappling is the combination of various mixed martial arts such as jiu-jitsu, judo, and wrestling. Competitive grappling sees two opponents try to control one another in standing position before going to the ground through use of these martial arts, effectively trying to end the match with a submission.
Having lived in Calgary her entire life, Bird first took interest in grappling from husband — boyfriend at the time — Brian Bird, an accomplished second degree black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Following Bird’s first loss, she competed in her first FILA grappling world championship tournament in Lucerne, Switzerland, where she took the gold medal via flying arm-bar, a submission technique.
Competing internationally in such places as China and Poland, Bird has been able to hone her grappling skills.
Incorporating a stand-up skill set of muay thai and boxing to her already immense grappling game, Bird began competing in MMA fighting.
Coming off of her second MMA career win in July, Bird described the feeling of stepping into the ring.
“You basically feel invincible,” Bird said. ” You feel strong. You feel prepared. You feel fast and you know you can win.”
Life outside the gym
Beyond the thrill of fighting, competing in both MMA and grappling has taught Bird to better herself not only in the gym but outside as well.
“It’s taught me that if I set my mind to something I can do it, but has also given me the ability to recognize certain personality traits in myself that I could work on,” she explained.
“I guess it all comes down to just being a good person and having good sportsmanship and being someone that people want to train with and being coachable. It’s obviously given me self-confidence.”
Expanding on the topic, Bird brought up one of the classes she teaches at her gym.
“Kids growing up, now as they always have, face bullying. I teach 32 kids in my class and I can see them having more confidence daily,” Bird said. “Even if they never do jiu-jitsu as long as I have, at least they’ll have confidence and have that something to feel good about.”
In describing the role of being both Sheila’s husband and coach, Brian said, “The dynamic is good because Sheila is a very focused competitor, and in training she listens really well and trains harder than almost anybody here.”
“That being said, from the fighting side of it, there’s a lot more emotion than with any other fighter, especially when I’m in her corner. I’m obviously way more nervous for her.”
While coaching her to put every aspect of the MMA game together, Brian primarily coaches Sheila in jiu-jitsu and explains the importance of knowing how to use the specific martial art in the progression of the sport as essential.
“Jiu-jitsu is a very powerful martial art and understanding it, specifically the positions and positional hierarchy, it’s really going to win or lose a fight for you,” he said.
Outside of the gym, Sheila spends times enjoying other hobbies.
“I’m into music, and recently in the past few years have played flute at weddings and I sing. I really enjoy that,” she said. “Just normal things like shopping or going to movies. I love to do that.”
“I have a lot of really close girl friends in Calgary and sometimes it’s just nice to get away with the girls.”
Professional MMA fighter Brad Cardinal has been Sheila’s training partner for about eight years.
“Outside of the gym, she’s one of the best friends you’ll ever meet,” he stated. “She’s really easy-going and really fun to be around.”
“Sheila is a champion,” Cardinal continued. ” She’s a winner, that’s the best way to put it. Her mentality is probably most overlooked but I think that’s her strongest attribute. She’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever worked with.”
The next step
Although she was scheduled to fight this November, Sheila put that plan on hold due to a sustained neck injury that she wants to be sure fully heals first.
But she looks to the future of her MMA career and considers the favourable possibility of competing in bigger-name MMA organizations such as Strikeforce and Bellator in the future.
After several more local MMA fights, husband and coach Brian said she will be ready.
“We want to get three to five fights under her belt so that when she gets in there, her mental game is just as strong and experienced as her technical game,” he said. “On the technical side, I think she has the skills to go all the way.”
For now, Sheila is tending to her injury, but regardless of when she competes next, her love and passion for the sport of MMA are unquestionable.
“It’s basically like the perfect job you could say, because I get to do it and I get to teach it.”