Serena DeJesus is a professional mixed martial artist who trains at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, Nevada. The beauty of mixed martial arts is it’s a community that is comprised of people from all walks of life. Serena is a true testament to this fact, as she is the first female diagnosed with Autism to compete as a professional in MMA. To be specific, Serena has Asperger Syndrome, which is a subcategory of the broader Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Serena competes under the nickname “The Southpaw Outlaw,” due to her fighting stance and her strong will to do things her own way – both inside the cage and out. She began her career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although she loved her city and roots, the MMA scene in Philly just didn’t feel right. Serena spent time training with Miesha Tate when she was preparing to fight Holly Holm in 2016 amongst other training partners and gyms she trained at before finding her forever home at Syndicate.
When Serena decided to make the move to Las Vegas, she arrived in town with only two duffel bags of possessions to her name. Luckily, her teammate and now close friend, UFC Flyweight Roxanne Modafferi was able to lend a hand. Roxanne helped Serena find living arrangements and the two remain roommates to this day. In addition to being roommates, the two WMMA fighters co-teach the children’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes at Syndicate.
Serena is a very unique cage fighter because Asperger Syndrome is often associated with hypersensitivity to lights, sounds and sensations. All of these sensitivities are detrimental to fighters who have to compete under bright lights, with loud crowds and do other sensory-aggravating things such as sitting in hot saunas to cut weight and using ice for recovery. Serena finds great relief from these sensory issues with the help of CBD oil, as well as using it to aid the inflammation that comes with hard training.
Even though Autism, specifically Asperger’s may come with its obstacles, it also has some benefits. The syndrome is also associated with heightened focus, great attention to detail and pattern recognition. All of these attributes are especially helpful with learning techniques in different martial arts. Perfecting the smallest details often makes the biggest impact in many disciplines. For this reason, Serena enjoys being a counter striker in the cage because she notices the patterns of her opponents and is able to capitalize on them.
Serena is most well-known for being very vocal about her opinions and pulling no punches when it comes to her words… and fists. She is especially critical of other fighters who miss weight and believes that it is part of the job as a fighter to do so. Anyone who has heard her speak on the matter knows that she has no sympathy for other fighters who are unable to hit the scale on target, and that’s putting it mildly.
Despite being young in her professional MMA career, The Southpaw Outlaw is very dedicated and finds a lot of joy being in the gym. Whether it be training for a fight, teaching children’s martial arts classes or just bonding with her team, Serena feels right at home in the gym.