Alesha Zappitella started her mixed martial arts career 20 years ago, wrestling for the Conneaut Cougars. She dominated the local, state and at times, national ranks during her high school career at Conneaut.
Now, at 25, she has a chance to accomplish one of her dreams— securing a championship belt at atomweight in the Invicta Fighting Champions, the world’s largest all-women’s mixed martial arts organization.
“Picking MMA up with the background of a wrestler is probably the easiest route that I could have gone about becoming a professional mixed martial artist,” Zappitella said. “Wrestling is the most dominant martial art in all of mixed martial arts.”
Zappitella was the only girl on the Conneaut wrestling team. She placed sixth in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Zappitella's MMA journey began when she was 19, fighting out of Ypsilanti, Michigan.
She left King College, realizing she wanted to take a different path. In January 2015, she won her first fight amateur fight. About a year and a half later, Zappitella captured a win in her first professional fight by unanimous decision. From the first time she stepped in the octagon she knew she made the right choice.
“When I’m in the octagon, I feel unstoppable,” Zappitella said. “Honestly, it’s when I feel the most alive. You don’t get to go out and just go fight somebody, literally put your health and your life on the line. That’s something I get to do. It’s a very empowering moment.”
During her second professional fight in 2017, she fought in Sanya, China. Zappitella submitted Miao Ding for the Kunlun Fight Flyweight Championship belt.
“I didn’t expect to be able to travel all around the world with this dream,” Zappitella said. “I’ve already been all over the country fighting, and I’ve already been to Japan and China. I hold a belt in China currently.”
After opening her career 5-0, Zappitella lost back-to-back fights via decision. Following the losses, she beat Kelly D’Angelo by unanimous decision in February. Shortly after, gyms closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, Zappitella began working as a paraprofessional.
“It’s a career I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I worked with special needs students and emotionally impaired students in an elementary school up here in Michigan.”
After gyms reopened, Zappitella returned to training. In July, she beat Lindsey VanZandt by split decision, improving to 7-2.
After the atomweight title became vacant, she was asked to fight Ashley Cummins for the belt. The fight is set for Sept. 17 in Kansas City, Kansas. Although Zappitella is excited for the title fight, she believes her growth has been her greatest feat.
“In my career, I’m most proud of the growth it has brought me as a human being,” she said. “If you met me at 19 and then you met me at 25, you would not even know it was the same person. The journey in itself is so humbling, and I’ve had this time to just work on myself, as well as my martial arts.
“Martial arts helps you face a lot of things that a lot of people don’t like to face, and that they just like to run away from. It has made me such a calm person and such an understanding person.”
Even with a win, Zappitella’s largest dreams are still to come. Ultimately, she wants to use her growing platform to help people.
“My long-term dream with fighting is that fighting will open up opportunities for me to be an on-screen personality in and around fighting, which includes broadcasting and commentating,” she said. “Even bigger than that, I want to travel around the country, and not only inspire the next generation of both little girls and little boys, I want to do free women’s self-defense seminars because that’s something I’m very passionate about.”