Amanda George gives MMA some heat

“I’m not walking out with Darth Vader,” clarifies a polite, but adamant Amanda Lucas.

It’s one week before her championship bout against pro wrestling star Yumiko Hotta at Deep 57 on Saturday in Tokyo, and a picture of her is featured next to Lord Vader’s on the front page of Yahoo! Japan. Apparently, Vader — or the actor who plays him in a series of cellphone commercials in Japan — has contacted the fight organization to propose a cross-promotional opportunity.

It’s not the first time Amanda, the first daughter of legendary Star Wars creator George Lucas, has seen the line blur between her admired lineage and her aspirations as a professional fighter. In October, despite Amanda making specific requests against it, Deep, the Japanese promotion she currently fights for, spliced one of the world’s most-recognized movie themes into her entrance music for her fight against Mika Harigai.

It was a relatively harmless gesture — Lucas submitted her opponent in the first round — but it isn’t something she wants promotions to make a habit of.

“Japanese fans are fanatical about Star Wars. I get it and I appreciate it,” the 30-year-old Amanda said. “I’m very proud of my family and my father’s accomplishments. It’s just about finding that good balance.”

Balance for Amanda Lucas will be the day when her fighting is mentioned first and her adoptive father’s beloved Star Wars franchise, worth an estimated $30 billion and still growing, will only be a footnote. That day seems far off at the moment, though the added attention was something Amanda and her husband, Jason, expected when, after 10 years, she traded in anonymity as a kid’s hip-hop dance instructor for the spotlight of professional fighting in 2008.

Two years earlier, Amanda had followed her husband into the famous Fairtex gym in San Francisco to learn muay Thai and get in shape. The couple began training under Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, former welterweight champion Jake Shields and other notable fighters — none knowing of her ties to entertainment royalty.

For some, there is a certain allure to punching pads and kicking bags. A few hours quickly grew to a few nights a week. A few months later, Amanda started taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes when another woman joined the gym, giving her someone she felt comfortable grappling with.

Always physically strong for her 5-foot-4 frame, Amanda eventually began to spar and grapple with the male fighters. She competed in her first jiu-jitsu tournament in 2009 and eventually graduated to purple-belt status. When her training partner wanted to try her hand at a fight, Amanda decided to take the plunge, as well.

As a rule, Amanda and Jason, who dated for 10 years before they were married in 2010, never brought up her billionaire father if they didn’t have to. In the wrong hands, that information courted opportunists, who’d show up on their doorstep inquiring about ways to get to the filmmaker and his fortune.

Jason said he and Amanda have always worked for their own financial stability without any assistance from her father, and they’ve had to be cautious with her identity for their own protection.

“Before her first fight I would say 90 percent of the people she trained with didn’t know her father was George Lucas,” said Jason, who works in real estate.

“Amanda hasn’t made any movies or millions of dollars, and there are people out there who would like to use her or the Lucas name to further their own interests,” he added. “Amanda didn’t enter Brazilian jiu-jitsu or MMA for money or fame, but simply as a way of staying healthy and challenging herself.”

Nepotism hasn’t protected Amanda from her own share of challenges. She doesn’t mince words describing her first fight in New Zealand in May 2008. “I got beat up pretty bad,” she said. “I didn’t know what I thought I knew.”

With Jason and his 70-year-old aunt watching on in horror from the crowd, Amanda absorbed an incredible amount of punishment from her opponent, whose past as a local champion kickboxer came to light afterward.

“Nobody expected me to come out for the third round — that’s how bad it was,” said Amanda, whose identity leaked to the press shortly after. “But I did. I wouldn’t trade what I learned about myself that day. I learned that I could stick with it. Honestly, I would want to know early on in my career what it’s like to be beat down and have to come back.”

If this were any other novice fighter, nobody would have cared. Well-intentioned fighters debut and lose every weekend. However, this was George Lucas’ daughter, making the images of her bloodied, battered face that much more enticing for the television and newspaper rounds worldwide the next day.

Others might have cracked under the harsh judgment and ridicule, but for Amanda, it was a moment of clarity. For 13 minutes in the cage, she’d accomplished something that most would never have the courage to do, and there was something personally satisfying about that.

“I was kind of a fat kid growing up,” Amanda said. “I was dancing from the moment I could stand, hanging onto something, bopping to the music. But I hated P.E. I didn’t do sports. They were kind of traumatizing for me, which was another reason I was drawn to fighting. If I kept fighting, I’d always know that I was in shape.”

In Amanda’s mind, there was no way she was going to quit becoming a fighter. There were only decisions and plans to be made to make her a better one than the vastly unprepared fighter who’d entered that cage in New Zealand.

“When I told my father I wasn’t going to be dancing anymore, I could tell he was a little shocked,” Amanda said. “I’d been teaching kids for 10 years and I’d loved it. It was such a departure from what I’d done, from what I’d been. When I was little, I’d dreamed of becoming Madonna or Janet Jackson. Twelve years ago, I wouldn’t even watch boxing because I thought it was too violent.”

Though surprised, Amanda said her father never tried to persuade her to reconsider her choice. Jason also supported her decision and set out to help her find another fight, which materialized 17 months later in Oklahoma’s Freestyle Fighting Championships. Amanda fought at 155 pounds and won by unanimous decision. However, a follow-up appearance a few months later fell apart after Amanda’s opponent showed up to fight weighing at 168 pounds — 12 pounds over the contracted number.

For the next year-and-a-half, Amanda and Jason waded through a lot of false promises made by shady promoters. In the U.S., women’s fighting was still finding its legs, and opportunities for women who could make 135 and 145 pounds — the two most popular divisions — were sparse at best.

But in Japan, where MMA had enjoyed monstrous mainstream success in the last two decades, women’s MMA had a small, but loyal following. Deep, a second-tier organization that has promoted women’s fights since 2003, reached out to Amanda with an offer.

Amanda won her second professional fight via armbar submission in August 2011. She notched her third career win, another first-round submission under the Deep banner, that October.

Amanda’s fourth fight, this Saturday, is for Deep’s open-weight women’s title and will draw 3,000 to 4,000 fans — a respectable attendance for this type of promotion. Motta, Amanda’s opponent, has been a pro wrestling attraction for 25 years in Japan and is considered one of the industry’s top “heels,” a term used to identify a villainous character. Motta is 5-3 in MMA; her last fight was a submission loss in 2000.

One can draw conclusions from this matchup choice. Japanese audiences appreciate “good vs. evil” storylines in MMA as much as they do in pro wrestling. Amanda, a media darling at this point, said she wouldn’t be surprised if Darth Vader accompanies Motta to the cage. It won’t be a distraction; she respects that pageantry is encouraged in many facets of Japan’s culture, including its sports.

Amanda has other details to focus on. On paper, Motta is an aging pro wrestler, likely worn down from decades of bumps and slams. That might not seem like much of a challenge, but in the sport where anything can and will happen, she’s taking nothing for granted. “I’ve seen women in their forties that can kick serious ass,” she said. “She’s still pro wrestling and still active. She’s been wrestling since she was a little girl.”

Amanda will weigh in at 155 pounds. She’s been told Motta will come in around the same, but with an open-weight bout in a foreign country, details like this can get lost in translation.

Having relied on her grappling and ground-and-pound technique in her last three wins, Amanda has focused on her hands as of late. For the last nine months, she’s trained with John Wood at the Throwdown Training Center in Las Vegas and is looking forward to sharing some new tricks with Motta if the opportunity presents itself.

“Eventually there will be somebody that I can’t take down,” she said.

Amanda’s father won’t attend on Saturday, just as he hasn’t for her other fights. He knows his presence would create a media circus and draw attention away from his daughter’s efforts. He’s watched most of her fights online, except for her first. Amanda, herself, hasn’t watched her disastrous debut in New Zealand yet, but after three-and-a-half years, she believes she’s almost ready to.

Whether she’s crowned a champion on Saturday or not, she plans to stay in Japan afterward to cheer on teammate Jake Shields as he takes on Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144 in Tokyo the following weekend.

There is one more commitment that Amanda has agreed to do while she’s abroad. Her father directed a certain film series he’s planning to re-release in 3-D and Amanda is the perfect person to promote it in Japan, where her fighting is slowly but surely becoming the focus.

This is a request that Amanda doesn’t mind fulfilling. Balance might not be that far off after all.

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