GASTON COUNTY, N.C.- Justine Kish is a fighter in every sense of the word.
“I try to water it down to say, ‘Hey I kickbox.’ And they're like, ‘Oh at the YMCA?’ and I'm like yeah I’ve done that too,” Kish explains.
She’s a UFC fighter, and on Sunday, the former South Point Athlete will be on the main card for the first time.
“There’s a lot of attention and a lot of eyes on this, and I want to be decisive and I want to get a finish,” Kish said.
It’s a moment she’s prepared for for the 29 years, and not just with training.
“There were kids that were there just fighting for their lives,” Kish recalls.
Her life started in an orphanage in Russia, but one day the phone rang.
“I think when I was about four and half years old when I the call that I was being adopted by Americans, and that was when I was telling the kids I was American then,” Kish said.
It was a new start, but the hardships weren’t over. Her time with her new father was cut short.
“He passed away in a car accident one year, one month and one day later. So my mom just dedicated her whole life into me,” Kish said.
That meant helping her find ways to get out all of her energy and so her love for competition began.
“I got cut by a soccer coach. He said I wasn't a team player. My mom said, ‘Don't worry about it. We'll find you something else,’” Kish recalled.
That something else started as karate and before long she was in Thailand winning a World Championship Muay Thai, and then coming home to compete on The Ultimate Fighter.
But while she was on the show, Kish faced another setback as she tore her ACL.
“There were some lows, but I told myself people have come back from much worse,” Kish said.
She came back, and continued fighting her way to an 18-2 record in kickboxing and a 6-0, undefeated record in MMA with two UFC fights so far.
“It sounds so weird [to hear I’m undefeated] because I can’t tell you how many time I get my butt kicked in training,” Kish said.
On Sunday, she’ll put that training to the test in Oklahoma City, with her biggest fan back in Gaston County waiting to hear the outcome.
“My mom is 75, so she’s going to stay at home like she always does and wait for a phone call,” Kish said.
It’s a different fight than she faced in the orphanage as Kish fights for her family, not to find one
“I come home often and I always stay with my mom, and I just hope I can give her the life she's given me,” Kish said.