It happened so fast.
Sarah Alpar had gone from scholastic wrestler at Oklahoma City University to stand-up kick boxer in about a year and a half. She had one kickboxing match, which she won, and all of a sudden she had her first official mixed martial arts match scheduled for July 1, 2011.
Alpar was used to wrestling venues, however, where she had multiple teammates competing with her and providing moral support. Getting mentally prepared just before an MMA bout, however, was quite an adjustment.
“It’s you and the other person,” Alpar said. “You’re getting ready [before the match] and it’s all about you. It’s different – you’re not with a teammate. It’s all on you and a whole bunch of eyes are on you. Weighing in, you’re in front of [your opponent] and I’m in my sports bra and tights, so I’m not even that clothed standing in front of a bunch of people, so that’s nerve-racking. Then you’re facing your opponent, getting pictures taken, and you kind of feel like a rock star.”
The venue was Xtreme Fighting League’s Rumble on the River 4 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Alpar had always been known as a very kind and gentle person outside of the cage, or “off the mats,” but an absolute animal when the bell rings.
Candy Alpar, Sarah’s mother, said that reputation has followed Sarah since her early days of wrestling at Bonham Middle School.
“She would be so friendly,” Candy said. “[She was] chatting with everyone on both teams – her little ponytail bouncing. When she entered the wrestling ring, however, they’d shake hands and her game face was on.”
Joe Stafford, Sarah’s wrestling coach during her senior year of high school, said her personality was infectious and he knew there was something unique about her the first time he met her.
“Her identity is not wrapped up in the match outcome,” Stafford said. “I think that can kind of be attributed to the peace she has in everyday life. People like Sarah, they’re able to separate who they are from what they do, and Sarah is a master of that. Her identity as a person is not what she does competitively.”
It was that delicate balance – between being a kind and sweet person outside of the cage to beast inside – that inspired Dale “Apollo” Cook, head of the Xtreme Fighting League, to dub her Sarah “Too Sweet” Alpar.
Mariah Reed, Sarah’s opponent that evening, found that out the hard way. Sarah submitted Reed in the third round with an armbar, and her MMA career was officially off the ground.
Sarah would defeat Erica Torres in a unanimous decision just under a month later, on July 30, at C3 Fights’ Great Plains Sizzling Slamfest. She would then lose to Heather Clark at Freestyle Cage Fighting 49 on Oct. 1.
The loss could actually have been considered a blessing in disguise, as Sarah knew afterward she needed to get better. She had some technique that needed improving and some rough edges in her game that needed polishing.
“It sucks to lose,” Sarah said, “but you still gotta be a good fighter, a good competitor and have good sportsmanship. Kind of be like, ‘I need to work on some things.’”
She went to work, training rigorously for her next match. Little did she know the next one would be, by far, the biggest match of her young career. She was slated to go toe-to-toe with Monica Lovato for the King of the Cage belt at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 12, 2012.
“She was rough, she was a tough girl,” Sarah said. “She was a Golden Gloves boxer; she hit hard. She had big ol’ fists and she was huge – she had muscles on top of muscles. At the weigh-in I was like, ‘Holy cow, she is huge.’”
The fight went all five rounds and it came down to the judges; she was awarded the victory in a split decision. Sarah “Too Sweet” Alpar was King of the Cage.
Her career had taken off. With a record of 3-1 and a title belt around her waist, Sarah went into training after her bout with Lovato with some extra pep in her step and a lot of momentum.
She was sparring with a teenage male, practicing against someone that matched up with her in size and weight, when her foot got caught up underneath her in the middle of a reversal move. She felt a burning sensation in her leg and all that could be heard was a loud “pop.”