Martial artists come from all walks of life.
Few find them after establishing themselves with a career in an esteemed field like aerospace engineering, but that’s how Japanese-American Muay Thai pro and member of the ONE Championship roster, Janet Todd, is different.
The 33-year-old, who was born and raised in Hermosa Beach, California, completed a five-year master’s degree program in aerospace engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when she was 23 years old.
She’d always been fitness conscience and athletic. Todd had done some kickboxing training to remain in shape during college. Her boyfriend and now-husband Dustin suggested Muay Thai to her while she was still in school, and Todd fell in love with the art. Todd was immediately drawn to the challenges the sport presented to her both mentally and physically.
“I loved it right away,” Todd said. “Learning new movements was really interesting for me because I didn’t come from a martial arts background. So learning to kick was fun because my kicks were probably really [bad] when I started. Being able to learn new movements and then perfecting those new movements was something I really enjoyed.”
Todd won her first bout by TKO, but still unsure of how she could make a living pursuing the sport, she decided to pause her career in Muay Thai to focus on building something with her engineering degree. She lived in this space of dual interest/commitment for four years, but she received an opportunity to replace an injured fighter on a local card.
Todd began training again at Boxing Works, which was run by the respected Bryan Popejoy. The connection with the gym and Popejoy changed everything.
Despite the short training camp set in her path, Todd won the bout and captured a championship in the process. The success was a validation she could accomplish great things and inspire other women and girls to get into combat sports.
“The feeling of getting in the ring and performing the way you wanted to perform—there’s no beating that feeling. I’ll do whatever it takes to get that,” Todd says.
Her inspiration is already apparent. One of Todd’s chief training partners is 19-year-old Jackie Buntan. The two women still train at Boxing Works under Popejoy’s tutelage and are in a position to grow the sport among women in their community and abroad.
“I appreciate the fact that Bryan doesn’t change his fighters into something else,” says Todd. “He simply tries to make them a better version of themselves, and that’s always my No. 1 goal.”
Todd has experienced exponential growth since she began her career. She held an amateur record of 26-8. She has captured 12 championships, including a WBC Amateur title, and three world tournament medals, including a medal at the Pan-American Tournament. Todd was one of two Muay Thai fighters from America to represent her country at the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland in 2018.
This competition was significant because it marked the first time Muay Thai was included after the sport received special preliminary Olympic recognition. The Games were a cause for celebration but also represented some personal hardship. Just days before she was set to fly to Poland to compete, Todd’s father suffered a stroke.
She contemplated not leaving, but her family pushed her to go and compete
“I wanted to fight my heart out for my dad,” Todd said. “I wanted to fight just as hard for him as I knew he was fighting for me and my family.”
She succeeded in that space and earned a bronze medal under some extenuating circumstances. With that experience behind her, Todd remained especially active in 2017. She competed 14 times in the calendar year, which set a record for Muay Thai competitors in the United States.
Todd wanted to turn professional, but quite frankly, she was devoid of opportunities in the United States. Instead, she remained focused on self-improvement. Todd’s personal mantra is precision, grace, and dedication, and this commitment helped to open up opportunities for her to turn professional.
While pro options were limited in the United States, the Asia-based promotion ONE Championship has produced a path for individuals all over the world with a passion and talent for kickboxing, Muay Thai and mixed martial arts. She was no stranger to international flavor in the Muay Thai space. She’d been in the Pan-American Games, and trained on the IFMA circuit while also competing in that organization’s tournaments as early as 2015.
“That was different,” Todd said of her time with IFMA.
“I felt like I died multiple times. It was hard pad work for five-minute rounds, and when you weren’t on the pads, you were on the bags. I saw some similarities between what Saengtiennoi does and what Bryan teaches me, especially this matador style move in which I step to the side and counter. It was really inspiring to see the little kids train, though. They would come from school, and they were so strong. They could kick so hard.”
This experience helped to lay the groundwork for the biggest challenges of her career in Muay Thai. Todd would get her opportunity to compete on the grandest professional Muay Thai stage in the world, and one of the largest for any martial art when she battled Stamp Fairtex at ONE: Call to Greatness in Singapore in February.
The bout was for the vacant ONE Atomweight Muay Thai World Title. While Todd fell short in a unanimous decision against Stamp, she proved worthy of being associated with the best professionals in her sport. Todd went on to win her second bout with ONE against Wang Chin Long. She is now positioning herself for a second shot at a world title.
While Todd enjoys her life as a professional martial arts athlete, she still remains focused on her day job as an aerospace engineer.
“It’s really important to me. I love my job and what I do. Despite being an athlete, competing halfway across the world, I want to continue my engineering job. I’m really passionate about it and I see myself doing it even after my fighting career is over,” Todd said.
Todd also mentioned wanting to keep the two worlds separate and said not many people at the office realize she’s also a Muay Thai fighter competing on the biggest international stage of competition in ONE.
“There’s one guy at the office who follows ONE Championship who got really excited when I joined. He watches my fights and follows the sport, so we have fun talking about it at work sometimes,” said Todd.
“But aside from that, not many people really know what I do outside of the engineering space. I like it that way. It gives me two places where I feel I belong and I’m comfortable.”