A Modern Day Sports Figure

When you see multimedia communications student MaKayla Keating walking down an Academy of Art University hallway, you wouldn’t pick her out as the typical Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. Yet the diminutive five-foot-two 20-year-old trains seven days a week at different gyms around San Francisco and is quickly achieving success in her weight class, in Jiu jitsu, Muay Thai and MMA competitions.

“She’s just lovely,” said Jan Yanehiro, director of the School of Multimedia Communications. “I’m talking to her and sort of in disbelief, ‘You really do all these things?’ She does and you know, I’m going to be her biggest supporter. She really defies the stereotype and cheers to her for defying the stereotype.”

Keating has competed in nine Jiu jitsu competitions placing first or second in each, most recently placing second at the San Jose Open two weeks ago. “Right now I’m planning on cage fighting in the summer,” shared Keating. “[I’m] doing the Pan Am competitions in L.A. in April, and then the Brazilian Jiu jitsu Nationals that take place during the UFC fight week in July in Las Vegas.”

Cage fighting will be the biggest wildcard for Keating, who hasn’t competed in the sport yet. She will fight against someone in a similar weight class at the fight promoted by the Dragon House, which runs the local circuit in San Francisco.


(L–R) Arielle Dengrove, Rebecca Ruben, Sarah Charlton, MaKayla Keating and Marie Chen. Courtesy of MaKayla Keating.

“I could get destroyed or I could do okay,” said Keating. “I think the key is staying relaxed. When I’m training, we try to be as realistic as possible. I don’t go a single day without getting punched in the face. You can’t really be too emotional when you fight. When I’m fighting I don’t think about anything, I trust my training.” 

Being from small town Kokomo, Indiana, Keating was anxious to get out and see the world and to live in a big city. She chose San Francisco and the Academy to pursue animation a year and half ago, but ended up switching to COM this semester. Keating’s interest in MMA fighting began in high school when she joined a gym to lose a few pounds, and ended up taking some MMA classes. She was instantly hooked. 

“Since then I’ve lost 25 pounds and have been training ever since,” she said.

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Photo courtesy of MaKayla Keating.

Keating has a personal trainer who comes to her house in the morning three times a week. In the afternoon, she goes to Romulo Melo on Nob Hill to train in Brazilian Jiu jitsu. Every evening she goes to the El Nino training center in the Dogpatch for Muay Thai. 

“The people I train with are like family here,” said Keating.  “For a year and a half now they have been my family. We’ll go and support each other.”

Keating’s goals at the Academy include incorporating her passion for training and healthy eating into her career. She plans to build up a youtube channel and blog about lifestyle and healthy eating.

 “Since I’ve lost 25 pounds from starting MMA fighting I want to help educate people,” she said.

Though Keating was a tomboy growing up in Indiana, she says things have changed since she got to college. 

“I do like girlier things,” she said. “People at the gym make fun of me because I wear pink and sparkly stuff but I fight. It’s kind of what I want to do with my blog, I want to break the stereotype that not all women who do Jiu jitsu are like guys. There are girly girls who can also fight.” 

As a new COM major, Keating has made friends and found everybody in the department to be supportive and encouraging in helping her customize any project to fit her personal goals. 

“Right now, the most influential has been Jan,” said Keating. “I walked in to get opted out of one of my classes and she took me up on a whole tour and was really excited I was into MMA and was really nice.“

“I think in a university like this we need to celebrate all our passions,” said Yanehiro. “She personifies the modern day sports figure and is a role model for younger women who come after her."