Mixed martial artist Leah Melnychuk is a competitor in the gym, at the dinner table, and on gaming consoles. Challenge her, and Canada’s finest export might just leave you burned.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get involved in MMA?
I watched my very first MMA fights on TV, and I just saw the athleticism that took place in the cage. I really liked what they were all about, and the next day I found a gym to start training at. From then on, I’ve gone nuts doing it—almost two years ago. Even before I fought, I was in love with it because I was training all the time in the gym. I know people don’t take you seriously unless you get in the cage and you’ve had a fight, but I didn’t have any competitions. But I still put in the work. I’d go in every day, two times a day, and I’d have to prove myself. I fell in love with it immediately.
What was your main interest before punching people in the face?
Soccer was my main sport. Basketball. I played like every sport—volleyball, track and field, tennis, badminton, ping-pong, foosball, curling! Curling! I even did curling.
Did you want to be an Olympic curler?
That’s in the future if MMA doesn’t work. I’ve got a few plans: either curling, professional hot dog eater, or professional video game player.
Can it be professional pizza eating?
Yeah, it can be anything. Hot dogs, I can down those real good. [Note: Leah took fourth place overall—first place for women—in a hot dog eating contest shortly after this interview].
So you’re into video games?
Yeah, all the warfare games online: Call of Duty, Battlefield, Bad Company—any game with guns. They’re my favorite.
Do you talk smack to kids online?
I don’t talk smack to them, but they always write me and talk smack to me. If someone accidentally shoots me, I go out and shoot my own teammates. I sit back and snipe. I’m sneaky. I’m in the background, shooting, helping my friends.
Aside from pro fighter, what jobs have you had?
I worked with developmentally challenged individuals. I’d take them out curling,swimming, working out. I got them active. I volunteered at soup kitchens in Vancouver. One of my dreams in MMA, if I make it big and make some money or whatever,is I really want to help make an MMA gym for the Special Olympics. Developmentally challenged people wrestle, and they’re so strong. They’re the coolest people to hang around. I did that for five years.
What have you learned most at Team Quest?
Wrestling is huge at Team Quest. I’ve learned a lot, especially Greco. My striking coach has worked with me a lot on my stand-up. We have a really good Muay Thai coach at our gym right now, Daniel Warren, who worked with Anderson Silva. He’s really good. Ed Buckley is a talented stand-up coach. A lot of good wrestlers, freestylers and Greco. I love it there. I love the whole team aspect because I’ve always been a team player.
What song gets you pumped up during training?
I love the Foo Fighters and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The last song I was supposed to walk out to was Zero by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and they screwed it up and they put on some rap. I was really upset because I’m walking out to my fight and I’m like, “This isn’t my song, this isn’t my song.”
Have you ever been in a hockey fight?
Maybe with my ex-boyfriend, who is a hockey player. Maybe one of those—yeah, a lot of those [laughs]. No, I haven’t been in a hockey fight. Actually, in the stands watching hockey, yeah. I get really into it. My favorite team is the Calgary Flames!
Do you only date hockey players and fighters?
No more hockey players, no MMA fighters.
What does it take for a guy to win you over?
He has to love dogs and going to the dog park with me. A must. Play video games. Eat lots of food with me. Massages, I need massages, like, a lot. Stay up late. I’m a night owl. Not mind that I like to wear sweatpants. Funny, I like funny people.
You drive a hard bargain. Very demanding.
I know, very demanding, that’s why I’m single.
Do you think you’re Canada’s best export?
All around? Yeah!
So aside from you, what’s Canada’s best export?
We have a lot of good ones. Sarah Kaufman, she’s amazing. Obviously GSP. Sarah McLaughlin. There’s so many. Some of my favorite hockey players, basically like all the Chicago Blackhawks are Canadian. Nickelback? My worst is—I do not like Nickelback. Friends don’t let friends listen to Nickelback.
Excellent view on friendship. What’s the tattoo on your wrist?
It’s “Grace.” It stands for God’s grace. It’s one of my favorites. It’s like a gift He’s given all of us. I just stand by it.
Any last word for fans?
Shout out to the dog park 951! My dog park friends. Those are really important people that I’ve met in Temecula.