SAN JOSE, Calif. – Almost everywhere she goes, DeAnna Bennett carries the memory of her father with her, sometimes even physically.

“I always have it with me, especially during fight week,” Bennett told MMA Junkie on Thursday, as she showed off her father’s police badge. “It’s just kind of my memento.”

Mark Bennett was his daughter’s best friend – and a San Jose police officer, too. He frequently would work shifts at SAP Center, San Jose’s major arena and home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Among the various concerts and sporting events Mark worked was Strikeforce, which was one of the first promotions to prominently feature women’s mixed martial arts. When he discovered their were opportunities for women in MMA, he suggested his daughter give it a try.

“He’s the one who wanted me to be a fighter before I was,” Bennett said. “He went to watch Cyborg fight at the SAP Center and was like, ‘Oh, these girls were fighting. That’s something you should do.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know about getting punched in the face.’ Then, a year later, he gives me the ‘I told you so,’ when I was like, ‘I want to be a fighter.’ It’s just a place that’s really near and dear to me. It’s a place that he himself, when I was very first starting to get fighting, he told me, ‘That would be so cool if you get to fight there one day.’ I was like, ‘That’ll never happen.’ Then, of course, he’s doing the ‘I told you so,’ again.”

A major role model for the Bellator MMA flyweight, Mark died in 2016 after a battle with cancer. However, his memory lives on through DeAnna – a memory that will be prominently displayed Saturday at Bellator 266. A dream come true, DeAnna Bennett (10-7-1 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) will compete at the same arena her father worked at when she fights Alejandra Lara (9-4 MMA, 3-3 BMMA) at SAP Center.

“He’s my favorite person in the whole world,” DeAnna said. “I know he would be so ecstatic to know I’m fighting at the SAP Center. I had a lot of people ask me if I’m going to be overcome when I walk out there for the fight. It’s like, no. This is something that I am so excited for. …  It really is a special place for me. I can’t tell you how excited I am. It amped up my training like 10 times more, the fact that I actually get to fight at the Shark’s Tank, at the SAP Center. I’m so excited.”

Originally from Fremont, Calif., about 15 minutes away from San Jose, DeAnna will have plenty of family and friends in attendance – including her father’s side of the family. The support has been palpable.

“They’re coming,” Bennett said. “Guys who I went to high school with and wrestled on the high school with, the second that I put the tickets were available, they went right on there. My one friend, Tony, he went right on there and was like, ‘I bought my ticket.’ I was like, ‘That’s so cool. It’s going to be an awesome main event. We have (Phil) Davis and (Yoel) Romero.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, you’re my main event.’ That’s sweet. I guess I’ll just take it.”

Bellator 266 takes place Saturday at SAP Center. The main card airs on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie.


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