BRANDON — Marianna Kheyfets heads to work Monday through Friday, just like most people.
Strikingly pretty and petite, Kheyfets sits at a desk and edits video at her day job at a Connecticut television station. Like most women in their mid 20s, she enjoys hanging out with friends and updating her Facebook status.
But at night, Kheyfets likes to punch people in the face.
"I've always been a tomboy and a physical person," she said. "And (mixed martial arts) is about as physical as it gets."
Kheyfets will look to add to her unblemished record when the Xtreme Fighting Championships, a Brandon-based mixed martial arts promotion, returns to the St. Pete Times Forum at 7 tonight.
"Marianna has all the tools," XFC president John Prisco said. "I think she's got a very bright future ahead of her."
Kheyfets, who arrived in town this week for weigh-ins, some light training at Brandon's XFC Gym and media sessions, burst onto the MMA scene in July when she submitted Kim Couture at 3:06 in the first round at XFC 11 the Next Generation at the Forum.
"I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time I was in town that week," Kheyfets said of her first professional fight. "I was just wide-eyed and taking it all in. It was hard to believe it was all happening that fast."
The XFC, a promoter whose philosophy is to break out up-and-coming fighters, noticed Kheyfets at one of its open fighter tryouts in Connecticut. More than 100 prospective fighters showed up, but it was Kheyfets who caught Prisco's eye. He added her to the XFC 11 card, billing her fight against Couture as the co-main event.
"A lot of fighters have talent but when the lights come on, they lose focus due to nerves or whatever," Prisco said. "Not Marianna. The thing I was most impressed about her was her poise. I looked right in her eyes when she was coming to the ring, and I knew she was ready."
After trading strikes and delivering a series of low kicks, Kheyfets knocked Couture down with a strong overhand right. Rather than losing control as many young fighters do, Kheyfets got into a mount before quickly transitioning to a triangle choke hold that finished Couture's night.
Kheyfets (1-0) will face Marissa Caldwell (2-1) tonight. Though she is relatively new to the sport, she says nerves don't play a factor on fight night.
Kheyfets "had no idea" about MMA when she decided to get in better shape a little over two years ago. Instead of going to a conventional gym, she sought more of a challenge and enrolled at American Top Team in South Florida, one of the most prestigious MMA gyms in the country.
"I just wasn't into getting on a treadmill," she said. "I wanted to spar."
Like most young fighters on the rise, Kheyfets may soon be faced with a difficult decision — when to quit her day job and train full time.
"Maybe after another five fights or so, but I'm still such a baby in this sport," she said. "Training full time would be my dream, and I could get better at such a faster rate that way."
And punch people in the face all day long.
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.