Achieving both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in aerospace engineering sounds like a daunting task. One can only imagine this being a six-to-seven-year process, involving a ton of studying and barely enough time to do anything else. Some schools, such as California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, offer programs to shorten the combined process down to five years in what is referred to as a four-plus-one program. That sounds like a lot of school in a short period of time.
Taking on a five-year program in such a specific style of engineering requires a lot of focus, but in an effort to avoid burnout, it is always important to find that school-life balance. California native, aerospace engineer and world kickboxing champion, Janet Todd found that balance through martial arts.
“In college, I wanted a way to stay physically fit, but I hated running on a treadmill [and] lifting weights,” Todd told Combat Press. “So, a friend at the time took me to a kickboxing class, and that’s where it all started. Then, my – he’s my husband now, but he was my boyfriend at the time – took me to a proper Muay Thai school, and I really enjoyed it. So, the rest is history.”
Todd’s professional history was being set while she attended Cal Poly. She was quickly moving towards her two degrees, while simultaneously building an interest in competitive kickboxing as well. In 2009, a few things happened. She graduated with her Master’s degree, started her first, and only, job out of college, and she took her first kickboxing bout.
“My first amateur fight was my first week of work,” Todd said. “So, the week I started, I had to take that Friday off, so I could go to weigh-ins for my first amateur fight.
“For the longest time, I didn’t really say anything, except for my close coworkers. I didn’t really say much at work just, because, you know, I didn’t want them to think that my other career is distracting from my current engineering career. I didn’t want people to see me differently.”
Statistically speaking, not many people know what it’s like to be an aerospace engineer, and it’s certainly not a spectator sport, but what Todd was doing outside of the office was nothing short of amazing. In the nine years after making her debut, she racked up an amateur record of 25 wins and only nine losses, stacking up titles along the way. In early 2018, she made her pro debut at Triumphant 3 in Oakland, and eventually signed with ONE Championship, going into 2019.
Todd’s promotional debut with ONE was for none other than the organization’s inaugural atomweight Muay Thai title. She faced Thailand’s Stamp Fairtex, which was only 21 years old at the time. Stamp had recently won the ONE atomweight kickboxing title, and was looking to become a two-sport champ. After five rounds, the judges awarded Stamp the unanimous decision, but Todd was just getting started.
Todd went on a three-fight winning streak following the loss to Stamp, where she racked up a coupel stoppages and one decision. This set her up for a rematch against Stamp in Feb. 2020, only this time for the ONE atomweight kickboxing belt. At the end of the fight, the split decision went to Todd, as did the strap. Six months after that, Allycia Hellen Rodrigues upset Stamp for the Muay Thai title as well. However, after that win, Rodrigues took an extended leave of absence to have a child. Meanwhile, Todd, racked up back-to-back wins in Muay Thai in 2021, and was climbing toward a title shot. Did we mention she has worked full-time as an aerospace engineer this entire time?
“I have no regrets,” admitted Todd. “I mean, I’ve won some, I’ve lost some, and I honestly have learned a lot. I think it teaches you a lot about your mentality, and how to stay resilient in your mind, in order to accomplish your goals. [It’s about] not letting little setbacks prevent you from staying that course, and it actually kind of seeps into other aspects of my life, including my other career. I’m kind of learning to build my confidence, and that, if I can’t solve the problem right now, I’ll eventually figure out a way. It, kind of, built that kind of mentality into me, which I don’t think I would have gotten or had that sort of self-discovery without Muay Thai or kickboxing.”
Naturally, Todd has her sights set on becoming a two-sport ONE champion. She already holds the kickboxing title, and adding the Muay Thai belt would be icing on the cake. And, while she loves her engineering career and employer, which she has been with since her internship, she is very happy with her secondary employer as well.
“I absolutely love ONE Championship, and I like what they stand for,” explained Todd. “You know, the other competitive promotion that’s popular out here – you know, the UFC – I just don’t like what they stand for and how their fighters are trash talking. I’m really not that type of person, and I think ONE Championship is all about respect and discipline. I have the same values, so, because of that reason, I thought it was a perfect fit for me.
“The ONE Championship team is awesome, and [ONE CEO and Chairman] Chatri [Sityodtong] is an amazing person as well. I don’t know if you’ve heard some of his speeches, but he’s definitely inspiring. He has a martial arts background too, so he understands the work and the sacrifices that we go through to get to fight day. It’s been an awesome organization to work with.”
Well, between work, training, and, frankly, a lack of opportunities presented, Todd has not fought in over a year. And, with Rodrigues still on the bench, who knows when an undisputed Muay Thai title shot will come along? However, it was announced that next month, at ONE 159, Todd will have the opportunity to get one step closer to his goal. On Jul. 22, she will be facing Spain’s Lara Fernandez in the co-main event, and the two will be fighting for the ONE interim atomweight Muay Thai championship.
Fernandez, a former ISKA and WBC champion, has been fighting nearly as long as Todd, and she also has about the same amount of combined amateur and professional striking bouts under her belt. While this will be the ONE debut for Fernandez, her last fight was a split-decision loss last August at Lion Fight 68. Prior to that, she was on a four-fight winning streak, which included the aforementioned titles.
“She’s a good technical fighter as well,” said Todd. “She’s done the IFMA tournaments like I have. She’s also fought some pretty top-level Muay Thai fighters as well. She’s very quick with her kick responses, and I’d say she’s well-rounded. I’ve seen her use her elbows in fights and done really well. I think it’ll be a good challenge for me, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Todd trains out of Boxing Works, which is just east of her home town of Hermosa Beach, which is where she and her husband Dustin currently reside. Along with Coach Bryan Popejoy, the crew at Boxing Works is top-notch. One of her main training partners is fellow ONE fighter Jackie Buntan, and they also get a lot of great fighters coming through from time to time.
“We have enough people that come visit us – that cross-train with us,” said Todd. “Last year, it was really nice when Kana [Morimoto] from Japan – she’s the K-1 champ – came and trained with us for about a month. I’m hoping she’s going to come back soon. I know she has a fight coming up, I think, in June or at least the last time I talked to her, that’s what she said.”
While many fighters who are in camp try to have a laser-like focus on the task at hand. Todd has been doing this long enough to understand that there is a path ahead. Winning the interim belt is the first step to that two-sport champion status, but there will still need to be another couple bouts after that to solidify her legacy.
“I know when I have a fight coming up, I just really focus on what’s in front of me,” said Todd. But when I think about [the next] 12 months, I think my goal is to sort of capture the interim belt. And then, hopefully, Allycia will be recovered, so I can capture her world title belt and be able to defend my kickboxing belt as well. Because, we have Anissa Meksen, and she’s part of our weight division too, and she’s a top-level kickboxer that came from GLORY.”
It’s rare to be in a position to map out the next three fights, but in her professional engineering career, Todd is likely bound to schedules, milestones and deadlines anyway, so she is likely used to this type of forward-looking mentality. However, the most important next step is Fernandez, as the two face off on Jul. 22 at ONE 159.
“It’s been a year since everybody has seen me fight, so I’m ready to show my improvements and be able to throw some kicks, knees, and sling some elbows,” said Todd.
ONE 159: De Ridder vs. Bigdash will air live and free from the Singapore Indoor Stadium with the action kicking off at 6 am ET.