Gaza explained that her stint as a high school cheerleader in Texas helped prepare her for cage fighting, as she said tough practices developed her mental toughness, ability to perform well in front of large crowds, endure pain and throw fast high kicks.
"It was so intense, those practices and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was burnt out from it," Gaza said of her stint as a high school cheerleader in Texas. "It was crazy, hard and intense. People ask why I went from cheerleader to MMA fighter, thinking it's so different, and I'm like 'No, actually it's not.' The conditioning, the getting beat up, it's kind of the same thing in a way."
Gaza is one of a handful of former cheerleaders who made the transition to MMA fighting. Besides Gaza, Invicta FC star Cassie Robb was formerly a cheerleader, as was Kansas-based striker Rachel Wray.
Wray was a standout pro cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, before shifting her focus to MMA.
As for Gaza, who is now perhaps one victory away from earning a spot with the all-female pro MMA league Invicta FC, she says the average person doesn't realize the pain cheerleaders go through on a daily basis.
"I would fall on my head a lot when I would tumble, but I never injured myself too badly from doing that," Gaza said. "Breaking all my fingers on a back hand spring [was the worst cheerleading injury I ever suffered." My fingers got caught on the mat and they all broke."
Despite the injuries "The Ninja Princess" suffered during cheerleading practices, she has no regrets. Gaza says the mental toughness she has inside the cage is the direct result of her years as a cheerleader.
"As a cheerleader, especially during tumbling, you have to have your mind right at all times," Gaza said. "You had to always focus and I feel like that helped me out a lot."
Gaza's incredible transition from a high school cheerleader to dangerous face-punching machine earned praise from Lisa Nessler, head coach of the MacArthur Lady Generals cheer team in Levittown, New York.
Nessler, a nationally recognized coach, helped MacArthur become a cheerleading powerhouse through some of the same hard work and dedication put in by the likes of Gaza and Wray.
Nessler's elite coaching helped MacArthur cheer earn a spot in the top ten nationally in the medium varsity category at this year's Universal Cheerleaders Association tournament, which is the most prestigious cheerleading championship in the country.
"How tough are cheerleaders?" Nessler asked rhetorically after hearing about Gaza's story.