Layla Anna-Lee: “Everyone in the bubble felt the importance of that event and we all bonded overcoming adversity.”
March seems so far away now, days and weeks of indecision finally ended with a National lockdown. The world stopped, sport with it. Just days before Boris Johnson pressed pause on virtually everything, Cage Warriors defied a wave of criticism and logistical nightmares to somehow put on Cage Warriors 113.
It was a surreal viewing experience, uneasy even, the first sign of what would soon become normality for sport. Long-time Cage Warriors presenter Layla Anna-Lee experienced the event first hand, being cageside in Manchester:
“Unforgettable and unimaginable. When this pandemic hit everything changed for everyone. Whilst we anchored down and wanting to be safe and protect others as much as possible we also felt a strong drive and real responsibility to do what we do best and entertain those extra millions at home who were all in need of a pivotal distraction.
“There was a real backlash prior to the event as many felt we were foolish to continue as normal. Social media augmented those opinions, as it should, but what people didn’t realise until the live event was that Cage Warriors is far from normal.
“We didn’t ever plan for a standard event, we levelled up an already elite level of fighter protection and pulled off a brilliant event that kept all fighters and crew safe.
“As soon as viewers were let into the experience and saw the making of Documentary Cage Warriors: Fighting the Pandemic they came round and the support was awesome. I feel very proud that we all preserved.”
When everything shut down, many types of work went with it. Being freelance, Layla was one of many, who initally suffered as a result. But she adapted to a new way of life:
“The first week of lockdown saw almost a year’s worth of contracts vanish, I do many large scale live events all across the world and all of them disappeared fast.
“However, I never felt worried. I’m very privileged to work in the creative industry and being able to create and adapt is entirely in our nature. Thanks to my career always being more digital-focused than broadcast I’m already set up at home with a VO studio and top-notch cameras.
“I knew with more people in lockdown more demand will be on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, therefore the drive for content would explode. My work changed but I’m blessed to say it didn’t pause. I was able to focus more on my writing and format ideas and create new content from home.”
Layla has a life on the road, mixing with people from all walks of life, but suddenly that gave way to a period of solitude. It took time, but eventually, Layla embraced her new life:
“I really learned to like my own company more. Something I wasn’t used to at all. I travel the world with big crews and am almost always around a lot of people. Even my Brazilian background means I’m most comfortable in a loud raucous group. However, learning to be calm and content with your own company is vital. It took me a while but I’m starting to enjoy that more now.”
The world started turning again, albeit it seems only a temporary relief from the never-ending misery this year has given us, and Cage Warriors returned in September. It seemed different, it felt easier to accept this time, and it delivered on all fronts:
“Cage Warriors returned with a Trilogy of events making history as the first government recognised MMA event in the UK and our first MMA event back from lockdown. Bringing the crew back together, seeing fighters who have been maintaining their training despite the most confusing circumstances realise their return was second to none.
“Everyone in the bubble felt the importance of that event and we all bonded overcoming adversity. It also was just the beginning. Graham Boylan managing to pull off such a feat and see everyone walk away healthy means he’s opened the door to a return despite all odds and we’re back with Trilogy 2 in December.”
Layla has an extensive and diverse CV, MMA forming just a small part of her working life:
“The majority of my work is still very much cemented in the football world. I create content with the worlds elite players and focus on a Sport Entertainment vibe that is so fun I can barely call it work. One of my favourites is RedBull’s Neymar Jr’s 5 – The Worlds biggest 5 aside competition happening all across the globe with the final is held each year in Santos Brazil. My co-host is Neymar Jr himself and the talent we see come through is mind-blowing.”
With a highly critical social media world, Layla is used to being open to criticism and scrutiny. But she tries not too overly critical of herself, Layla is far more relaxed now:
“I used to be critical of myself, I think that’s super-normal. But over the last year, I have learnt to take some pressure off myself and that relatability is key to me. I’m not a standard sports host, I’m not a Sky Sports chic, neither do I wish to be. I’m more digital, I’m more of a fan voice and I’m having the BEST time.
“I always strive to do the best job I possibly can but the boundaries of what’s a well done gig have changed for me drastically. Being involved in the process, writing my own scripts, being present and enjoying the fights is far more pivotal to me than whether I got every fact spot on. I’m not here to regurgitate Wikipedia.”
In her early career journey, Layla attended the highly-acclaimed Sylvia Young Theatre School, a different career choice seemed likely:
“I was a dancer! I trained there in dance and loved it, worked in the dance world from a super young age. That was always the dream, but hey not everything works out as we plan and the odd pivot is an adventure in itself.”
With a highly successful career already behind her, Layla isn’t looking too far into the future, preferring to concentrate on the here and now”
“I don’t look forward. Never. I genuinely make the present the priority and that’s a very conscious business decision as well as a mindset. We’re in an era of incredible digital evolution where planning ahead can be dangerous. I just need to keep up and evolve at speed.
“If I planned my broadcast career 5 years ahead I’d have never been prepared for the social evolution or YouTube. I wish to only to remain relevant, continue my work as happy as I am now and stay at the top of my game. I plan to always create new paths and innovative content. It’s a perfect time for someone like me. I can’t sit still anyway.”
With a busy schedule, Layla throws herself into her craft, sacrifices a necessary requirement of her trade:
“I’ll be honest there’s not a lot going on for me outside of work. Truly my work is my hobby and it’s all-encompassing. I don’t have a lot of time ‘off’ and I don’t feel I need it either. When I’m off work I rest, catch up on sleep and try to see friends. Time with friends is the biggest sacrifice that I miss.”