MANCHESTER — Most recent high school graduates spend their summer preparing for their first semester of college.

Katie Baker, of Gardiner, is preparing for her first cage fight.

“I’m so excited and I can’t wait,” Baker said Tuesday night before a training session at the Maine Isshinryu Karate Academies in Manchester.

In preparation for her cage fighting debut sometime this fall, Baker, who turns 18 next week, is making her amateur boxing debut Saturday night at USA Boxing’s Battle in L/A at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston.

“This fight is really about getting experience before I step into the cage,” Baker said. “I know I need to work on my stand-up fighting, because I think my kicks and my jiu-jitsu are my biggest strengths.”

She started boxing a few years ago, and trainer and former professional boxer Chris Albee said she is making continual forward progress. Baker is in the process of realizing her punches don’t have to be perfect, Albee said, but rather plentiful and accurate.

“She isn’t really sure of what she has for hand techniques and ability,” Albee said. “But she knows how to fight, and I’m just helping to add to what she already knows.”

Albee said the ability to fight is typically something that comes naturally, and in addition to that, Baker is always studying and advancing every time she competes.

“She’s a student of the game, and I know she has what it takes to be successful,” Albee said. “I’m excited about her potential.”

Matt Baker, Katie’s father, said he never dreamed his daughter would grow up wanting to be a fighter, and she even had an uncle think she was crazy for trying to make a living as a fighter. And even though she still enjoys working for her family at Baker’s Smelt Camps in Pittston, one event in particular made Baker’s father realize she could do it.

Baker was in a competition several years ago against a bigger, slower opponent who caught her with a punch early in the match. When it was over, her father was giving her grief because she didn’t take down her opponent for an easy victory.

“She said with a weird, crooked face, ‘Dad, I can’t move my jaw,'” her father said. “She fought almost three minutes with a dislocated jaw that had a hairline fracture, and that’s when I decided she had what it takes to be cage fighter, because most people would have quit.”

‘THE INTANGIBLES’

Baker got started in karate when her father and her mother, Tammy, enrolled her in a class when she was 5 years old, thinking it would be a good way to bring her out of her shell because she was always quiet. Baker, a first-degree black belt, won the Isshinryu World Karate Championship in Pittsburgh in 2009 and again in Akron four years later.

She began Brazilian jiu-jitsu at age 11 and is a two-stripe blue belt with a number of tournament victories, and she began mixed martial arts training about three years ago.

Because there aren’t many female mixed martial arts fighters in New England, let alone in the Augusta area, Baker goes to Bangor and Brewer several times a week to train.

She isn’t sure what promoter she wants to fight for ultimately, but she had an opportunity to meet Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, the world’s biggest mixed martial arts company, at an event in Bangor in 2014.

One of the gymnasiums she trains at is owned by former professional fighter Marcus Davis, known as the Irish Hand Grenade. Davis, who fought on a number of the UFC pay-per-view cards and had a 22-11 professional record, said Katie will be successful in her pursuit of a career.

“She has the intangibles, discipline and desire, that you cannot teach,” Davis said in a Facebook message. “The world of martial arts is hers to decide what she want to accomplish in it.”

She first started training at a mixed martial arts gymnasium in Brunswick owned by family friend John Raio. He said she is a hard worker and a positive role model for the younger kids at the gym who all look up to her and perform well in their competitions because of her instruction.

“She is a perfectionist in everything she sets her mind to,” Raio said in a Facebook message. “The sky is the limit as she continues to learn all aspects of mixed martial arts.”

Baker wants to have at least five or six amateur mixed martial arts fights before she turns professional, and she admits that in order to make it a career, she’ll have to leave Maine, because there just aren’t enough women to fight here.

GOING PRO

The decision to turn pro isn’t as easy as it might sound. As an amateur, Baker gets 20 percent of her ticket sales and doesn’t get paid for the actual fight, but she can sell a lot more tickets if she fights locally. As a professional, she can take either 40 percent of the ticket sales or 20 percent and a part of the fight purse.

Katie’s father said White, the UFC president who attended high school in Hermon and has a house in Levant, invited Baker to sit ringside with him during the Bangor matches. White, whose company was just sold to Hollywood entertainment agency WME-IMG for $4 billion, asked Baker when she planned on fighting for the UFC. Baker said she wasn’t sure because she didn’t like the company’s deal with Reebok because it “isn’t good for most of the fighters,” her father recalled her saying to White.

Baker said she didn’t have a typical high school experience and didn’t have much time for friends because she was always training. Her father said students at Gardiner Area High School gave her a “pretty wide berth” and the school’s police officer said he didn’t know how he would’ve managed without Baker breaking up so many fights this past year.

She has always been calm and collected in the ring, her father said, and has never been in a fight outside of one. He said she shows no emotion before, during or after a fight, and Baker said that’s partly by design.

“When she wins, she has a straight face; and when she loses, she has a straight face,” the fighter’s father said. “After she takes her gear off, maybe then you might get a smile from her.”

A BIG FUTURE

Baker has several sponsors that help pay for the cost of traveling to events and training sessions, equipment, registration fees and gear and eating a clean diet. Central Maine Toyota in Waterville, where Albee is a sales associate, and Fowler Roofing and Construction in Chelsea, are two of her biggest backers. Baker has about 10,500 followers on Instagram, and she knows that a large social media presence is a way to make more money, especially because the majority of mixed martial arts fighters have regular jobs in addition to being a fighter.

Mixed martial arts combines the skills and techniques of boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and amateur wrestling, among other things. Baker said she thought it was easier mastering those sports one at a time, and she is constantly watching videos of fights to learn more.

“She sometimes has two computers going and her phone, so she’s watching and studying three different fights,” her father said. “She’s a walking book of knowledge” about mixed martial arts.

Baker said she enjoys watching Holly Holm, Jon Jones and Demian Maia, who she said is great on the ground. She said she doesn’t really feel any pain during a fight because the “adrenaline is pumping, though it sometimes hurts the next day.”

She isn’t sure of what her fight schedule will look like in the next year. She said she wants to have her first MMA fight and take things from there. But she does know “there is a big future for me” in mixed martial arts.

Baker’s first amateur boxing bout is scheduled for Saturday night at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston. The fights begin at 7:30 p.m.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ