Mixed martial arts has experienced a tremendous boom in growth over the last 9 or 10 years, and has seen many firsts within the sport. Primarily, women fighting on a much larger platform, which was kind of ushered in initially by Gina Carano, when she fought Julie Kedzie on the very first Elite XC card, to more recently, Ronda Rousey's virtual single-handed crusade that not only saw her bring in women to the UFC, but proved that women's MMA could be quite profitable. In record time, the UFC stocked their women's bantamweight division, and has now added a strawweight division, as well.
Just a few years ago, women in MMA had very specific roles. You had to be either a fighter or a ring girl to have any sort of visibility in the sport. Gradually, more women started popping up in the oddest places. We saw Kim Winslow reffing fights, Shannon Knapp heading up a successful women's promotion, and Jen Wenk doing wonderful PR work, both inside and outside of the UFC.
Hell, when I first started covering MMA 10 years ago, the only other female doing that was Loretta Hunt. Loretta was a shining light in this community's media, both then and now, and remains the reason why I strive to put forth my best efforts. These days, there are several very talented ladies in MMA media. Megan Olivi, Heidi Fang and Phoenix Carnivale are all outstanding examples of what good journalistic coverage in the sport should be.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not some extreme feminist that routinely burns bras and effigies of historic men, but I do appreciate the advances that my sisters have made within a predominantly male oriented sport. That's why it is always refreshing to see yet another career open up for a woman in the MMA bubble.
Swayze Valentine has been getting some well-deserved attention recently for her accomplishments in corner work. Specifically, she is the first cut-woman in the UFC. Her journey to get where she is today was an arduous one, filled with years (about 3 of ‘em) of working for free, and at personal financial loss to learn her craft (she paid to fly around the country to multiple gyms to learn how to wrap hands correctly). Once she became an official, licensed second, the sport was still throwing her curveballs in the form of fighters, managers and coaches unwilling to accept her position.
In a recent interview with MMA Sentinel, Swayze discussed her journey to where she is today, personal goals, and some of the horrible behavior she's experienced since becoming licensed. Here's what she had to say:
Training & Perfecting Her Craft
Stitch was the first person I went to, because he was the staple, and someone that I knew. I emailed him asking how I could get started, because I had no idea. He told me that I had to start wrapping hands first, that I had to master that before I could move on to working cuts. Wrapping their hands is just as important as keeping them safe in the cage.
He told me to go to my local gym, whether it was MMA, Muay Thai or boxing, and just wrap hands. I strictly wrapped hands for a good three years. It wasn't only at the one gym, though. I would travel all over the United States to different gyms to wrap the hands of fighters for their sparring sessions. So, I did that for three years or so, until I had it mastered. Well, one is never truly a master; you always have room to learn new things, but I had learned it and practiced it enough to feel I was ready to move on to learning to work cuts.
That's when I met Adrian Rosenbusch. I would fly to Las Vegas to train with him where we went through a lot of mock scenarios, because I wasn't ready to go into the cage yet. I wanted to be as good as I could possibly be before I did that, so we just worked at his house where he would train me. It was 10 days for about 12 hours a day so that I could get everything down perfect before I even when cageside. From that point, I just greased fighters for several events.
I really took it slow and learned every intimate detail of it all before I was put into the cage. Before you can get inside a cage, you do have to be licensed with each commission of every state that you work. It's called a second's license. They require that because you have to carry medication to stop bleeding.
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I've had promotions that didn't want me to work events, but more often than not, whenever I had a problem, it was a fighter or coach that didn't want me to wrap their fighter's hands or grease their fighter before entering the cage.
I've been cussed at as I'm working on a fighter, I've been told to get the F out, I've been physically assaulted in the cage by a coach...I've kind of had it all. I've definitely had my struggles. You just keep going.
I'm not going to throw out a name, but I will say that it was a coach in Las Vegas who still works at a very well known gym. All the coaches know what a cutman's responsibilities are; it's to keep their fighters safe, and that's it.
So, I was waiting to go into the cage to take care of his fighter. First round he was fine, but in the second round, he started swelling. I told the camp I was going to go in, because you have to communicate with the camp so they know what's going on.
Nobody said anything to me, so I went in and over to the fighter to take care of him. The coach came up behind me and said, ‘We don't need no F'n cutman, get the F out of here' and he chucked me. I couldn't even believe it. Of course I didn't do anything back, but I stood there for a second, stunned because nobody has ever put their hands on me in anger before in my life, so that was definitely a first.
I took the professional approach and told the commission what had happened, but they had already seen it. They told him to stay away, and a good thing that came out of that incident, now at every rules meeting, at least with this organization, the ISKA lets everyone know, all the coaches and fighters, that they can't put their hands on anybody like that, or they could incur a felony charge.
I definitely wasn't expecting to get into this industry to be assaulted by my peers, but it was a lesson learned, and I'm glad I had it. I'm glad for any challenges that come my way that I can learn from or others can learn from. A lot fewer challenges are coming my way now, because people are finally starting to realize that I'm not a threat, that I'm just here to take care of the fighters.
I would love to cross over to boxing and work some corners there. I already do Muay Thai fights now, because they're pretty abundant in Las Vegas, but yeah, that's like a dream of mine to do.
I know in the future, I'll have bigger goals set for myself, but right now, I'm satisfied with where I'm at; with keeping the fighters safe in a career that I love and worked hard to achieve. I love the industry and if I could work a show every day, that would be perfect. Down the road, I think it would be great to start a cutman training program where coaches could also attend to understand our role and help other new cutmen with their career journey.
You can follow Swayze via her Twitter account, @SwayzeCutgirl