This Saturday will mark a milestone for UFC women's Bantamweight lightning rod, Shayna Baszler, when she finally makes her UFC debut against undefeated Bethe Correia on the UFC 177 card. Baszler was scheduled for a fight with Sarah Kaufman, but had to pull out due to injury.
Now, in a fight that she is admittedly taking very personally, Shayna will have the opportunity to put her considerable talents on display. Often outspoken, and fiercely loyal to her teammates, she plans to take the frustration and anger that has built up from harsh fan criticism into the fight to fuel her.
In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Shayna discusses the adjustment period to her new team, Sara McMann's skillset, the way she plans to beat Bethe Correia, fan perception, loyalty and more. Here's what she had to say:
Stephie Daniels: This will be your first fight with your new camp, and you've had quite a long layoff. How has the adjustment period been with the team and how was your injury recovery and rehab?
Shayna Baszler: Well, I'm feeling really good, and I'm reluctant to even say that because when I was supposed to fight Kaufman, I was in the parking lot at the gym doing an interview and said, ‘Yeah, I feel really good, everything's great' and it was literally that practice when I got hurt, but yeah, I'm feeling really good. I had an injury for the finale and I had an injury for what was supposed to have been my last fight, but I had an injury right at the peak of my camp.
Finally, things seem to be panning out. Everything with training is on point because I've been going to rehab a lot, even though I don't need it anymore, just to maintain and help ensure that I don't get injured. Everything is looking good.
That's what's cool about being out here training with Ronda, Edmond, the GFC and Josh. It's professional out here and I'm not the big fish. These are gyms full of champions. They have everything taken care of. Something happens, they know where to send you right away. I'm treated like a professional. I'm not just thrown into the Thai boxing class with everyone else. Now I'm doing my mitt training with my coach, so now, it's a lot more specific to me, and that's been great.
Stephie Daniels: What do you think has been the most significant benefit this camp change has brought to your game?
Shayna Baszler: I was actually talking to Kaitlyn Young about this-she just recently moved out here-we're from the same area and the gyms that we were at make you a great, well-rounded fighter, but there was never a set guideline of what we were going to do. Instead of being like, ‘Here's what you're going to do, A through Z.' Instead, it was, ‘If the fight goes here, you'll do this, and if the fight goes here, you'll do that.'
I'm a wrestler, so my boxing needs to be tailored for my wrestling. Edmond will tell me, ‘Be a wrestler' as I'm hitting the mitts. It probably doesn't make any sense to you, but it does for me. It's almost like it's come full circle, because way back in the day, when I first started, all I knew was wrestling and submissions. I hadn't done any stand-up. My game plans were obvious; take them down and submit them. Somewhere along the way, it became, ‘Oh, I need to bide my time and stand a little bit' when really, I just need to submit bitches, ya know?
Stephie Daniels: What do you think of Sara McMann's latest performance against Lauren Murphy?
Shayna Baszler: I actually said it about my fight, because she started doing it toward the end of her fight with Lauren, and as a disclaimer because I get all kinds of heat from people, I have no problem with Sara McMann. I think she's cool, we've talked, whatever.
But...is it really dictating the fight if the threat of my submissions made her stand back up? It's not wrestling in the sense that if she landed a takedown, it would be marked on a piece of paper for two points. The actual criteria says ‘dictating where the action goes.' It's cage control, Octagon control, however you want to word it. The fact that she doesn't want to stay on the ground because of the threat of submissions, or strikes in the Lauren Murphy fight, are we not dictating more that the fight remains standing?
I am a wrestler. I love wrestling, but I don't want to see MMA turn into a sport where it's who can get the first takedown and just hold their opponent there. She was being damaged, and that's a judging criteria. When she faces higher level talent, I think she's going to need to work on finishing her opponents more or really work on her ground and pound. She's clearly got good ground control; she can hold someone down, and there's no reason she shouldn't be moving to places where she can make people ugly from there.
Stephie Daniels: You're facing off against Bethe Correia on Saturday night. How personal is this fight for you?
Shayna Baszler: I think it's personal because of what people are saying about me and my team now. We're not trying to be gang members. We live together. We train together. Someone referred to us as the Four Horsewomen, we did a picture and it became a thing. I think more so than Bethe herself, it's more about everyone that's running with it; ‘Screw them! They lost! They're horrible!' Because there are all kinds of undefeated teams everywhere. I think that makes it personal to me.
Not to sound cheesy and over the top, but it's defending my family, I guess. I'm not defending my family so much against Bethe as it is everyone else that jumped on that bandwagon just because they lump us in with all the hate that Ronda gets. I don't know, it's like just because we're more visible, people hate us, so they want to see us lose, and if we lose, we shouldn't be a team. It's ridiculous to me, and honestly, it's made me a little jaded, and I'm taking that feeling towards the public and into this fight. It's a pretty big "F you" to everyone.
Stephie Daniels: Do you feel the MMA fan base as a whole judges fighters more on what they say than on their athletic accomplishments?
Shayna Baszler: Yeah, and I think they're even taking what we say to heart. After Jessamyn's fight with Bethe, I tweeted, ‘If Ronda had done that, she would have been booed out of the arena.' It's true. Everyone would have booed, social media would have blown up about how disrespectful she was and made the pleas for someone to beat her.
For whatever reason, Bethe can do it unnoticed, and people were even thinking it was hilarious. I pointed out the double standard, and everyone turned it into me calling her out. If you think about it, she's really the one that called me out.
It's not even that they judge what we say. They already have an opinion, and it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They already have their opinion formed and they're looking for things to fit that mold and image that they already have of us.
Marina lost her fight and people were like, ‘Yeah, she's disrespectful. She deserved it.' She never said anything disrespectful. She's still green and got caught swinging. She took a big punch. It could have been the other way easily, but this time it was her that got caught. Right away, after losing her very first fight, people are saying she's overrated and all she's doing is riding Ronda's coattails.
People think we can't even be friends with Ronda because she's too famous for us. We're not even allowed to be friends with her? People are just looking for the next thing to throw in our face and boo us over. It doesn't matter what we do or say, they have this already predetermined in their head.
It's freeing in some ways, because I don't have to censor myself, but it is also frustrating. It's also frustrating that people's knowledge of the history of women's MMA starts with The Ultimate Fighter. I get messages from people like, ‘Maybe you won't be such a disappointment anymore if you stop paying attention to the WWE.' Disappointment? I spent the past decade in the Top 10. 14 of my 15 wins are by submission. I've done everything that anyone could do in this sport, besides winning the UFC belt, which my teammate has. I don't have to prove anything to people anymore. For people to say that because I lost a fight on a TV reality show, I can't win, is ridiculous.
Stephie Daniels: It is apparent that you are fiercely loyal to your teammates. Does fan criticism on this bother you?
Shayna Baszler: I think that's one of the main things that's made me so jaded. I tweeted after Jessamyn's last fight, 'Jessamyn didn't get beat, she lost. She's still discovering herself as a fighter.' Everyone jumped up with, ‘Here it comes. Here come the excuses.' It wasn't even making excuses. That's something you would say to your friend that still learning and getting the hang of things.
I think it's ridiculous that if I say anything in defense of people talking crap about my friend, my teammate, my roommate, that I'm just making excuses or I'm a crybaby, as though they themselves haven't done that at some point in their own lives. You wouldn't stick up for your friend if someone was talking crap about them? You wouldn't support them if they made a mistake or had a hard time? You would kick them out of your friend group? You would no longer work with them? Come on, that's stupid. Ronda says it best, ‘People's memory is only as long as their Twitter timeline.' People have a very lopsided view of what friendship and loyalty is where this sport is concerned.
Stephie Daniels: Where do you see Bethe's weaknesses?
Shayna Baszler: I don't think anyone has really brought the action to her. She doesn't finish people. How she wins is she draws the fight to where she wants it and outpoints people. It's not even that exciting. You could see it in her fight with Julie Kedzie, and I actually thought Julie won that.
She sucks people in to her pace, but she's not dropping people with her shots. I don't think people are really threatened enough to really give her what she needs to get, I don't think they bring the fight to her, I don't think they pushed the pace enough, and I think that's where her biggest strength is, being able to lull people into fighting her fight. I'm just not going to play into that.
Stephie Daniels: How do you think Bethe's grappling compares to yours?
Shayna Baszler: I train with some of the best grapplers in the world and I can hold my own with them. I think when it's my game and I'm controlling the action, like I should be, my ground is right up in the top of the division. Bethe is young in her career and green enough, and I'm probably going to catch some heat for this, but I think she knows just enough grappling to make it easy for me.
Obviously, I can't take her lightly. I think my grappling game is the best it's been, and I think a lot of that has to do with moving out here and training with the best. I've only improved since I've been out here.
Stephie Daniels: Do you find that people expect you to be more modest or hide your self-confidence?
Shayna Baszler: I learned a couple of days ago that I'm not supposed to be my own biggest fan. Who else is going to be your biggest fan, ya moron? [laughs]
Stephie Daniels: What is the importance of pro-wrestling in that house now?
Shayna Baszler: It's the thing that brings the four of us together. I talked before about the personalized training out here, and the way it works is we all train twice a day, but mostly we see each other in passing. Ronda will be doing her mitt session and I'm warming up to go next. It goes like that, so when it comes to WWE, that's when we all get together. We even schedule our training so we can watch it. We planned Summer Slam months ago. We get caught up in the storylines. We judge the wrestlers on their matches. We love it.
Related: Ronda Rousey Interview: WWE Summerslam was 'one of the funnest days of my life.'
Stephie Daniels: You just turned 34. Unfortunately, this sport takes a toll on the body, and while 34 seems relatively young, your window is closing. Have you put any thought into your post-fight career?
Shayna Baszler: I think if I'm still competitive in the gym, there's no reason why I'm not competitive in the cage. I'm aware that the fights behind me outnumber the fights in front of me, but I still think there's a lot of noise to be made by me. As long as I feel that way, I will still keep fighting.
That being said, I know there is a danger of becoming like Sakuraba or something, thinking I can still get in there with some young kid and do this at a top level. I have a good team around me. Anyone that knows Josh and Edmond would know that they wouldn't bullshit me. I think they would let me know, ‘Hey, you've got to start looking ahead to the next thing.'
Stephie Daniels: When you think about one day calling it a day, what comes after?
Shayna Baszler: That's an interesting question, and 18 different things just popped into my head. I always say that I can't wait till I'm a beer drinking fat lady trainer. I think a long ways down the road, in the end of all of it, I'm a way better coach than I ever was a fighter, so I could see that as my end all plan.
Shayna faces off against Bethe Correia this Saturday night on the main card of UFC 177 in Sacramento, California.