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UFC’s Bec Rawlings is still ‘chasing that check’

UFC strawweight Bec Rawlings talks about her loss to Paige Van Zant, the balancing of being a mom and a fighter and what’s next for her career.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Rawlings vs Ham
‘Rowdy’ Bec Rawlings
Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

For any parent, having to be away from their child for an extended period of time is a hard thought to come to terms with. When days turn into weeks and then into months, there’s nothing that can bring that time back. An attempt can be made to make up for lost time - but it’s never the same.

As a fighter there are sacrifices. So many sacrifices. The monetary ones are the ones that hit the headlines and cause so much stress in the day-to-day cliched grind of a fighter. For UFC strawweight Bec Rawlings, there are much bigger sacrifices that she has to deal with. When she disembarks on her journey towards the Octagon, she travels to California - a world away from her home in Brisbane, Australia. While she’s over there honing her skills and doing the best she can to prepare herself for her fights, she is missing out on time with her kids. And that’s time that the money she earns from fighting can never, and will never replace.

"I don’t feel like it gets any easier," Rawlings admitted to Bloody Elbow. "I just feel like it becomes normal, because I’ve left so often now for fight camps. It’s kind of just ‘what mum does’ and life goes on for the kids and obviously life goes on for me. We’re able to deal with it easier but it still sucks - it sucks being without your mum and it sucks being without your boys but they know it has to be done and that I’m gonna be back. It’s nice if I can come home and then spend a good few solid months with them before I have to take off again."

Throughout her time in the UFC, Rawlings has made an effort to get the most of her fight preparation by traveling to Alliance MMA - her home away from home. Now, with her continual development as a fighter, Rawlings has started to see that there are benefits to staying on Australian soil for a fight camp - but making that decision is hinged on who is set to be standing across from her inside the cage.

"I’ve decided after my last fight and after spending so much time away from the kids that if [UFC] offered me a fight where I thought I could put together a camp in Australia, I would. It really just depends on the opponent and their fighting style. For boxing, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, it’s really good here in Australia so I could put a camp together over here if I needed to. But obviously if I got put up against a wrestler or someone who’s well-rounded I’d like to go to Alliance [MMA] and get in a really good camp. So if I can get a camp in Australia I’ll do it because it’ll mean I don’t have to leave the boys. I love Australia - it’s not a holiday for me going to California anymore, it’s strictly work so I would like to stay here if I can.

"If I wanted to have an easy camp I’d just stay here and I’d run my own shit here. I go over there and I get my ass beat for six or eight weeks - it’s not fun. It’s torture. It’s definitely not a holiday for me and I get people asking ‘are you excited to go back?’ and I’m like.. ‘no, not really’. I can’t go out and party or go out and eat or explore because I’m too tired and too beat up to do anything. I feel like people might think that I am out there living it up without my kids but it’s definitely not the case."

"Shut your mouth you fucken scrag"

Those are the well thought-out words that construct the opening sentence of a comment posted on the UFC Facebook page. The comment appears under an article on Rawlings for her fight with Paige Van Zant and of the posts that appear there, it’s probably one of the more timid ones. There’s no denying that Rawlings isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Her look and outspoken nature are both unconventional — and that’s putting it lightly.

Rawlings is one of the two Australian women who are currently signed to the UFC and whilst she may boast a better win-loss record than her peer, Alex Chambers, there is no doubt whatsoever who the more popular fighter is with the Australian public. The hatred that Rawlings garners from her fellow countrymen and countrywomen largely goes unnoticed by the 27-year-old due to some strategic managing of her social media. Although when she does happen across it, for her, it’s a little dumbfounding.

"I don’t see too much of it because I’ve blocked all the haters on my page, I’ve sort of filtered all that out," Rawlings said. "But, if the UFC page posts something about me it’s just full of hate and it’s crazy to me because the majority of the haters are from Australia and I just don’t get it. You would think that Australians would want to support pretty much one of the only Australian girls in the UFC and support someone who is doing something in this sport for Australia, but they don’t. It’s odd to me, I don’t understand it but I’ve kinda accepted it. I just don’t understand how people can hate someone who is going out and representing their country."

Some of the criticism that Rawlings is met with is in relation to the fact that she leaves her children for her training camps. With so many other professions requiring parents to travel, for Rawlings it certainly feels like she is judged harshly solely because of the way she has chosen to make a living.

"I feel like I wouldn’t get judged as much if I was in the Air Force or in the Army or something like that and people would just say ‘you’re doing it for your country’," Rawlings suggested. "What people don’t realize, is that this is my job. Just because I’m not putting on a suit or a uniform doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthy job. This is how I put food on the table for my kids. I definitely feel that people do judge me more for that but at the same time I do feel good about the support I get from my fan base from like minded people, like me, that are inspired and who have kids and are full-time athletes - they feel empowered with what I do."

The opening round of Rawlings’ August 27 bout with UFC star Paige Van Zant saw Rawlings push the pace and pick her shots. She was the aggressor for the better part of the round, with Van Zant clearly doing the best she could to test the cardio of Rawlings. Van Zant attempted her switch kick a couple of times in the first round - but to no avail, Rawlings stepped out of range each time. When the first round finished, there was no doubt that Rawlings was ahead. She was doing far better than many expected. What happened in the second round is best described in one way.

It was like a kick in the face - literally.

For Rawlings, after doing well in the first round, to lose the way she did - that hurt way more than the loss itself.

"I made a stupid error and I got caught, that’s what sucks the most about it," Rawlings admitted. "I feel like I am one-hundred and ten percent better than that girl as a fighter. Yeah, she’s got a bigger name and she’s had a lot of opportunities given to her but at the end of the day I feel that I’m a much more skillful fighter and I honestly feel like she was throwing that kick up hoping for a 'Hail Mary' and she got it.

"Those kinds of losses suck compared to the kinda loss when I fought Carla Esparza and she wrestlefucked me for five rounds. She’s meant to wrestlefuck me, so it was just like I could accept that, so it was sort of like ‘good work Carla, because you were meant to do that’. I was the complete underdog, nobody gave me the hope to come out of round one let alone go five rounds, so you can kind of accept that type of loss but getting caught by a stupid kick and just making a stupid error and getting finished like that - that kind of loss sucks."

When the adrenaline had started to dissipate, and the reality sunk in, it came time for Rawlings to start reflecting on what had transpired inside the Octagon. Looking back at what happened, especially after such a high profile loss, wasn’t going to be easy. But Rawlings knew what that it was something she needed to do sooner rather than later.

"It was obviously a shitty feeling losing," Rawlings said. "Especially after putting in a really hard camp like I did and leaving the kids for eight weeks - I sacrifice a lot for my fights so obviously it sucks to come out the other end with a loss. But, you know, it’s not the first time I’ve been stopped in a fight so I feel like that helped me deal with it better. I went back to my change room with my coaches and we spoke about it and re-watched it and [at that point] you’re just trying to figure out what went wrong so you can fix the holes in your game.

"After re-watching it, I actually got more pissed off just because I feel like I wasn’t given a chance to fight back, I feel like ref’s seem to think that girls are made of glass or something and they do kind of jump in prematurely. I just wish he had of given me a chance, for me to completely get closure, and feel like I was out and couldn’t fight back. I wasn’t really given that chance and that is kind of a shitty feeling but I've just had to let that go and I’ve just had to get back into training. As soon as I got back to Australia I had a few days with the kids and got straight back into training just trying to improve my skill set and trying to get back on the winning streak."

There comes a time in a fighter’s career when the investment of time and money far outweighs the return that they can get from competing. Is it all worth it? That question tends to rear its ugly head after a loss, but the truth is, win or lose, it will often linger for those fighters who haven’t quite ‘made it’.

"It does pop into my head quite a lot," Rawlings said. "I still feel like I’m chasing that check - I’m chasing that pay day and it’s kind of like it’s never gonna come.”

“I do feel like I’m in a good spot,” she continued. “I feel like my skill set is coming together and even though I am coming off a loss, I feel like I learned a lot from that fight and I’ve just gotta stick with it. I feel like anything that is hard and anything you’ve gotta work your ass off for, you are gonna have your doubts, but it’s just gonna be worth it in the end. I feel like the sport is going to a place where it’s evolving and with the new owners and everything I feel like it’s only gonna get better for women in the UFC but there is a timeline for [fighters], we can’t fight forever so you’ve gotta always look at future opportunities and things like that as well but I haven’t quite given up on the dream yet."

Her dreams may still be intact, but that doesn’t always mean that everything is going to be alright. Losing a fight in the UFC, in a division that the company doesn’t push as much as others, is always a worrying prospect. With Rawlings losing the way that she did - on the unfavorable end of a highlight reel finish - she could have very well received the ‘thanks’ email that fighters have come to dread. Sometimes, the silence that comes after a loss can be even worse - that feeling of not knowing. Luckily, for Rawlings, there has been some discussion after her fight.

"I’ve been in talks with the UFC since [the fight]," Rawlings said. "The UFC were actually happy with my performance and said that I looked good in round one and I got caught, and it happens. It’s obviously not the first time [that has happened] for me, and it’s not the first time it’s happened in the UFC. I feel like I was controlling the fight and I looked really good in round one and she had nothing for me - I’m not even sure she landed a punch on me in the first round. It happens and that’s why everyone loves MMA, because that kind of shit happens out of the blue.

"I was looking at locking in a fight for Melbourne but something happened there with the cancellation [of UFC Manila] so they had to squeeze in other fights. I’m hoping to be able to fight early next year. I’m just waiting for a contract to be sent through. They’re definitely not looking at cutting me any time soon. I had two wins before this loss. I’m the kind of fighter that goes out there and dies by the sword. I’m not gonna go out there and play it safe and try to grind out a decision. I’m gonna go out there and try to finish, so I feel like I go out there and put on a good show which I think they’re always happy with."

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