Back in December I was at Invicta Fighting Championship 7 with Lauren Murphy and her crew to watch her fight for the Bantamweight belt. Amidst the swirl of sensory overload those fights always are for me, I happened to notice that there was a woman running in and out of the cage and greasing the fighters faces before they stepped into the ring. I vaguely remember thinking, “It’s cool that Invicta found a woman to do the job.” Little did I know at the time that Swayze Valentine has been wrapping hands and tending to cuts longer than Invicta has even existed. And even more awesome, as far as I’m concerned, is what I just learned the other day; she’s also from and Lauren’s and my home state of Alaska.
Swayze calls Homer, AK her home town, though during her childhood she lived in almost all of the small towns spread across the Kenai Peninsula for a few years each, a couple of hours south of Anchorage. Homer is one of the towns that those of us who live up in Alaska’s biggest city (of about 350,000 people, so, not relatively speaking that big) try to make a trip down to at least once a year, if for no other reason than that a sunrise over the mountains that surround Kachemak Bay in sight of Homer makes it hard not to feel almost religious. It’s driving distance from where they film the reality TV show Alaska: The Last Frontier, despite that the show would have you believe there is no road access to that homestead. Homer has a reputation for being artsy, having good food, cool bars, more wilderness nearby than I’ve ever been able to explore in 18 years as an AK resident, and for producing more than its fair share of real characters. Which, if we’re being honest, is a nice way of saying crazy fuckers with a serious sense of humor and a drinking habit to match, as often as not.
I was excited to talk to get to know Swayze because a) her name is Swayze Valentine for goodness sake. I can only imagine that her parents looked into her little face at birth and thought, “This girl is going to be cool as hell. Better name her something to match,” and b) I can’t help but feel an affinity for a woman who randomly fell in love with MMA at my same local hometown fight promotion in Anchorage, or for any diehard female MMA fan from the big AK, for that matter. Especially one who heard everyone say she was wasting her time trying to make it as anything other than a ring girl in the fight game, and who is hopefully loving the fact that they were so wrong.
I called Swayze up last night to talk about Alaska, being a woman in a man’s sport, and perfume in the octagon.
Fightland: I always want to draw this imaginary conclusion that because I know so many women from Alaska who fell for MMA and decided to run with it as a career, it’s because we’re somehow a tougher breed having been raised here. I don’t know if that’s true at all, but I like to think it is.
Swayze Valentine: It absolutely makes you tougher to grow up there. We had to face hardships that other people just don’t even know about. The seasons themselves can be really hard to get through and you just have to learn to deal with that. You have no other choice. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects so many people in the winter when it’s dark for so long, in the summer you have to put foil up over your windows just to get some sleep. I think that definitely leaves its mark on your personality. Of course it makes you tougher.
I know you worked one time as a ring girl for the Alaska Fighting Championship up here. I heard they only get paid in free tanning, or used to anyway.
I didn’t get paid anything to work that fight. Nothing. I was working with the Hooters girls and they told me that they could put in a good word for me at Hooters if I wanted a job there and then I’d get paid a hundred bucks to work the fights. And I was like, wow this is not for me.
What was it like to work your first UFC fight at UFC 170? And I’ve heard you’ll also be working UFC 171. You’ve got to be excited to work up close for that card.
I was only working as cutperson for the first fight on the undercard at UFC 170, which is fine of course, because I’m the new kid in town. This next time, in Dallas, I believe there will be 5 or 6 of us and we’ll divide the card up as evenly as possible between us to work at the cage, but even if I’m not working someone’s fight I may be wrapping his hands. I try to be as unbiased as possible now that I’m working in the UFC professionally, but yeah, it’s going to be awesome.
I know you had a bad experience with one of the coaches from Vegas inside the cage, but how has your experience been behind the scenes? Do you face any resistance there?
No, not really. I’ve been around now long enough that the fighters are familiar with me, even if they don’t know me personally they recognize me and know why I’m there and that I’m a person they can trust. I’m in and out of the locker rooms, fighters are getting ready in front of me and it really doesn’t matter. They’re far more concerned with other things at that point so it’s not weird. Before I started working professionally, I used to drive to many different MMA gyms to wrap hands and meet all the fighters I could because I knew that someday I’d be working with some of them on the biggest stage in the world.
We were talking around the house about if it would be a bad idea or not for you to wear perfume when you know you’ll have to be in and out of the cage, because it might distract the fighters.
I’ve never thought about it that way before, but I do actually make it a point to wear the same perfume every time I’m working because scent is such a powerful trigger. It can really take you back to a comfortable place, or have a calming effect when you smell something familiar like that. But, I don’t think it distracts the fighters, if they even notice at all.
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