First MMA cutwoman's journey was long -- and it started as a ring card girl
Swayze Valentine attended her first MMA event in 2006 and fell in love. It was a small show in her native Alaska, but there was something about the atmosphere that infatuated her.
"I loved it," Valentine told FOX Sports. "I knew from that day that I wanted to be a part of that industry somehow. I had no idea what I wanted to do."
Valentine approached the promoter that night and asked how she could possibly break into the world of mixed martial arts. He took one look at the pretty blonde and said, "Why don't you be a ring girl?"
That's definitely not what she had in mind, but Valentine wanted to get her foot in the door somehow. So she did it. The next event she tied on a bikini and strutted her stuff for the crowd.
Valentine, 28, is embarrassed about that night now. On Saturday, she became the first ever woman to work as a cutman (cutwoman?) at a UFC event. She jokes that she still has the DVD of her first job in MMA -- "it's locked away in a vault somewhere."
That first gig wasn't all that bad, because the moment she walked out in front of the crowd she discovered the thing she really wanted to be doing -- wrapping hands and treating cuts.
"There's no greater honor in my opinion than wrapping the hands of a fighter," Valentine said.
The road from that night in 2006 has been a long one. After three years of focusing on her main priority of motherhood (Valentine has two kids), she contacted famous UFC cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran for advice. Duran told her to find boxing, Muay Thai and MMA gyms in her area, go to them and wrap as many hands as she possibly could.
Just like when the promoter asked her to be a ring card girl, Valentine listened. She watched as many UFC fights as she could and researched wrapping hands on YouTube. For the next few years, she was a mainstay at local gyms wrapping hands and she also traveled to Las Vegas regularly to wrap hands at Xtreme Couture.
That's where she met Adrian Rosenbusch, who became her mentor. Rosenbusch helped her master wrapping hands starting in 2011 and also taught her the cut side of the game. She went to amateur shows and watched Rosenbusch do his thing, trying to absorb all the knowledge she could.
In between, she had moved to Idaho from Alaska and then on with her two children to Washington State after getting divorced from her husband. The two boys -- now 4 1/2 and 6 -- would stay with her parents in Washington while she traveled to Vegas regularly.
Her family has always been supportive, Valentine said, but there were times her parents had doubts. She was a single mother and not making a dime from being an amateur cutwoman.
"They would sit me down and tell me, 'You're not making any money, how long are you gonna let this go and have it not be paying off financially?'" Valentine said.
Those thoughts entered her head, too, but she refused to lose her focus. She didn't even want to get a part-time job, because it would take time away from her dream job.
Then there were the struggles of being a woman in a man's sport. Valentine said she has been physically assaulted by a manager, not let in the cage by security guards and banished from dressing rooms by fighters.
"I've kind of been through it all," she said. "I just had to shrug it off and keep going."
It's all finally paying off now. Valentine became a licensed pro last year, doing shows for World Series of Fighting, Bellator and Invicta FC. Then last month, she got the call she's been fantasizing about for years. The UFC asked her to work UFC 170 in Las Vegas.
Valentine worked just the first fight on the UFC Fight Pass prelims, taking care of Ernest Chavez, who defeated Yosdenis Cedeno. But for her it was the thrill of a lifetime. She did well enough that the UFC hired again for UFC 171 in Dallas on March 15.
"Of course, I was just on top of the world," Valentine said. "It's just incredible. I had a great time. It was such a privilege to work with the UFC and those fighters. I can't thank them enough."
This has been a full-time job for Valentine for years, but now she's finally being compensated for it. MMA is her life. She wraps her two boys' hands and they play-fight -- what they call "knuckles" -- and then she takes care of their imaginary cuts.
Valentine is hoping for a long career with the UFC, much like cutmen like Duran. It has been an eight-year journey to where she is now and she doesn't plan on stopping any time soon.
"This is gonna sound so corny, but it's so true," Valentine said. "It's everything I hoped for and more. It's a dream come true in every sense of the phrase."