Woman Finds Niche – With Shirt On

She grew up in those little fishing villages on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula — towns with names such as Homer and Seward and Soldotna. So when Swayze Valentine heard the roar of the mixed martial arts crowd in Anchorage one night, because MMA is everywhere except New York these days, she said it was just about the loudest thing she’d ever heard. If you don’t count a Kodiak bear with a toothache.

It must have sounded like a big chunk of glacier falling into an icy bay. Or like about six of those seaplanes with pontoons mounted to the fuselage you often see in those search-and-rescue documentaries about Alaska.

So when Swayze Valentine heard the roar of the crowd, she knew she wanted to be part of it. She sought out the promoters. The promoters took one look at her — one long look at her — and said, sure, you can be part of it, honey. They said Swayze could be a ring girl.

I neglected to mention that Swayze also is a stone-cold fox, though not as cold as those Arctic foxes that are indigenous to the Aleutian Islands. She does, however, have a page dedicated to her winsomeness on the Babes of MMA website.

And so she was a ring girl. Once.

Swayze Valentine from the small fishing villages on the southern peninsula of Alaska said as much as she wanted to be part of the MMA scene, it was all about the scene for her. It was not about being seen. At least not being seen like that.

She wondered if she could become a smaller part of the MMA scene if she learned how to tape the fighters’ hands. So she learned how to tape hands in the gyms up there, in the daylight of early morning, and also late at night, when it still was daylight. And when she was home, she practiced by taping the hands of Landon and Kason, her little boys.

But she also wanted to be closer to the action, if possible. And to keep her shirt on. So she decided to become a cut man. Or cut woman. Or cut person.

She reached out to the noted cut man Jacob Duran, whose nickname is “Stitch.” If one wants to learn the ins and outs of the cut-man business, having a guy who answers to Stitch in your corner isn’t such a bad idea.

So now Swayze Valentine is the only female cut man in MMA — at least that’s what the people from the various sanctioning bodies have told her — and now she spends a lot of her time in Las Vegas, in a cage, which is how she will spend Friday night at the World Series of Fighting show at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Last Friday, when she told me her story on the telephone, she was in Kansas City, Mo. When I asked if she was going to have burnt ends for lunch at the original Arthur Bryant’s, the one not far from 12th Street and Vine, she said the card actually was at Fort Riley, at an Army installation between Junction City and Manhattan, Kan., in Geary and Riley counties.

Sometimes when you are just starting out as a female cut man, you have to work the smaller shows for $250, the ones in armories instead of gardens that are square. At least Friday’s main event is being televised by NBC Sports Network, and backstage at the Hard Rock won’t smell of an old Army boot.

But I have to be honest here: I don’t know much about what it takes to become a top-flight cut man in the fight game. First thought: If one knows how to stop a cut on a fighter’s face from bleeding a lot, that might be one of the prerequisites.

If memory serves, a guy named Chuck Bodak was a good cut man. And the guy who tended to Jerry Quarry probably was pretty good. But most people wouldn’t know a good cut man if they passed one on the street. Unless he answered to “Stitch,” in which case you might make the connection.

So I really don’t know if the first cut is the deepest, like Cat Stevens said, or how you would stop it from bleeding, in any case. But I have respect for Swayze Valentine, if for no other reason than when she heard the roar and wanted to become part of the visceral circus that is MMA fighting, she didn’t take … well, a shortcut.

No offense to the fighters, but she’ll be the prettiest one in the cage Friday. She’ll be the one with the rubber gloves and the enswell and the dream of moving up to the UFC some day. She’ll also be wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at [email protected] or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.