Pictured: Shayna Baszler. Photo by Esther Lin via Invicta FC
Shayna Baszler has been around the block.
The "Queen of Spades" is a catch wrestler who really turned the corner in her career after teaming up with Josh Barnett to learn some of "The Warmaster's" submission secrets.
In doing so, she has become one of the most lethal and diverse submission experts in all of mixed martial arts.
Baszler has won 13 of her 14 career fights via submission and she's pulled off everything from the first twister in female MMA history to her own variation of an arm attack she named after herself.
Unfortunately, with those elite skills also comes the very real possibility that opponents won't want to face her. She's had a major difficulty finding fights in the past year, having at least three bouts cancelled when an opponent backed out.
Baszler spoke with MMAmania.com recently about how she's spent her significant time off, being a role model for the next generation of female fighters and what she needs to do to be the first to defeat McMann this Saturday night.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well let's get started with the most obvious question. You've been away from fighting for about 20 months now. What is something that you missed the most in your time off?
Shayna Baszler: Really, it's the thrill of competition that I missed the most. I'm doing stuff every day. I'm in the gym sparring the guys every day but it's not the same you know what I mean? I like the thrill and that feeling of not knowing what to expect. A lot of times when you're training with people, matches turn into the same match. People that have trained know what I'm talking about. You end up in the same positions against the same people or something which is good and bad. It forces you to open your game up and try new things but at the same time, there's nothing like competing. You can train all day long but there's nothing like competing.
I played every sport under the sun and there's nothing like fighting. It's just thrill that you can't get anywhere else.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I read that you spent some of your time off to pursue some extra education and then you had some fights fall apart as well. Can you talk about what you've been up to these past 20 months or so?
Shayna Baszler: Yeah, I did get my EMT license. I finished that and I had to do that upgrade my superhero skills. I can already beat up villains and the only thing left was to save innocent lives. Now I have all that covered for when I'm done. I can be a superhero.
Other than that, we tried a couple times when I was done with school to get some fights and they just all fell through. For one reason or another, it just wasn't working out. It was super frustrating but on that same coin, it's at least kept me active. I've been through three separate fight camps during that time without ever having a fight so I wasn't sedentary and like, "Oh man, I let my weight get out of control. I'm so out of shape!" My body's still used to doing all this stuff so in a way it was good. I'm back now and I'm just a better superhero is all.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk your upcoming main event against Sara McMann. This is a parallel that I've kind of noticed. You're a disciple of Josh Barnett, who's a catch wrestler, and his most recent fight was against an Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier. You're going to be doing a very similar thing with your catch wrestling and jiu-jitsu against an Olympic medal-winning wrestler in Sara McMann. Do you draw a comparison at all between your fight against Sara and Josh's against Daniel?
Shayna Baszler: Well, the greatest thing about this is that the blueprint has already been written for me. Yeah, it didn't go Josh's way that night and I think there's a lot of differences and a lot of similarities so not all of it transfers over but as far as the gameplan, whether or not that worked out for Josh or whatever, it's been written for me already. This isn't new. My coach knows what's going on. My coach has done catch wrestling for a wrestler so I have that map already laid out for me. It makes it easy for me.
I think that's another reason why this fight camp has been so awesome for me is because everything has been laid out for me. There's really been nothing I've had to figure out. Even my programming outside of technique work, like my strength and conditioning, everything has been laid out for me. I just show up and do whatever everyone says. I know that's what everyone is supposed to do but that's not how I've done it in the past and I haven't had to figure everything out. It's great.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've heard you say that in multiple interviews that this was the best you've felt ever and this was the best camp you've had. You've even admitted it's cliche but it's really how you feel. What is something that's really specifically different that's making this so much better?
Shayna Baszler: I think it's two things. One, I touched on where everything is programmed and laid out for me and everyone is working for me. I have all my coaches doing specific things on Monday, Tuesday et cetera.
The other thing is that I'm at a point in my career where there's nothing that flusters me anymore. It's just a fight. Early in my career, when working with Josh, I was really worked up about a fight and he said that to me, "I don't know why people get like that. It's just a fight." Really, that's it. Most of the girls that fight nowadays played other sports. They understand that feeling where you're not able to sleep with an event coming up because they're excited to do it.
Somewhere, in our culture, because fighting not in competition is so taboo, it's not seen as another competition but that's how I'm treating it now. It's just another game. Somewhere, I figured out that it's just a fight. That's the biggest thing. I'm old and crockety and mature now. Maybe my relaxed mentality about it. It's just about beating the crap out of someone, it's not that big of a deal.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you think of the development of Sara's ground skills in recent fights?
Shayna Baszler: Well obviously, people talk about how we've grappled each other a couple times in the past but that was a million years ago. I tapped her out back then and clearly she's learned from being caught in the position. Everyone who's had experience grappling has been there when a wrestler comes in and you catch them in the same couple things like a guillotine or a triangle. That's pretty mcuh what happens.
She's clearly learned to defend that stuff because she hasn't been caught since but I think at the same time, that's not all that I have to offer. I didn't get to see her recent grappling match but we've taken a look at some film and seen some tendencies and whatnot. I just think I have a deeper playbook than anybody she's ever grappled or fought so I think that's the biggest thing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're main eventing this show. Do you see yourself as a role model for some of the ladies that are getting in this sport?
Shayna Baszler: Yeah it's funny that you say that. I remember when I was on my way up and people were talking about me making waves and it wasn't until really the last Invicta show when I had girls come up to me and saying, "I used to watch you fight!" and I'm like, "Holy smokes, I'm one of the old vets now."
It's kind of crazy because I still feel young plus I'm Asian and "Ais don't age" (laughs) so I'm really young at heart. If anybody knows me in real life, I'm like a child. I play with toys and video games and like to goof off and whatnot. It's weird to think that I think back to when I first started and the girls that were back on the seen then, there aren't many of the "old school" fighters left. There's Rosie Sexton and Tara LaRosa and really that's about it out of the old guard. Wer'e the last of the old guard and it's kind of weird to think about that there are gonna be girls fighting on the prelims of the show that have nostalgia with my fights. It's weird.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that nothing compared to fighting. Why is it that out of everything you've tried, nothing compared to fighting another person?
Shayna Baszler: It's because it's so real. You can't fake it when you get in there. An example I have is I worked at the roller derby team here and one of my really good friends helped start the league here and she does like crazy marathon running. She does that stuff and I remember when she started working out with me. We had a deal that if she trained and did one amateur fight, I would train and do one half marathon. I shook on this deal. She never cashed in and her deal was, "You hate running, you're gonna hate this," but my response was always, "I can fake it in a half marathon. It doesn't matter if I come in last, I finished a half marathon and everyone's so happy that I ran 13.5 miles."
You can't fake it in a fight. It's all real. It's all stripped down. I come from the Josh Barnett school of entertainment. I like to be "The Queen of Spades" and this funny character but you know, when I get in the ring, none of that matters. All of that goes away and it's the real deal. I love it. It's really personal and a lot of my best close relationships are with people that I fought because there's some kind of connection you get when you're bearing it all, naked so to speak, and it's just real and raw.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you have any superstitions or a pre-fight ritual that you have to do before a fight?
Shayna Baszler: (laughs) Well, it's kind of become this superstition that I have to have the Mark of Khorne. I don't know if any of your readers follow Warhammer 40k but it's a really nerdy and awesomely badass thing. I'll try to sum it up in a nutshell but it's like the year 40,000 and there's all these space marines trying to take over the universe from the emperer and there's the bad guys that worship these four gods and Khorne is the most badass of the gods. He's the bloody god. All of the followers of Khorne are berzerko and they just go crazy and shed blood for the blood god and go in and beat people up. They like hand-to-hand stuff because the more blood shed, the better.
So because of that, I always put the Mark of Khorne on my outfit. It's not like I'm some crazy human that actually worships some invented god like Khorne or something like that but it's just something I started. Actually, Josh did it on one of my outfits and my fight career started turning around once I started working with Josh so it's kinda just been this superstition to have it on there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you picture victory against Sara McMann, what do you see?
Shayna Baszler: I don't know if this is the way you want me to answer, but I really don't think, in every spot I can be in that fight, there's not a place that I don't have an answer to. The thing about my style that suits that mentality really well is I'm a finisher. I'm a finisher with submissions that people don't see coming.
It's not like I'm setting up and armbar and the only way I can win is by armbar. Not to bag on Ronda Rousey, but that's not my game. My game is, all of a sudden you're tapping and you don't even know why. You don't know how you got there and you don't know why. What's awesome about that is someone like Sara, who generally grinds people out, outworks them and wins decisions is, that gameplan has to work consistently throughout the whole fight.
If my first thing doesn't work, if I fail and fail and fail and it doesn't work and doesn't work and doesn't work, all I need is one thing to work once. That's it and then the whole fight is one. I'm confident in my ability to keep pulling stuff out of my playbook. The next thing is going to work and it only has to work once.
Shayna would like to thank Next Edge Academy, CSW, her coaches Bruce Hoyer and Josh Barnett. A huge help and if you are a fan of the way she grapples, those two are a big reason of why she grapples that way. She'd also like to thank Punch Drunk Gamer, Horsepower Strength and Conditioning. You can follow her on Twitter @QoSBaszler.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Baszler's experience and finishing instincts be enough to hand Sara McMann her first professional defeat? What are you expecting in the Invicta FC 2 main event on Saturday night?