The klaxon sounds for the end of the round; both fighters go back to their assigned corners; cut, bruised and bloodied. In comes the coaching team to talk them through what is needed for the next round. It’s hectic and chaotic, but amidst all of this going on is a ‘cut person’ working ferociously to stop the bleeding of the cut fighter so that they can continue into the next round.
You can be forgiven for not noticing the person dressed all in black with names on the back of their uniforms such as “House”, “Stitch”, “Tenacity”, “Sheldon” and “Swayze” attending to the fighter, after all, they work quietly, quickly and efficiently without any hesitation; just doing their job whilst the coaching team are giving instructions to their fighter.
“There is no greater honour than to wrap the hands of these warriors.”
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Swayze Michelle-Nicole Valentine and her brother Richard, travelled all over the United States with her parents for their job as restaurant managers for Dunkin Donuts. This instilled the confidence, independence and good work ethic from a very early age to forge a career as the first (and currently only) female cut woman working for the UFC.
After going to her first live MMA event, Swayze asked the promoter if there were any positions available that she could do that did not involve fighting. The only position that was offered to her was that of a ‘Ring Girl’. Swayze accepted the offer so she could at least see if there was something else in the industry that would be of more interest to her.
“On fight day, I was walking out of my dressing room to the cage and saw ‘people’ wrapping the fighter’s hands. I knew right then, that was what I wanted to do. There is no greater honour than to wrap the hands of these warriors,” Swayze fondly recalls of her first memories of the live event she was part of. “It just hit me like a rush. I felt it chose me. I later found out that the people that were taking care of the fighter’s in the cage, were ‘Cutmen’ I knew at that moment, that was what I wanted to do.”
Although starting her chosen career 15 years ago, it has not been an easy road. Having to overcome many hurdles in the male-dominated industry, acceptance and adversity were one of the biggest challenges. The rewards far outweigh any of the negativity that Swayze has had, and, still endures to this day in this forever evolving sport. There were cases of low acceptance, criticism from coaches and corners, so much so that some coaches did not want Swayze to wrap their fighters’ hands or grease them.
“I understand the coaches’ protection over their fighter. They have a very close bond with them. I also understood many of the petty things that went on a lot more,” said Swayze. She recalls of her early days, “I had this ridiculous drive inside me. There were times when I wanted to quit. It got bad, but there was always that gut feeling to keep going, so I did.”
“I knew that this is what I wanted to do, so I set about travelling hundreds of miles a day to gain experience in a gym wrapping fighters’ hands. I travelled to different gyms all over the US, not only so that I could learn the craft, but also to create professional working relationships with anyone I could in the industry. I later met Adrian ‘Tenacity’ Rosenbusch who would be my future mentor, and he taught me the ‘Cut’ side of the industry. He took me under his wing for two years. I never stopped travelling and working events. Every show I worked, I worked free. It did not matter; I was thrilled to be doing what I loved and was able to grow with the fighters. I never knew for sure if it would actually pay off and move from a hobby to a career. I just had a feeling, a deep feeling, to never give up no matter what,” said Swayze.
Swayze held a great pedigree in her CV even before she was approached by the UFC, having worked with promotions such as Invicta, Bellator, World Series of Fighting, and King of the Cage. She was already making a good name for herself in the male-dominated sport.
Having made her first appearance with the UFC five years ago at UFC 170: Rousey vs McMann, “The Queen of Cuts” (a name given to her by Jacob “Stitch” Duran), Swayze goes on to say, “I was nervous all the way up to fight day. When I arrived in the arena, my nerves left, and the excitement took over. I was in a familiar situation, and it felt like home. I knew what I had to do and what my responsibilities were. I focused on taking care of business. The UFC were so supportive.”
“Being a Cut woman, I get to wrap the hands of these incredible athletes in a sport that many don’t understand. I get to take care of them when they need me the most. I get them to the next round. I am so glad that my presence can calm a fighter in the middle of battle.”
Since working for the world’s largest promotion, UFC, the single mum to two boys knows that she is being scrutinized 100 times more than ever, with every inch of her work being watched all over the world, however, Swayze takes it all in her stride.
“I have to be 150% better than anyone else. The pressure is magnified tenfold. I like it that way though. It keeps me on my toes, and it is always exciting. I turn the pressure and stress into drive, and into a positive. I let it push me past all my insecurities and personal fears. I thrive on being in a stressful environment, I’m better, faster, and I’m stronger,” said Swayze.
Whilst not on rotation for her UFC duties, and whilst working full time in a post office, Swayze was asked to make her acting debut in the U.S. hit MMA show ‘Kingdom’ by season 2 winner of The Ultimate Fighter Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, who also appears in the show. ‘Kingdom’ also features stars, Frank Grillo (who played the MMA trainer in the film ‘Warrior’ alongside Tom Hardy), Jonathan Tucker, Nick Jonas and Natalie Martinez. The show also has featured guest appearances from UFC fighters Cub Swanson, Heather Jo-Clark and UFC referee Mike Beltran (formally of King of the Cage).
“I play myself, which is the easiest character to play since I have no acting experience. Although I am doing the same things with the fighter as I do in my real job it’s different because you can’t talk, so when the fighters are bouncing around I can’t tell them to stop or tell them to close their eyes when I grease them,” said Swayze. “Also, it is all acting as I don’t actually apply grease to them nor do I actually fix a cut. It is so much fun and less stressful because if you don’t get it right, you get to do it again.”
Looking back over her five-year career with UFC so far, there have been so many moments that have even exceeded Swayze’s expectations, although this is exactly what she has worked hard to achieve over the past 15 years.
“My first UFC event is a personal highlight of mine along with when fighters request me to wrap their hands or be in their corner, like when Joanna Jedrzejczyk requests for me to wrap her hands because she says I am good luck for her. Another exciting highlight would have to be when I wrapped Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor’s hands for an episode of ‘Embedded’.”
Being the UFC’s first female ‘Cut Woman’ and making history herself, Swayze added, “I feel accomplished. Most importantly, I hope that I have inspired my children and others to follow their dreams, with hard work and dedication, you truly can achieve anything.”
“It is a privilege to work with fighters on the most famous stage in the world, and to work with a promotion, the UFC, that shares the same value and importance of fighter safety, is incredible,” said Swayze. She gets to do what she loves and very few people get to do what they love. “I feel so fortunate to have even known what it is I wanted to do.”
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