SPORTS

The Queen of Spades finds fighting focus again after time away from cage

03/19/2015 11:30 EDT | Updated 05/19/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Some 11 years after making her pro debut as a fighter, UFC bantamweight Shayna (The Queen of Spades) Baszler was counselled to take some time off by longtime coach and mentor Josh Barnett.

A string of injuries and an August loss to Bethe Correira prompted the advice to decompress. The ultimate message from Barnett, a former UFC heavyweight champion and notorious free-thinker, was a reminder than "life is bigger than an Octagon."

When healthy, Baszler had spent plenty of time helping others prepare for their fights. A member of the so-called Four Horsewomen, Baszler works with UFC bantamweight champion (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey, fellow UFC fighter Jessamyn Duke and fledgling featherweight Marina Shafir.

"Everyone was really active, so I was always in the gym, always in the gym," Baszler said.

So the 34-year-old Baszler, a women's MMA trailblazer, looked for fun outside the cage.

While she still worked out, she also did some pro wrestling training, tried her hand as a stuntman and took some sniper instruction "just for no reason other than I'm interested in it."

Baszler (15-9) returns to action Saturday when she takes on ninth-ranked contender Amanda (The Lioness) Nunes on a televised UFC card in Rio de Janeiro.

A Brazilian fighting out of Miami, Nunes (9-4) is coming off a loss to Cat Zingano at UFC 178.

Demian Maia, ranked seventh among welterweight contenders, faces No. 14 Ryan LaFlare in Saturday's main event at Maracanazinho Gymnasium.

The time away seems to have worked. Baszler said she told Barnett on the eve of training camp that it was the first time in a while she had been fired up to go the gym.

"I feel comfortable, finally," she said. "I really believe the time off that Josh had me take really did some good."

If nothing else, Baszler has rediscovered her perspective. A fight is just a fight. Nothing more.

"Changing over to the UFC, I was trying to force myself to thinking like 'This was it, this is THE most important thing,'" she said.

"I think Josh helped me realize that fighting is an avenue to be able to do whatever I want."

The trip to Brazil is one such benefit. "It's a good stamp to add to the passport," Baszler said happily.

But the California-based fighter is no stranger to exotic locales. In 2007, she lost to Tara LaRose in a beachside ring in Costa Rica for a Bodog promotion.

"You could have jumped from the turnbuckle into the ocean. It was crazy," she recalled.

The fight before that, Baszler beat Roxanne Modafferi in Tokyo. Modafferi, who lived there, showed Baszler around Tokyo after the fight.

More than six years later, both would end up as cast members of Season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter." Taken first overall by coach Rousey, Baszler was submitted buy eventual winner Julianna Pena in the elimination round.

An ankle injury kept Baszler out of the live finale of the show, with a back injury further delaying her return to action.

In all, with the injuries and TV show, she went almost 20 months between fights.

Baszler, along with Rousey and the other Horsewomen, has a role in the upcoming "Entourage" movie. She is also in "The Orphan Killer 2" which she describes as a "horror, gore, like banned in nine countries type of slasher movie."

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