Inside a cage, three rounds can be an eternity. A war of attrition. A marathon.
But it’s just the opposite, too, as Rachael Swatez has come to learn.
“You put so much blood and sweat into everything,” she said. “That fight is really short compared to a couple months training for it.”
And it’s really short compared to the months, or years, just trying to find a fight.
The 24-year-old Swatez is finally active again after spending two years on the outside of the cage looking in. Sometimes fights fell through, but the main reason Swatez wasn’t fighting was because she’s a woman.
“It’s been frustrating for her, and [that’s] understandable,” said John Punt, Nanaimo Impact MMA trainer. “The girl fights just aren’t coming up. The promoters don’t seem to want to promote them, pay them, for whatever reason.”
The thing is, fans of the sport seem to embrace the female division. In Swatez’s experience, the crowds are every bit as loud when the women take their turn in the cage.
“When we do get in there, there’s a lot more to prove,” she said.
That has to factor into the game plan of any female fighter.
“This can’t be boring,” Swatez tells herself in the cage. “This can’t be a bad fight, because I’m not going to get another one for who knows how long?”
She made her longed-for return a month ago at Conquest of the Cage in Airway Heights, Wash. Fighting Spokane’s Elizabeth Phillips, Swatez was TKO’d by strikes in the third round.
“We just threw down really hard,” she said. “The bell rang; we both threw punches to try to knock each other out.”
There’s nothing like a flurry of fists to take the rust off. The feel of a real fight came right back to Swatez, which was important. She’s a veteran, but Punt said experience doesn’t mean as much after such a long layoff.
So Swatez proved some things to herself over three rounds.
“I could tell I’d been in a fight; I got punched a whole bunch, but fitness-wise, I felt really good…” she said. I felt a lot stronger and technically I’ve improved in a lot of different ways and tightened a few things up so it was nice to see that and test that out.”
Another challenge looms this Friday (March 28) at Unified MMA in Edmonton, where she’ll face Calgary’s Kris Pomerleau. The 5-foot-4 Swatez will give up a lot of reach to her 5-foot-10 foe, and will try to force her way inside and make her opponent uncomfortable.
“I want her to press forward, engage, and stay there,” said Punt.
He wants to squeeze aggression out of Swatez when it isn’t a major part of her makeup. The Vancouver Island University grad considers herself mild-mannered; she’s never been in a fight outside a cage and people are always surprised to find out she’s a fighter.
That’s what she needs to prove, over and over – that she’s a fighter. That’s what all female MMA athletes need to prove, whether they like it or not, in a male-dominated sport.
Swatez had to punch teammates in the face at practice to gain acceptance. She’ll need to punch MMA crowds in the face, figuratively, to gain attention and to achieve her goals.
Swatez, at last, has found some fights. The rest is up to her.
“Push comes to shove in that cage, it’s you,” she said. “That outcome’s on you.”