Once labeled "human cockfighting" by John McCain (he prefers straight-up boxing) and banned in many states, MMA is now embraced by a wider audience. National fights are featured on TV networks like Spike and Showtime, and the largest MMA promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, drew more than $200 million in revenue in 2006.

The popularity of the sport has spread, and Arizona, in particular, has become a hub of MMA activity. Roland Sarria launched his Rage in the Cage competitions 10 years ago, and he's managed to fill more than 8,000 seats at venues like Dodge Theatre. And in the past year, two major national MMA names — Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie — have opened training facilities in the Valley.

Michelle Farrow tapes up one of her fighters before a match.
Jamie Peachey
Michelle Farrow tapes up one of her fighters before a match.
Farrow executes a judo throw.
Jamie Peachey
Farrow executes a judo throw.

Details

Rage in the Cage 117, the special 10-year anniversary megashow, is scheduled to take place Saturday, November 8, at the U.S. Airways Center.

See more images from our cover shoot, and video of Michelle Farrow in action in 2001, here.

Politicians have taken note. In April, Governor Janet Napolitano signed into law a measure that relaxes rules for MMA competitions in Arizona, allowing closed fist strikes and knees to the head. With the new rules and so many fight schools taking root in the Valley, promoters are banking on Phoenix to be the next MMA boon, and female fighters are finally getting some of the spotlight.

Women's MMA has grown since Michelle Farrow first stepped in the cage. There are now hundreds of female fighters across the world, and a handful of fan sites like www.fightergirls.com and www.mmawoman.com. Events such as the Fatal Femmes Fighting Championship and Hook 'n' Shoot feature women's fights, and — up until the company ceased operations on October 20 — EliteXC was putting women's fights on the main card. And the sport now has a marketable face and bona fide star in Muay Thai kickboxer Gina Carano, who appears as "Crush" on American Gladiators and is regularly a top Google image search. She's also a tenacious fighter with a solid MMA record of 7-0.

But even Carano, hailed by EliteXC as "the face of women's MMA," doesn't make the kind of money a man fighting in a main event earns. At the EliteXC: Heat event in Florida on October 4, the promotion's shining star, Kimbo Slice, stepped into the ring and lost to a virtually unknown fighter named Seth Petruzelli in 14 seconds of the first round. Many critics cite this fight (and Petruzelli's comments insinuating he was offered bonus money to keep the fight off the mat) as one of the reasons EliteXC plans to file for bankruptcy protection. For his lackluster performance, Slice was paid $500,000. By contrast, Carano fought three full rounds, won by unanimous decision, and was paid $35,000.

The rise of women's MMA is a stinging success for Farrow. With a career MMA record of 12-3 and numerous judo, jiu-jitsu, and grappling championships to her name, she could still fight if she insisted. But her prime passed in the dark days of women's MMA, before there were weight classes, rules, and paychecks. Farrow fought when women had to pay for all their pre-fight medical expenses out of pocket, as well as hunt and beg for fights that often fell through and, if they didn't fall through, hope that the promoter would at least reimburse their travel expenses.

Michelle Farrow obviously didn't get into the sport for the fame and money. She got into it because, quite simply, she discovered she could whup some major ass. And she might be away from the ring, but nothing — be it a broken nose or a broken marriage — can keep her away from the dojo.

On a warm Thursday night in October at The American Martial Arts Center, Farrow's leading a team of 13 students through a half-hour of warm-up drills that include several laps around the dojo, full-body stretches, balancing exercises, squats, lunges, and falling techniques. "The most important thing to remember when you're on the mat is don't lay flat on your back," she tells the students. "One of the credos of jiu-jitsu is 'minimum effort, maximum efficiency.' Control your posture, control the movement."

If there were a credo for MMA, in general, it would be "Just whup some ass." The sport combines a wide variety of martial arts disciplines — the strikes of karate and kickboxing with the submission holds of jiu-jitsu, the wrestling skills of grappling, and the throws of judo.

Farrow and her ex-husband, Dusty, know all these skills. They've owned The American Martial Arts Center for five years, and they've been competing in MMA competitions for 12 years. Tonight's class is all about cage fight techniques, though Farrow takes a moment out to nurse one of her fighters, Eric "Shortbus" Regan, when he takes a hit in the eye while sparring.

"Come on and let me look at it," Farrow tells him, leading him into the bathroom and examining his eye. "Boy, how did you do this?" She asks, swabbing under his eye with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab (turns out he fell face-first onto the mat while wrestling). She then grabs what boxers call "fake skin" (a blister medicine called Compeed) and applies it under his eye. Regan whimpers. "Oh, don't be a baby," Farrow teases him. "You're gonna be fine. It's just a scrape. I could fix this with nail polish."

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2 comments
stephen Sears
stephen Sears

Hello Michelle /Lougie/Geno/Joney Say Hello

You Are Always Welcome to do siminar in North Thailand You will Be secured by special agencies. If you are serious to go to Thailand welcoms you 006-53-43-62-07 homeCALL YOU ARE WELCOME ANY TIME

Gilbert
Gilbert

I love Michelle like a mother! As one of her students and friends I admire and respect her. This article put my view of her on a whole new level though!

 
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