Steve Sayegh, who's trained with the Farrows for the past 12 years and has had several high-profile fights, says that Farrow's always been rather motherly. "When you're part of this dojo, you're part of this family. There have been so many times when Michelle called in sick or left work early to be there for us," he says. "When she has vacation time, she puts it into the dojo."

Farrow plays dual roles: the ass-kicking trainer who throws around guys twice her size and the surrogate mother who dotes after injured fighters with a first aid kit. "I have true feelings for these boys," she says. "They're my kids and my family, everything all wrapped up into one. If they get hurt, it hurts me."

Though she's now ring mother to a stable of big male fighters, Farrow hasn't forgotten the role she played in women's MMA as one of the first female fighters, especially now that she sees the sport embracing the fairer sex. "I'm glad I was on the ground floor of it," Farrow says. "It sucks for me, because I didn't have the opportunities that these girls have, but I like to think that maybe they have those opportunities because I stuck with it all these years."

Championship medals for the Desert Quest grappling tournament.
Jamie Peachey
Championship medals for the Desert Quest grappling tournament.
Jamie Peachey

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.

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The story of the born prizefighter, destined to sacrifice everything for a music-and-montage-filled moment of shining glory, is not Michelle Farrow's story. She's won a dozen cage fights with flurries of fists, devastating chokeholds, and punishing joint locks known to snap ligaments. But she was supposed to be a ballerina.

"If you would've asked me when I was growing up if I ever thought I'd be doing something like this, I would have told you that you were crazy," Farrow says, cutting into a medium-rare steak at Black Angus.

It's a Tuesday evening, and she's in between her full-time day job as a computer programmer at American Express and her jiu-jitsu class at The American Martial Arts Center. The black summer dress with a bright floral pattern she's wearing now will be replaced by gym shorts and a sports bra in a few hours.

"I was a tomboy, but to be a professional fighter — to dedicate my life to fighting and teaching other people to fight and to make sure the sport continues and progresses — I would have never, ever thought my life would've been like that," she continues. "It's kind of crazy when I think about it. Sometimes I just scratch my head and go, 'How the heck did this happen?'"

Born in Chicago, Farrow says she moved to Phoenix with her "very strict, religious family" when she was 9. She was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. "I was one of those girls that was raised with the children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard thing," she says. "You're taught that as a woman, as a girl, men are dominant. The woman walks behind the man. That was the upbringing I had until I was about 13 or so, and then everything kind of changed."

Asked what caused the change, Farrow looks down and sighs. "When I was 13, my mother's boyfriend sexually assaulted me. My windpipe was crushed, I had broken ribs — it was brutal. So that got me out of the religion."

Already shy, Farrow says the assault made her even more withdrawn. "It honestly made me more afraid of everything and more self-conscious," she says. "Fighting changed everything. No man will ever hurt me again."

Farrow says the man who assaulted her was charged, convicted, and sentenced to 21 years to life. Farrow left home shortly afterward. She says she and her mother are estranged, and she doesn't really talk to her father very much. She considers her students her family.

When she was 14, Michelle met Dusty Farrow. He was four years older, and they were both cadets in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Explorer program. Designed for young people interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement, the program teaches kids stuff like how to file police reports and serve search warrants.

Essentially on her own and estranged from her family, Michelle married Dusty when she was only 16.

Dusty recalls that Michelle was shy. "When I met Michelle, she didn't fight," he says. "She didn't do anything like that."

Michelle was always athletic but found her options limited. "All the sports I wanted to do in high school — football, wrestling — women couldn't do. You could run track or do gymnastics, and I was all right at track, but gymnastics was a disaster. I'm too tall for the gymnastics," Farrow says.

"I wanted to be a ballerina, growing up," she adds with a laugh. "But that wasn't happening. I had the wrong body type, and I am not the most graceful person in the world — but on the mat, I kind of am. I kind of am."


Farrow was first drawn to mixed martial arts in 1993, when she watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first tournament on pay-per-view. The card included fighters from seven different disciplines in a no-holds-barred mash-up bash-up. The rules would change over the years as UFC events became sanctioned by state athletic commissions. But originally, there were no weight classes and very few rules. Gloves were not required, and matches could be incredibly violent.

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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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