Rosi Sexton nearly gave up fighting for good until the UFC came calling. (Source: Combatsportsclinic.com)
Retirement is a vastly different concept when you're 35 than it is when you're 65 and have worked for a lifetime.
But a retirement of sorts was beckoning for Britain's Rosi Sexton. Her part-time career as a mixed martial arts fighter had been fulfilling, but it was also extremely costly. She'd been a pro for more than 10 years and the purse money was almost non-existent, almost never enough to cover even her training expenses.
She knew she had to think of her seven-year-old son's education and begin to save money for his college days.
Plus, she was just tired of facing fighters she suspected were using anabolic steroids or some other kind of performance-enhancing drug.
She was doing what she loved, and that was fulfilling in and of itself, but it left her confronting a stack of issues.
The word retirement never crossed her lips, but last fall, after a bout with Sheila Gaff fell apart following an injury to Gaff, Sexton had effectively retired as a fighter.
She told friends that unless something interesting came along, she probably wouldn't fight again.
"Fighting is what I dreamed of doing, and I loved it," Sexton said. "But there comes a time at some point when it's over. I thought I'd probably gotten to that point."
Had she been done, she could walk away from the game pleased with what she'd accomplished. She'd won 13 of her 15 fights, losing only in 2006 to a vastly bigger Gina Carano and in 2010 to the talented Zoila Gurgel when she'd made a mistake, tucked her head and caught a knee to the face.
Other than that, it was all wins for the self-described nerdy kid who attended Cambridge, and who wound up earning more college degrees than some people have shoes.
She quickly accepted and found herself on the main card for the pay-per-view show on Saturday at the sold-out MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
"When I think about the way this all came together, sometimes it's difficult to believe myself that I'm here," Sexton told Yahoo! Sports three days away from what will be unquestionably the most significant fight of her life.
Never did Sexton expect to compete in the UFC. When she began taking MMA classes in 2000, it was considered by many to be barbaric for men. It was virtually unheard of at the time for women to fight in MMA.
She was offered her first bout with less than 24 hours notice, and only took it because there were so few women's matches that she knew it could be months before she got another opportunity if she declined.
Sexton, who was born in France and raised in England, is an osteopath with a regular practice in Manchester.
She's got a math degree from Cambridge and earned a doctorate in theoretical computer science from Manchester University, in addition to her degree in osteopathy which she got at Oxford Brookes University.
For years, she hid her fight career from her family. They knew she'd been involved in martial arts classes. But one day, a family member did an Internet search for her and was shocked by the results.
"They knew I was doing martial arts competitions at a local level, so I told them when I had a fight that I had a martial arts competition coming up," she said. "But I didn't tell them exactly what I was doing. One day, they looked me up on [the Internet] and it was kind of eye-opening for them."
She'd taken taekwondo classes when she was 14, and took various other forms of martial arts as she aged. But it wasn't until 1999, when she was 22 and saw a documentary on MMA, that she became interested in it.
She was fascinated by what she'd seen, and had a feeling deep in her gut that she'd never be able to rest if she didn't take a fight just to experience it once in her life. What she didn't know was that documentary would lead her to a lifelong love affair with a sport that didn't exist when she was born.
"MMA fighters come from all different backgrounds, and a lot of people seem to find my background unique," she said. "I don't fit the stereotype of what people expect a fighter will be like, and when people discover that I'm a fighter, they're curious to learn more."
Their curiosity gives Sexton the opportunity to laud the sport she's loved for more than a third of her life. It's not the brutal and out-of-control bloodbath that the sport's critics try to portray it to be, she said.
It's actually the precision required that so attracted her to it.
"I've always loved the challenge of this sport," she said. "MMA is one of the most technical sports in the world. On a physical level, on a technical level, on a mental, psychological level, it's one of the most challenging sports out there."
In addition to all her other skills, Sexton is a gifted writer. She has written eloquently about her experiences in the sport on her blog. She's discussed overcoming fear, her unlikely route to the UFC, her thoughts on transgender athlete Fallon Fox fighting as a woman and more.
It's been a great outlet for her, and has not only provoked a solid discourse on pertinent issues, but given her fans an insight into the mind of a very intelligent fighter.
But she's never had the pulpit like she's had since she signed with the UFC, and she's unexpectedly been one of the most in-demand fighters on the card.
Mostly, she's thankful for the opportunity to advance the women's version of the sport that she has loved with so little reward for so long.
It's been only five months since women were fighting in the UFC. That is still a big deal to the females who have been traveling the world in search of an opportunity.
"The women who are fighting now, we're very aware that this is a very big deal for women's MMA and for women in sport, generally," she said. "For a long time, nobody knew whether or when it would happen. Now that it has happened, there is a lot of excitement around it.
"One thing I'm seeing is, there are a lot of women who are just starting out and just getting involved in the sport. In the next three or four years, we're going to see an explosion of talent in the women's division. Whatever small role I can have in helping this sport, I'm grateful for and excited to do my part."
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