Posted June 26, 2015 by Melanie Gale in Interview

A Cut Above: Swayze Valentine, the UFC’s First Cutwoman

You’ve seen fighters bob and dance to the beat of their walkout song as they strut to the cage. But have you ever wondered about the man in black who stops fighters before their climb into the cage and smears petroleum jelly on their faces? They are the same folks in black who dash into the cage between rounds, quickly patching up fighters so they can try to make it through five more minutes.

They are cutmen. A mix of EMT, temporary best friend, and magician.

And now, thanks to one woman shattering the glass Octagon, there’s also a cutwoman.

Swayze Valentine, who, hands down, has the coolest name in MMA, understands the struggle women fighters have faced breaking into the UFC, because she’s faced many of the same struggles.

WomensMMA was honored to chat with “The Queen of Cuts” about her ground-breaking path to the Octagon, as well as some of the ins and outs of her esoteric trade.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. Could you tell us what your work swayze4background was pre-cutwoman, and what made you decide this was the trade you were meant to do?

Being a cutwoman is far from a traditional choice. I have always loved the medical field. I was a certified EMT1 years ago, but there is no necessary medical background needed to be a cutwoman. I was working at Petco as an Animal Specialist when I started practicing the trade.

I have always loved the sport! It is the only sport I like actually {laughs}. Having a passion for the sport gave me the drive to want to be a part of it. For me personally, there is no greater honor than wrapping fighters’ hands and taking care of them. By nature, I’m a nurturer. I like to take care of people. I also work best in a stressful, intense, fast-paced environment, so this career fits me perfectly.

What have been the hurdles in making it in the field, both generally and specifically because you’re a woman?

This journey was a struggle mentally, physically, and financially. Similar to a fighter, there is no monetary compensation until you prove yourself and gain people’s trust, and that can take years to earn. I traveled all over the US working for free. Many times I had to donate plasma or pawn things to get gas and plane ticket money to travel. Most times I didn’t even eat when I traveled, because I only had enough for the ticket itself. I had to be away from my kids. I would leave broke and come home broke. There were times I thought I should quit.

After a few years of being an amateur, I got my first paying gig with WSOF. I was thrilled! Once I hit pro, I worked even harder.

But being with larger promotions, like the UFC, there are a whole new set of challenges. To the public, being the only cutwoman, I am under a microscope. Some are waiting for me to make a mistake. So for me, I HAVE to be my absolute best at ALL times. There is no room for me to make a mistake. I have to work four times as hard as the others. You have to have thick skin in this industry or you will get eaten alive. I like it that way, it keeps me sharp!

I have dealt with a lot of adversity. I have been physically assaulted in the cage by a coach because he didn’t want me to touch his fighter. I have had camps not want me to wrap their fighters. I have been cursed at saying this is a man’s job. I have had people tell me to my face I will never make it. I have dealt with a little bit of everything. It is all worth it. These challenges made me such a stronger person. I can handle anything. I am thankful that I have gained enough respect in the sport, the obstacles are fewer. But I still have them, I always will and I am okay with that.

Could you tell us what you’re up to now?

I am still working as a cutwoman with the UFC. I have been working one or two shows a month on average. I also work Muay Thai and Boxing when available.

What kind of reactions do you get when people realize their cutman is a cutwoman?

Now, about 90% of people I come in contact with are positive! They think it is really cool. I still get some negative reactions, but I don’t let it bother me. “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there is still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” -Dita Von Teese

Have any girls or women reached out to you about mentoring?

Yes, a lot! It thrills me that the women are coming out of the woodwork knowing they can do what they love even if it is a male-dominated profession. We can be just as good as the boys, and if it was me that helped give them the courage to do so –no greater feeling!

What’s your favorite thing about being a cutwoman?

There are so many personal rewards I am given every show I work as a cutwoman. Some of my favorites is when a fighter tells me how great their hands felt in my wrap, or when they come up to me win or lose, and give me a hug or shake my hand and thank me. I do this job because it makes me feel good to help others. I give these fighters my all.

I try to go and congratulate all the fighters that won that night, but I mostly love to talk to those that didn’t and compliment them on their courage. I hope to give them comfort and encouragement when they feel the most broken. That is when they need someone the most. I just love everything about this industry.

What’s the most challenging injury to fix between rounds?

The most challenging injury is a cut on the eyelid. It is such a critical spot. The injury is right over their eyeball and a fighter’s vision can be compromised easily which could result in the Ref or Doctor calling the fight. It is a difficult spot to work in. There is limited space on the eyelid to work, and if I drip even the slightest drop of Epi {Epinephrine Chloride, see below} into their eye, that eye will dilate and then the fighter’s vision will be blurry. It’s the most challenging spot, in my opinion.

I have a question about wrapping hands. It seems very intimate to me, doing so before a fight. I don’t mean sexual, of course; I mean intimate. Do you think it is?

I absolutely agree. Wrapping their hands is deeper than putting gauze and tape on. This fighter in front of you is trusting you with their livelihood. That is a huge responsibility. It is my craft, something that I spent years perfecting, this is my livelihood as well. Trust is the most valuable gift someone can give you and no matter what circumstance. It is special.

Do you primarily work for the promotions or the fighters?

The promotions usually hire their cutwoman. It is more common in Boxing and Muay Thai for the fighters or camps to hire their own cutwoman.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to continue to do what I love, no matter what that is. I want to do and be what makes me happy. I would love to be a part of the fight industry twenty years from now. It is a part of me.swaye1

Anything else you want people to know about you and the profession?

This is a really rewarding profession, if you are in it for the right reasons. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it!


So what tools of the trade does Swayze keep in her cutwoman’s bag?

Below are some of the most common medications and pieces of equipment used cageside by cutmen and cutwomen. Different promotions and commissions determine what is allowed.

Enswell, sometimes called end-swell, endswell, stop-swell, no-swell, or simple eye iron. It is a small piece of metal with a handle. It’s traditionally kept on ice and is used to cool the area of a bruise or a cut by applying direct pressure to decrease the blood flow to the area.

Cotton swabs are used to apply medications to the fighter’s wounds.

Ice packs are used to cool bruises, cuts and sprains, and to keep the enswell cold.

Petroleum jelly is put on the cuts and most likely areas of impact to make the skin more elastic and slippery, and hence less likely to tear. Some cutmen cover cuts with homemade salve containing a mix of petroleum jelly and adrenaline chloride, so that adrenaline keeps getting applied to the wound during the bout. Also, perspiration from above the eyes will be prevented from reaching the eyes by applying petroleum jelly to the eyebrows.

Gauze pads are used to dry cuts.

Medical gloves are worn by the cutman to limit the fighter’s exposure to infectious matter, as well as limiting the cutman’s exposure to blood.

Cutmen used to create their own medications, and the recipes were passed from masters to apprentices as trade secrets. Today, the use of various medications in sports is highly controlled, and most cutmen use only two or three standard medications from the list below:

Adrenaline hydrochloride aka Epinephrine Chloride, usually a 1:1000 solution — Applied topically to decrease blood flow.

Avitene (microfibrillar collagen hemostat) — Coagulant used for bleeding cuts.

Thrombin — Coagulant used when the blood is removed and the surface is dry.

Surgicel and Gelfoam — Two other substances also used for coagulation.

Source: Wikipedia

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Melanie Gale