· On The Spot ~ Rosi Sexton
Mother, PhD, author, musician, and champion, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of Rosi Sexton. Those are just a small part of the #1 ranked 125 lbs British female fighter. Sexton, a CWFC champion, is coming off of a submission victory over Valerie Coolbaugh in her Bellator debut and is looking to continue her five-fight win streak. She currently holds a 10-1 record, with her only blemish coming at the hands of Gina Carano.
She is an experienced grappler and submission fighter with nine years of mixed martial arts training, including black belts in both Tae Kwon Do and traditional jiu-jitsu to go along with all of her other accolades.
Not content with the physical side of her talents, Rosi also holds a PhD in theoretical computer science, a maths degree from Cambridge, and is currently studying to become an osteopath. Rosi has fought in the USA, UK, Costa Rica, Russia, and Canada. She has wins over Carina Damm, Windy Tomomi, Julia Berezikova, and Debbi Purcell.
Between fighting and studying, this phenomenal woman writes a regular column for Fighters Only, raises her four year-old son, and tries to maintain her status as a concert pianist. Needless to say, this woman, who picked up the sport as a mere hobby, is nothing short of amazing. MMA Spot’s J. Andrew Yount recently coaxed Dr. Rosi Sexton into taking a few moments off to talk about her career, hobbies, and how she maintains such a hectic schedule.
Have you received any word on your next possible fight?
I haven’t had anything definite confirmed yet. I know my management is working on a couple of possibilities. Bellator are talking about doing a women’s tournament at 125 lbs, which is very exciting news. I’m also hoping to be fighting again in the UK early in 2010.
It's hard enough for women to find big fights in the sport, do you find it even tougher being over in England as opposed to the U.S.?
I think that it is tougher over here. The hardest thing about getting a fight in the UK is finding opponents. There are some really good up and coming female fighters here at the moment though, and I think in a few years time there will be a lot more female MMA in this country.
I’ve not always been able to fight as often as I’d like – sometimes it can be a long time between fights, but I think I’ve been fortunate to be able to compete on an international stage, which has allowed me to fight some of the top women in my weight class.
You are 10-1, with your only loss to Gina Carano. Do you feel that you are one of the top female fighters out there?
It’s difficult for me to say objectively how good I am or how I compare to other fighters – I prefer to leave that to other people. I think I’m ranked as the #1 fighter in the 125 lbs division.
Do you train/fight full-time, or do you have other work to keep you busy between fights?
I’m also studying to be an osteopath, I’m just starting my final year this year. At the moment I do some work as a sports therapist, mostly working with fighters. I also write a regular column for Fighters Only magazine. Between that and looking after my son, it keeps me pretty busy!
You have done lots of incredible things in a short time, can you tell us about your education and hobbies outside of fighting?
I have a mathematics degree from Cambridge University and a PhD in theoretical computer science. I was a bit of a geek growing up; I’d enjoy solving problems and figuring things out. I play the piano, when I get a chance – which isn’t as often as I’d like these days – and I read pretty widely. When I want to relax, my vice is watching box sets of TV series, some of my favorites being House and LOST.
What made you want to go back to school, even after receiving your PhD?
I think doing MMA has made me increasingly interested in the human body and how it works. So many fighters have had problems with injuries from training or competing, and this is something I’ve also suffered with in the past. Eight or nine years ago I had a back injury, and I was in a lot of pain for weeks with it. Finally someone suggested I go to see a local osteopath, who managed to sort out the problem in just two treatments. That was one of those moments where I thought “I want to be able to do that”. Eventually the opportunity came up, so I signed up for the course.
What was it like to fight Dina van den Hooen for the CWFC title only eight months after giving birth to your son?
That was one of my toughest fights to prepare for, but it’s still the one I’m most proud of. I had a lot of doubts while I was pregnant and after Luis was born about whether I’d be able to compete again at a high level in MMA. I think I had a lot to prove to myself, and that’s probably what drove me to do it. Luis was teething at the time, so sometimes I’d be up with him most of the night, and then in the gym for sparring in the morning. Getting physically back in shape was easier than I’d expected, but it was the mental side of it that was the hardest part.
How has your son (Luis) affected your training?
I’ve had to be a lot more organized about what I do. It’s not so easy for me to just put in the amount of time at the gym that some fighters do – so I have to make sure that the time I’m there I’m using efficiently. I’ve also learned to use a lot more visualization and mental training to rehearse techniques and strategies while I’m at home. I think having a son has made me appreciate the time I do get to train a lot more, and I think the added difficulty of trying to be a good parent as well as a good fighter has made me mentally stronger.
The last time we saw you was in Bellator, where you won by submission. Are you still under contract to them? Have they given you a time table for when they will have you back in action?
I do have several fights left on my Bellator contract. I know they are talking about doing a women’s tournament, but we don’t have any details for that yet.
How frustrating has it been to fight on shows like EXC, Bodog, and now Bellator, only to see them fold or struggle?
It’s been tough. At the same time, I’m just glad that I had the opportunities to be part of that while I did. I’ve had some amazing experiences, fighting all over the world and getting to meet other great women in the sport.
What would you consider your career highlight?
On paper, my best win is probably my submission victory over Carina Damm. The fight I’m most proud of, though, is still my Cage Warriors fight against Dina van den Hooven, because of all the challenges I had just getting back in the cage. She was doing well on the grappling circuit in Europe at the time, and had just come off a knockout win against Brazilian Top Team black belt Erica Paes.
If you had to say you had a "specialty" move/art, what would it be?
I think people consider me to be a grappler, but that’s probably less true than it used to be! I train to be a well rounded fighter.
Who would you most like to fight?
I think the two biggest fights for me out there are Tara LaRosa and Megumi Fujii.
We've seen other female fighters show a great bond between one another. Is this sport wide? Do you feel a closeness with the other women in the sport?
I think many of us enjoy meeting up with other women who have similar interests and passions to ourselves. A lot of female fighters train mostly with men, and its good when we do get together to be able to talk to and spend time with other females who have had similar experiences, and share similar challenges.
Where are you training now, and who are some of you coaches?
Unfortunately I split with my former coach earlier this year for personal reasons. The last few months have been pretty unsettled, but I’ve been very fortunate and had some great people offering to work with me. Things are now starting to settle down, and I’m very happy with how it’s all worked out.
My MMA coaches now are Pete Irving and Paul McVeigh. I also have a wrestling coach (Billy Cooper) and a boxing coach (Jimmy Kelly). Ollie Richardson (http://www.fighterstrength.com/) is taking care of my strength and conditioning. I feel privileged to be working with such a great team of people and I’m excited about the possibilities for the future.
Many experts and hardcore fans already see the women's divisions as some of the most exciting. What do you see as the biggest obstacle in pushing ALL of women's MMA to the forefront?
I think it’s a work in progress. It’s not a challenge that can be “solved” with any one quick fix – its’ something we all need to work towards. The more good female fights make it to television, the more people can see what the women are capable of, and the more demand there will be for female MMA.
Strikeforce is doing some good things with the heavier weight classes, 135 and 145 lbs. The challenge there will be to keep those fighters busy and make sure they are putting on enough matches to develop the division as a whole rather than just marquee fights here and there.
At the same time, there are a lot of very talented, very dedicated female fighters that aren’t getting the opportunities and the televised fights. It’s a real shame that people aren’t getting to see fighters like Megumi Fujii, Tara LaRosa and Roxanne Modafferi out there.
Did you watch the Carano vs Santos fight on Showtime? What were your thoughts on the bout?
I did. I was disappointed, to be honest, I was expecting it to be a much more competitive fight. I think Santos is going to be hard to beat because of her sheer physicality and athleticism, but from a technical standpoint there are better female fighters out there.
What would you like to accomplish in and out of MMA over the next year?
Over the next year, I’d like to qualify as an Osteopath and win the Bellator tournament when it happens.
I’d also like to start training some fighters of my own. At the moment I have Canadian fighter Sarah Moras training with me over here in England – she’s got her first professional fight coming up at the end of November. She’s great to work with – young, talented and with a really good attitude. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do!
Do you have anyone you'd like to thank?
I need to thank all my coaches, who do a fantastic job. My management – Tony and Ian and Warrior Promotions – who give me the opportunities to do what I do. PhD Nutrition have sponsored me for the last few years and taken care of all my supplement needs. I particularly need to thank Ian and Paul at Stockport Fighters for their help and for the regular use of their gym.
There are many, MANY people who have done a lot for me this year, and for whose help I’m very grateful. I owe a lot to all the friends and training partners who’ve stuck with me through the tough times, as well as the new friends I’ve made along the way. There are too many to name individually, but you know who you are, and I’d be lost without you!
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ms. Sexton had Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. She has a black belt in a traditional style of Jiu-Jitsu.