Shayna Baszler: Kaufman Predictable Like a 'Video Game Character Boss'

It's been almost a year since we've seen Shayna Baszler compete in an MMA cage. Following her last fight, a highly-visible loss to Cristiane Santos on CBS in July 2008, the 28-year-old was forced to sit on the sidelines while Pro Elite figured out what they were going to do with their contracts. Once Strikeforce purchased most of the significant ones in February, it was only a matter of time before Baszler got back to work and resumed her promising career.

At Friday's "Strikeforce: Challengers" event in Kent, Wash. (Showtime, 11 PM ET/PT), Baszler (9-5) will face undefeated star Sarah Kaufman. Kaufman (9-0) made her successful 135-pound Strikeforce debut last month, defeating Meisha Tate via unanimous decision. FanHouse spoke to Baszler about her time off and preparing for Kaufman. The full interview is below.

Ariel Helwani: Did you have to find a new job while you waited for Pro Elite to do something with your contract?
Shayna Baszler: No. But if it would have gone on any longer it would have came down to that. It was frustrating because I really had the itch to get back in there, but I spent the time really ... Josh [Barnett] put me on a new lifting regimen and a new diet to try and put some muscle mass on me. It was kind of nice in the fact that when you are fighting a lot, you don't really have time to learn brand new skills. So, I got to take the time to actually do that and add a few things to my skill set.

Have you been dwelling on the loss to Santos for the last year?
You know, I thought about it a lot afterward, and there were a few lessons that I learned. I didn't dwell on it and be depressed about it, but I did think about it quite a bit and used it to motivate me it and just change the way that I approach training for fights now. I think this one is going to be a lot better.

Which lessons did you learn from that loss?
Well, I am taking time to relax my mind, as well as my body, for one. I think that the biggest problem that I had with the "Cyborg" fight was that I trained mentally and physically. I was just mentally exhausted and physically exhausted. You know, I had put so much pressure on myself, and it wasn't the pressure -- I didn't crumble under the pressure -- it was that I had put so much pressure on myself to perform that I really didn't take to just come home and not think about fighting, or not be training, or not watching videos of "Cyborg" on the internet. I have taken a lot more time to just come home and play some video games for the night after training is done. I actually made a rule at the beginning of the training at my house with roommate that once I am home for the night from training, there's no talking about fighting and there's no fighting on TV just to give my mind a rest. So, I think I have a lot better mindset, and therefore, I think I am going to perform a lot better.

So, did you even watch Kaufman's victory over Meisha Tate last month?
Yeah, I did. They had scheduled Sarah Kaufman and I to fight, but when Sarah took that fight on short notice, they basically turned it into whoever wins is going to fight me. So, I watched simply out of interest to who I was going to end up fighting.

What did you think of Kaufman's performance against Tate?
I think she imposed her game plan pretty well. I think that it didn't really change how I am approaching this fight strategically or anything like that. But I think that it solidified in my mind that she does have weaknesses. You know, a lot of her fights on the internet that I have found, she's really pretty dominant and they are pretty one-sided. So, it's hard to see a person's entire game when they're that dominant. So, I think that it solidified the thoughts that I had as far as what I should do. I also think that she performed really well, and I'm actually really glad that she got an opportunity to be on TV and be exposed to American fans before we fought, because I think that makes this fight that much better for me. People know who she is now, whereas before, this was going to be her first really televised footage in the US of her, and when I win it, it wouldn't have been as exciting as it will be now in people's minds.

What do you consider to be her biggest weakness?
I think she's really predictable. I think she's so predictable it's like ... And that's not bad; it just means that she is so sound in the basics and fundamentals that there are certain mathematical answers to how she responds to certain things. So, I don't think that she is going to surprise me at all. And I think that with my game being really unpredictable, it makes for a really interesting match-up; it's going to be really interesting to see how that turns out. She's predictable for me like in the same way that a video game character boss is once you figure their pattern out.

Interesting analogy - I like that. So, when you were watching her fight against Tate, did you feel as though she was telegraphing her attack?
It's not so much that she telegraphs, but she does a lot of the same things in the same situations. And it's not just that fight - it's a lot of the other fights that I watched. She does a lot of the same things. And it works for her, so why wouldn't she? But I think that for me, that's what I see, and that's what we're going to go off of.

This fight is going to be three five-minute rounds, right?
That's the latest I've heard; they've been switching back and forth. We're ready for three five.

Are you fine with them switching it less than a week before the fight?
Yeah, I don't care. Five minutes or three minutes, it's not going to matter. I am going to take it to her. I think that I would rather have five-minute rounds just because, well, you saw in the Meisha Tate fight that she got a takedown with 20 seconds left in a three-minute round. How different would that first round have been if there were two more minutes, you know? Being a ground fighter, I like five-minute rounds. But we've been training both, just in case, because I think that a three-minute round fight is a little more hectic a pace than a five-minute round fight.

Would you like to see all women's fights be switched to three five-minute rounds?
Yeah. I would love that. I think that MMA as a sport [having five-minute rounds] is one of it's defining differences. You know, boxing has three-minute rounds, and some amateur Thai boxing is two-minute rounds, and pro Thai boxing is three-minute rounds. So, I think that the five-minute rounds is a big differentiating factor, and I think it's important for the identity of the sport.

I remember after the "Cyborg" loss, there seemed to be some discussion between Pro Elite officials about which weight class is best for you. Are you most comfortable at 135?
Well obviously, I feel best at 135. The problem with EliteXC is that they changed it to 130 or 140. I had never been down to 130 before. I am sure I can get there, I just didn't know how I would feel. At that time, I didn't have a definite answer. If that is what they wanted me to do, I was going to do some test runs and see how I felt. But as far as the difference between 135 and 140, I can notice a difference within myself. At 135, I'm a lot lighter on my feet; I have quicker movement on the ground. And beyond that, the training regimen Josh has put me on, I'm the strongest and leanest I have ever been for 135. So, I am really excited to see how this translates over. I feel best at 135; I think it's the best place for me. So, I'm happy.

What was your experience like fighting for EliteXC? Were you exposed to some of the craziness behind-the-scenes?
I caught wind of it a little bit, but Josh and Shannon [Hooper], my management, they did a really good job of taking care of things on that end so that I didn't have to really be exposed to it. So, it didn't take my mind away from concentrating on the fight and training. I guess maybe I didn't get it as bad as a lot of other people. Maybe it would have been different if I would have beaten "Cyborg" and I would have been lined up to face Gina [Carano]. I think that is where a lot of the craziness for me would have started.

I know you haven't officially competed for Strikeforce yet, but have you already noticed any difference between the two organizations?
Well, I think that as a fan watching you can see a difference – the matchups are better. EliteXC put all their money into flash, bang type of one-shot hit or miss deals. Whereas Strikeforce puts on great match-ups. I think that they promote the people that deserve to be promoted a lot more than EliteXC did. And that's just as a fan being on the outside. So, I think that we're already in a better spot with Strikeforce. Strikeforce has obviously been around for a while so they know how to be successful. Overall, I think it's a much better place to be.

What do you make of Strikeforce billing "Cyborg" vs. Carano as the battle between the two best female fighters in MMA?
If you're going pound-for-pound, I would definitely say that Megumi [Fuji] is the No. 1 pound-for-pound female. I've trained with her -- obviously, she trains with Josh, too -- and it's a humbling experience to train with a 115-pound girl and barely be able to hold my own. I mean, we would go to the weight room and lift, and she is lifting the same as me, and she is this tiny, little girl. I know that doesn't translate over into fighting, but just to know the awesomeness of her athleticism. As far the 145-pound weight class, I do think that they're one and two. They are the most active right now, I guess. But pound-for-pound, I think that there are a few girls out there that should be in that lineup ahead of them. But I do think that the "Cyborg" and Gina fight is very important for women's MMA, because it's going to be very visible and they are the two most well-known fighters to the general public. So, I think that things like making weight and not making excuses about it is going to be really important. It's going to be a huge step forward or step backwards for us.

I wasn't going to bring this up, but since you alluded to it, what did you think when "Cyborg" blamed "female problems" on missing weight prior to her fight against Hitomi Akano in April?
Here's the thing about that: before the fight, in her interviews and stuff, she's like, 'I just want to show that women can fight just like the men.' And then after the fight, she gets on the mic and says crap like that. And the thing about that is that all of us have to deal with the same female problems. So that's a garbage excuse ... That's really all I have to say about that. It's a piss-poor excuse that's, like, trained in guys that when that issue is brought up, it's like, 'Ok. Cool. That excuses everything.' It gives us a reason to throw tantrums for no reason, gain weight and not make it, and they don't question it. You know, like, culturally, if you know what I'm saying. So, if you say that, it's like a cop out. It's like a 'get out of jail free' card.

Did it bother you that Strikeforce even booked that fight to begin with considering the weight difference between Akano and "Cyborg"?
Yeah. Akano is the 128-pound champion in Japan. 128. You know what I mean? "Cyborg" was big for me and I bulked up to make 140, and you saw how much bigger she was than me. I'm not using that as an excuse, it's just an example. And Akano is smaller than me. So you know, I don't know what the thinking was. I know that Akano at the end had the right to accept or decline it, but it was obviously just to push "Cyborg" over. But I think at the end, it just looked terrible. It looked like ... it didn't look good, you know? So, I think all it served to do was fool people about how awesome "Cyborg" is. So, whatever.

The organization also announced that the Santos vs. Carano fight will be for the 145-pound women's title. Have they told you that they will be introducing a 135-pound women's title sometime in the near future?
They haven't mentioned anything right now. I mean, they haven't even established who's in the division besides myself, Sarah and Meisha, really. So, I think once they build that up a little bit, it's something that will come along. I think that after the dust settles after "Cyborg" and Gina, that's something that's viable in the future. I can be considered the best with or without a belt around my waist. My goal is to be the best and the belt is just icing on the cake.

How do you feel when you see Gina Carano posing provocatively in Maxim or Meisha Tate in Fight! Magazine? Do you think that does more harm than good for women's MMA?
I think that as long they can fight -- and I think that Gina and Meisha can both fight -- I think that as long as that is there, it's fine. I think that to use it as a side note to push yourself over, it's fine. I don't like it when someone just sucks as a fighter, and they get in there because they are hot or something like that. But I think that it's fine to use that because what it's going to do is it's going to attract fans -- obviously male fans, especially -- they are going to go, 'Oh, sweet. That's that chick that was in Maxim? I'm totally watching her fight. Yeah!' And they will get into a fight they otherwise wouldn't have watched. And then, when they tune and see that this chick can actually throw down, then I think it opens their eyes to a lot of other things.

How do you predict your fight against Kaufman will finish?
I think that I'm going to beat her back over the border (laughs). Honestly, all humor aside, I think that it has all the makings of being fight of the night. I think that I have a lot of new things to bring into the game that she hasn't seen just because I have been able to take time to add that to my game. I don't think she has had a lot of time off to add a lot of skill sets to hers. I think we are both very well-rounded. It's going to be fight of the night and it's going to be one of those fights where both of us are going to feel good afterward.

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