Girl Fight with Tami Carswell

The lesbian MMA coach lives a warrior’s life.

Girl Fight with Tami Carswell
Photo: Tom Hill

Why would women want to really hurt each other (and we’re not just talking about the rough-and-tumble of the consensual bedroom)? We’re talking about the wild world of women’s mixed martial arts, a combat sport that involves kicks, throws, elbows, knees, grappling and submissions. Mixed martial arts (MMA), also known as cage fighting—think of an all-girl version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship—is a combination of boxing, dirty boxing, kickboxing, karate, judo, wrestling and jujitsu. Sound scary? Tami Carswell is one woman with an investment in this type of physical power.

“Anywhere the fight goes you better be ready to throw down, especially against any of my fighters!” says Carswell, an MMA veteran-turned-coach.

Although women’s MMA is essentially the same sport as men’s MMA, the UFC doesn’t have a women’s division and Carswell claims that Dana White, the president of the organization, has publicly stated that women will never fight in the UFC. White appears now to be backpedaling, citing a lack of female talent as the reason why he is unable to create a spot for women on “The Ultimate Fighter,” his popular show on Spike TV. Could this alleged lack of talent possibly have to do with a lack of opportunity?

Meanwhile, as women fighters are pushing for the growth of women’s MMA on their own, Carswell is preparing to bring a series of shows to the East Coast. She is partnering with Black Eye Promotions’ Janet Martin, whose her mother told her she couldn’t wrestle as a kid (take that, Mom), and Bonnie Canino, a trailblazer in women’s combat sports. “Bonnie, like many other females at that time, was turned away from boxing gyms and got her start through karate and then kickboxing,” explains Carswell. “Women’s MMA is not just a sport—it is a political movement for equal rights.”

It stands to reason that if women want the same rights as men—in sports and in war—they’ll have to be willing to get hurt. “Yes, women hurt each other,” says Carswell. “It’s combat, and my motto for my fighters is: Make them miss and make them pay!” 

Carswell knows a little something about that. She first fell in love with boxing in California when, during a sparring match against a coach—who had just taught her some basics—she threw an uppercut and gave him a black eye. “That was the best feeling ever for me, and I was hooked.” But she has also been on the receiving end.

Training for a professional MMA fight, she was up against a male wrestler who performed an intense body slam during practice. “My clavicle came out of the shoulder socket and ripped through the ligaments attaching it to my shoulder,” recalls Carswell. “It floats above the shoulder now.” Thanks to that encounter, she is on a lifelong rehabilitation and maintenance routine that includes swimming miles of breaststroke and doing endless upper-back lifts. These days, coaching and promoting the sport are her focus. A certified USA Amateur Boxing coach as well as a professional boxing coach, she runs Dynamic MMA and Boxing in Davie, Fla., and works with the American Top Team academy in Coconut Creek, Fla., where some of the world’s best fighters train. Carswell will train anybody—her students range from those whose goal is physical fitness to those who want to fight at the highest level. She is out and has male fighters who are proud to have a lesbian coach.

Even though MMA fighters risk serious bodily harm, does the sport really deserve the negative press it sometimes receives? “It supports a lot of people’s viewpoints around it being too hard for the female body,” says Carswell. “The sport is violent, people get hurt, and it is possible to be seriously injured or die in the cage or ring. If you understand what you are signing on for, then you should be able to do what you want.” Pugilism, she believes, should be open to any woman, straight or gay, who wants to explore her physical power, just the way she has done. “You have to do superhuman stuff in your training before you even get on stage,” she says.

Warning: You might lose a few lovers along the way. Carswell is currently single because her last partner “loved me so much but didn’t love my lifestyle.” While she says partners should never be jealous of her dedication to those she coaches, she will admit to crushes on, and chemistry with, those she has met in the ring. “When I have fought or even sparred with anyone, there is a love or a respect of that other person involved. I can say that some of the hardest punches I ever ate really turned me on at the same time.”

However you characterize women who enjoy violent sports, Carswell sees them as  “tough-ass ladies doing their thing and working their sport despite the world. You would not believe the sacrifices some women make to even be able to fight. Any given female putting it all in the cage or the ring after doing all the work it takes to get there has changed so many lives. A powerful woman trumps all, in my opinion.” (wfighter.com)

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