Rios, whose dyed hair and bright eyes belie her age, practices at the Academy six nights a week. Even more than many of the young men I spoke to for this article, Rios has aspirations to grow her MMA career. In other words, she thinks about going pro.

She has an appropriate role model, then, at the Academy, where she trains with Amanda Buckner, a professional MMA competitor who has fought and won in numerous competitions including the Rocky Mountain Slammer, Ultimate Athlete, Grapplers Quest, and the Extreme Challenge. (Buckner is married to Jay Jack, with whom she co-owns the Academy.)

"Like any woman's sport, we're always behind [the male version]" in both training and competition opportunities, says Buckner, who has been fighting for almost 10 years.

Of course, the novelty aspect has both drawbacks and benefits. One of the latter: If there's a women's fight on the card, "it steals the show," Buckner says. Audiences still go crazy for the novelty of catfights, it seems.

Rios, for whom the Fight Night II bout will be her second time in the cage, believes female fighters have a tough time combating stereotypes. "You have to put a lot more out there," she says after a recent sparring practice, where she held her own against Buckner, Jack, and fellow fighter Paul Gorman. "There's more expected of you. You have to prove to people that you can fight even though you're a girl. You have to have more guts. Or balls, if you will."


Mixing it up

Wondering which martial arts are mixed to create this combat sport? Here's a list of some (but not all) of the disciplines employed by those training and fighting as MMA competitors.

• BOXING* Fists only, gloves

• WRESTLING* Grappling, no striking

• JUJUTSU Ground fighting (pins, joint locks, submissions)

• MUAY THAI Stand-up striking, with hands, feet, knees, and elbows

• KICKBOXING Kicking and punching

• TAEKWONDO* Kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes; sweeps and throws

• KARATE Striking art that uses punches, kicks, elbows, knees, and open hands

• JUDO* Emphasizes throws and takedowns

*Olympic sport

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at  dfulton@phx.com.

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