For the past two weeks, Sioux Falls native Shayna Baszler has been busy training to be a pro wrestler.
The 37-year-old Lincoln High graduate made her World Wrestling Entertainment debut in the circuit's first all- female tournament, the Mae Young Classic, televised live from Las Vegas in September.
Although Baszler fell in the final match to 28-year-old Japanese star Kairi Sane, WWE offered the former mixed martial arts fighter a full-time position in the organization.
"It's a different city and a different method to the training, but its still physical," said Baszler, who entered pro wrestling in 2015 after spending 16 years competing in MMA, racking up 15 wins and 11 losses.
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She is the second South Dakotan with MMA ties to make a mark in WWE. Webster native and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar remains one of the company's biggest stars and holds the companys Universal Championship belt.
Baszler understands that some critics might see her transition away from MMA as a sign she can no longer handle fighting. But she views her new career in WWE as the next step in her evolution as a martial artist.
"I got to a point in my MMA career that I was just going to work," she said. "I kind of lost the spark for it. I love MMA. Its what I studied for most of my adult life, but there comes a point I think when youre just not as hungry anymore and it was starting to show up in my results."
When Midwest All Pro Wrestling owner Nick Dinsmore met Baszler in Sioux Falls two years ago, he knew right away she had the talent to make it big.
Dinsmore, a former WWE star and coach, hopes Baszler's pro wrestling career will drum up excitement for the sport locally, especially among women.
"Its always good when you have a hometown hero," said Dinsmore, who used to work at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., where Baszler now trains.
As a crossover artist, Baszler hopes to battle the non- competitive stigma that hovers around pro wrestling. She aims to bridge the gap between the two disciplines.
Despite the us vs. them attitude in the world of combat sports, wrestling and martial arts have been intertwined for decades.
"It's important to me to pass on that history and make people look at pro wrestling in a way that they havent before," said Baszler.
Although WWE and MMA have a shared history, their current approach differs greatly.
"In MMA, you're trained to tune the audience out," said Baszler. "In sports entertainment, youre trained to feed off what the audience is thinking and feeling."
Previously, the veteran fighter was only concerned about winning and didn't care if the fight was boring to the fans. Now when she enters the ring, crowd opinion matters.
"Theres a lot more emphasis about making the crowd feel certain emotions about certain things," said Baszler, who sees the storytelling as only an added spin to the work she has been doing for nearly two decades.
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With the emphasis on plot, Baszler is allowed a break between each round.
"In sports entertainment, you can take your time and digest whats going on along with the audience," said Baszler, who is keeping her Queen of Spades nickname from MMA. "It's really learning that you dont have to be in this panic mode."
She's eager for her first fight as a full-time pro wrestler and expects to start with a bang.
"I'm on call whenever they have a body for me to come in and break," she said, warming up to the task already.
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