Friday, March 1, 2019 | 2 a.m.
On her first trip to the grocery store away from her childhood home in Anchorage, Alaska, Gina Mazany came away nonplussed by the meat options.
The then 18-year-old graphics design student in Seattle settled for beef and forced herself to choke it down.
“It tasted weird to me,” she recalled. “I grew up on moose, caribou, salmon, halibut, all stuff that my dad hunted and killed. That’s what was normal to me.”
Consider it an appetizer to Mazany’s adulthood that’s become defined by eschewing comfort. The 30-year-old got through the cuisine culture-shock in college to graduate with a degree in graphic design and land a coveted job with a Facebook gaming company.
Mazany had everything she had sought after but felt unfulfilled. She had fallen in love with martial arts after taking a jiu-jitsu class on the advice of her older brother, professional fighter Dave Mazany, and dreamed about further pursuing her passion.
“When I was designing, I’d always have Joe Rogan podcasts on, or fights on the side, or was listening to fighters’ interviews on my desktops while I was supposed to be working,” she said. “I always lived for getting off work, or for the weekends, and going training, and I thought, ‘This is not the life I want to live.’ It was hard to work and train at the same time. I was like, ‘The cost of living in Vegas is cheap and there’s awesome training, so why not?’”
Mazany quit her job, packed up all her belongings and moved to Las Vegas without any concrete plan other than a goal to get signed by the UFC. It took two years after the move for her to link up with the locally based mixed martial arts organization.
Mazany (5-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) will make her fourth appearance in the octagon in a women's bantamweight preliminary bout at UFC 235, which starts at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, against Macy Chiasson (3-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC).
“I found that fighting was the most primal thing you can do,” Mazany said. “Take two humans who really want to beat the crap out of each other; it’s old gladiator days. To me, as an athlete, I wanted that.”
Part of the reason she wanted that was because of how much of a change it represented from her previous sport. For most of her childhood into high school, Mazany competed in figure skating.
She became burnt out on the sport when she concluded that it was too influenced by politics.
“But to be completely honest, I was never a huge fan of UFC or fights,” she said. “I just tried it and the ball kind of rolled from there. The competitiveness and endless learning is just so cool to me.”
Not growing up with mixed martial arts may help Mazany stay levelheaded at an event like UFC 235, which is the biggest stage she’s fought on and headlined by champions Jon Jones and Tyron Woodley defending their respective belts. Her outlook is in stark contrast to her opponent, as Chiasson raved about being a part of a pay-per-view card and meeting Jones, one of her favorite fighters.
Chiasson, who’s a minus-500 (risking $5 to win $1) favorite and one of the UFC’s most promising female prospects after winning “The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters” tournament, also spoke highly of Mazany’s ability.
“We studied her very well and she’s a very well-rounded, tough girl,” Chiasson said. “She has great offensive wrestling, but I come from a heavy wrestling camp and striking as well, so I think we’re pretty well equipped.”
Mazany describes the bout as, “a big risk,” knowing a second straight loss and third in four bouts could be crippling to her UFC career. But it’s the type of opportunity she always wanted, and she has no regrets in making it a reality. She hopes she can pass on her journey.
Somewhere, someone is likely spending part of their work day escaping by watching videos of Mazany’s fights or listening to her interviews.
“What I try to stress to people around me and people who I love and people who might be a fan of me — I think it’s weird to have fans of me — but if they’re unhappy with their life, don’t like their day-to-days, they can get out of it,” Mazany said. “There are jobs out there that will pay you for what you love to do. But you’ve got to make moves and it’s not going to be easy. Fighting isn’t easy. It’s a struggle every day, but the juice is worth the squeeze.”