LAS VEGAS – Neither Ronda Rousey nor Alexis Davis grew up dreaming of becoming fighters. They got to the peak of their professions sort of by accident.
In that regard, the UFC women's bantamweight champion and her unassuming Canadian challenger are similar.
But while Rousey was always athletic and involved in sports – one of her favorite activities with her father when she was a little girl was to go swimming – Davis never gave them much of a second thought.
Davis, who meets Rousey for the title at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the co-main event Saturday of UFC 175, grew up in a small town outside Toronto, where she could spend time outdoors by herself, enjoying the scenery and the solitude.
For the past two months, she's answered the same basic question about her inability to talk trash very well, as if it were somehow a detriment to her ability to defeat Rousey and win the championship.
Davis is a fighter through and through now – anyone who saw her epic back-and-forth battle with Sarah Kaufmann in 2012 could attest to that – but it all happened by accident.
This isn't a person who was born and bred to be a fighter, to be an athlete, like Rousey.
Rousey was always competing and, after dropping out of swimming, took up judo because her mother, Ann Maria, was one of the greats in that sport.
Rousey won an Olympic bronze medal and seamlessly transitioned into mixed martial arts. Less than a year after her first pro fight, she was a world champion.
Things didn't go as smoothly or come as easily to Davis.
"To be honest, I never really cared most of the time and just wasn't into sports," Davis said. "I wasn't a gym rat, or anything like that. Really, until I found MMA, kick boxing and jiu-jitsu, I was never really into sports."
She's Canadian, though. Surely, it was suggested, she has to be a hockey fan, and a Maple Leafs' supporter.
Well, not so much. She chuckled nervously and said, "Kind of," when asked if she were a hockey fan, almost as if she felt it were somehow her duty as a Canadian to say yes.
"I never joined any high school teams and I never really paid attention to what was going on with sports at any level, honestly," she said. "The last thing I thought I would ever do was make my living as an athlete. Nothing [about sports] ever spiked my interest.
"I was always the one who was up for going for hikes. That's something I always loved to do. But I just kind of hung out with my friends, relaxing."
With the encouragement of a friend, she happened to find her way into the sport that would ultimately become her life's work. That she got into it because she saw it as fun and interesting makes a big difference. Never did she dream of stardom or making money.
At 15, a friend encouraged her to go to a local gym, and she quickly discovered her one true love. She began kickboxing, quickly learned Muay Thai and then an instructor suggested she try jiu-jitsu.
"I fell in love with it," Davis said.
And that, in a lot of ways, has been the key to her success. She's flown largely under the radar, unknown by all but the most hardcore fans.
She's never been one to tout herself or to seek attention or the spotlight. But because she loved what she was doing so much, she pursued it with passion and vigor, and devoted much of her life to her fight career.
A win on Saturday would vault her to the top of her sport and dramatically increase her earnings potential. But as much as she's pondered the fight with Rousey, rarely, if ever, has she thought much about either its financial ramifications or the impact on her life.
She worked for a book wholesaler for much of the early part of her career, sitting behind a desk talking on the telephone. She went home and immediately trained, because she loved MMA. That hasn't changed.
"Just because now I'm fighting for the title and facing a very popular and high visibility opponent, I didn't want to lose sight of the fact that I got into this sport for fun and I did what I have done because I love it," she said. "I think that's the way you have to think about it. Maybe it's different for the girls just getting into the sport now, but nobody I know got into this because they dreamed of being rich and famous.
"I got into it because it was fun. It was my hobby, something I enjoyed doing. I loved the work and the learning and the improving. It's why, coming off a loss, I still would look forward to going to the gym just as much as I did coming off a win. This is fun. I do it because it's fun. It pays more now, and that's nice. I don't think I'm going to be a millionaire off of this fight, but that's OK, even though it's going to be nice to get that check. I'm doing it because I love it and because I love the sense of accomplishment I get."
Part of the reason that she's no good at talking trash is because she's never seen MMA as a dog-eat-dog business. Rather, it gave her an outlet to challenge herself and work toward reaching goals.
She's won eight of her last nine and is, along with Rousey, the only woman to win three fights in a row in the UFC.
She's peaking at the right time and says she believes deeply in herself. But she chuckles and concedes that she'll never become a media darling like Rousey has become.
"That's OK," Davis said. "Ronda is great for this sport and for women's athletes in general. She's a very talented person and it's great that she's been able to not only do all of these movies, but to bring attention not only to herself but to women's fighting. She's helped all of us because she's helped [the media] understand how good these athletes are.
"I'm a different type of person than she is, but this means so much to me. You think back on all the hours you put in to getting to this one point, and it's pretty amazing. And I feel as prepared as ever to go and do this."
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