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Lauren Murphy to make UFC debut after unlikely entry into MMA

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Lauren Murphy

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Lauren Murphy is making her UFC debut.

Lauren Murphy easily rips off four-letter words as if they're part of the Oxford American Dictionary, somehow making her sound like a female version of UFC president Dana White.

When she realizes she's dropped a handful of F-bombs during the beginning of an interview, she laughs nervously, not sure if she's in trouble.

"Is it OK if I swear?" she asks sheepishly.

Told it's fine, Murphy breathes a sigh of relief. She's not your typical mixed martial arts fighter who speaks in clichés and lives in a cookie-cutter world.

Murphy, who is 8-0, will make her UFC debut on Saturday in Bangor, Maine, when she faces former title challenger Sara McMann in a three-round bantamweight fight.

Few fighters have taken a stranger route to the UFC and lived a more eventful life.

"Some days, I ask myself that exact same question: How in the [expletive] did we get here?" Murphy said. "I don't even know. We could break it all down, but if we did, it'd be pretty [expletive] crazy."

Murphy was living in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2010 and was looking for an activity for her 8-year-old son Max. She wanted to keep him active and, because she'd always wished she'd learned a martial art when she was younger, she decided to enroll Max in one.

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Murphy grew up in Alaska. (Getty Images)

Murphy grew up in Alaska. (Getty Images)

The only problem was she didn't know a thing about martial arts. She had no idea where to bring him or what he'd be doing.

"I'm being completely honest, I didn't know the difference between jiu-jitsu and karate," she said. "I looked in the phone book and I saw a Gracie Barra [jiu-jitsu] academy. I called and talked to them and I decided to enroll Max. I bought him a judo gi, because I didn't have a clue whether they'd be kicking each other or karate chopping or what. I had no [expletive] idea, to be honest."

Max, though, hated it and after one day, refused to return. His mom had a vastly different impression.

"He never wanted to go back after that first day because he was so grossed out," she said. "He said, 'They are punching each other and they're so sweaty and they're all up in each others' faces.' He didn't enjoy it at all. Not at all. He was so grossed out.

"I was like, 'This is awesome. I'm going to wrestle everybody.' So I kept going. There were fighters at the gym. It was this little podunk gym in Anchorage and I was fascinated by what I saw. I began to wonder if I could do it and what it would be like to stand under the lights and get into a big war with someone. I wondered how I would handle that."

Murphy, though, had some pretty significant obstacles to overcome before she could realize her dream of fight stardom.

To start, she had this bad habit of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Secondly, she drank, often to excess.

"I remember going to the gym some days being really drunk," she says.

On top of everything else, she hated the coaches at the gym and they felt similarly about her.

They simply didn't understand her. She's a charismatic woman who laughs easily, at herself and at others, and who has been hardened by a lifetime of overcoming obstacles.

Her favorite MMA fighters are rather odd choices, UFC middleweight contender Court McGee and former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.

"I really like Court McGee, because we share a lot of the same background," Murphy said. "I actually really look up to him a lot. I've never met him, but we've had a lot of the same struggles."

McGee overcame a serious addiction to black tar heroin to make it to the UFC. Murphy, likewise, had a serious problem for many years with drugs.

She admired Griffin because of his Everyman persona and because he walked into a gym off the street with no fighting background, just like she'd done, and went on to win the title.

"Court and Forrest, they're pretty unassuming guys with big hearts," she said. "They're going to do their best every time and let it all out and [expletive] train. I think that's what I'm like.

"I'm not here to take bikini pictures. I'm not here to get some huge endorsement from some hair-care sponsor because I'm so gorgeous. That's not me. I'm here to fight my heart out every single time. I want to train hard like those guys do and make sure I'm improving and trying to knock someone the [expletive] out so that people want to see me fight."

Not that long ago, many of her friends wondered if they'd ever see her alive, let alone see her fight professionally. She was involved heavily in drugs, and her friends were bracing for the worst news.

This is a woman who always was willing to take risks. When she was a little girl growing up in Alaska, she and her brother would throw snowballs at the moose. Moose are not particularly friendly animals, and they'd charge the Smith children. (Smith is her maiden name).

She was never in too much danger, because she managed to run to the safety of the school bus before the moose could get close. But one slip on a patch of ice could have proven disastrous.

But it was that kind of risky behavior that nearly brought her down. In her late teen-age years, she began to dabble in drugs.

"In my early 20s, maybe my late teens, is probably when it was at its worst," Murphy says. "I was trying to find something. I don't know. Yeah, we all thought I was going to be dead by the time I was 25. I was in and out of the hospital and I was in and out of treatment centers and stuff. It was your typical junkie story.

"Eventually, I did get help. I went to rehab a bunch of times, but what really helped me was getting with some friends and we talked about the 12-step program. It worked, for a while. I was sober for a really long time and I relapsed in my late 20s. That was actually when I started fighting. But I've been sober for two or three years now."

Now, she's moving steadily toward the top of her progression. She got an incredibly difficult first draw in the UFC when he got McMann, an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling.

McMann, who is coming off a first-round stoppage loss to champion Ronda Rousey, is a powerful woman who has great takedowns.

It's hard to see how Murphy will keep McMann from repeatedly taking her down, but Murphy chuckles at the thought.

"Well, my first response to that is, is that this isn't a [expletive] wrestling match," she says. "It's a fight. I want to punch her in the face, but if she takes me down, I can still hurt her and damage her there. I know she has a lot of ability and she's done a lot of things in this sport, but I think there is way more pressure on her than there is on me.

"You know, in a way, I almost feel badly for her. She has a lot of pressure she has to handle in this fight and I basically have none. I'm very confident in my ability to go out there and put on a great show. I think I'm mentally strong enough, and tough enough, and scrappy enough, that I'm going to shock everybody."

Those who know her best are shocked she's still alive, so nothing she might do in a cage will surprise them.

Lauren Murphy is many things, but most of all, she's a survivor. And it's never wise to count someone like that out.

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