As much attention as UFC women's champion Ronda Rousey is getting for all her armbar finishes, few know that her protege is collecting limbs of her own.
The woman that Rousey calls a training partner and "best [expletive] friend forever," Marina Shafir may very well be the next women's MMA star. The Moldovan-born judoka is currently an amateur MMA fighter, but plans to make her professional debut later this year. She has just two two amateur fights under her belt, both of which she won, like Rousey, by armbar.
"I'm not meant to work behind a desk or at Starbucks," Shafir told Yahoo! Sports. "I feel like I have the potential and skills to put a twist on this game."
Her twist, as she put it, started when she moved out to California in late 2012 to pursue MMA as a full-time job. Shafir bunked up with Rousey in the UFC fighter's Venice home where the two live together with their dog.
Now roommates, as well as training partners, the two support each other on a daily basis in all facets of life. The bond is strong and capable of withstanding aggravating situations, which was confirmed when the two recently made their way across the country in Shafir's 2007 Honda Civic.
"Ronda flew from L.A. to Albany and then we drove my car to Seattle in two and a half days, nonstop," said the 24-year-old from Upstate New York. "I think if you can survive one of those trips with whoever you're going with then you can definitely live with them. If everybody's cool, calm and collective at the end of the day, you can live with them."
The two have remained close since their teen years, but they didn't hit it off right away. Both recall the four-hour car ride to a judo tournament where they had one of their first conversations.
"I had my headphones on and she poked me," Rousey recalled, adding that she was irritated by other people that were on her case for having her music too loud. "I pulled my headphones off and she said, 'That's Rage Against the Machine, right?!' I looked her and said, 'You made me stop listening to Rage so you can tell me I'm listening to Rage?!'
Shafir explained that she was only trying to make conversation with the girl who was sitting next to her on the long drive. After a rough patch, the two eventually bonded over some chicken bones they playfully sacrificed in the woods during a tournament they traveled to in Belgium.
"Watch over us when we compete tomorrow!" Shafir said she chanted, laughing as she recalled pretend ceremony. The best friends have been inseparable since.
The transition to MMA was a natural process, according to Shafir. She started training because she enjoyed the technique and sport of it all, but it was a tragic occurrence that catapulted her in the direction of competing professionally.
The death of her father made Shafir angry. She was 21 years old and the will to pound away at sparring partners grew much more when her father, who was also her strength and conditioning coach during her judo career, left a void in her life with his passing.
"That was when they asked if I wanted to spar, and I said 'Hell yeah!'" she explained. "Ever since then it's been like clockwork. I always had it in me, but I guess I needed to have a trigger. Struggling with the loss of my dad was my trigger."
That was three years ago. The move to California would have happened sooner than later had it not been for Shafir's father's death, she said, but she didn't want to leave her mother alone. As her mom's only daughter, she felt it best to stay back and ensure her mother was okay.
Things eventually settled down in Albany, though, and Shafir moved out to Greater Los Angeles with the influence of her friend, Rousey. The move happened just in time, too, as the first UFC women's champ is set to defend her title in the main event at UFC 157 -- an event that marks the first time women will compete in the UFC.
The addition of Shafir to her camp has made Rousey's preparation for her first UFC fight a lot easier.
"She helps me a lot. A lot of it is just mental," Rousey explained. "I have a team, but usually I go to a lot of different locations. So it's good to have a training partner with me throughout the day … She's someone I can really relate to and who knows where I'm really coming from."
Rousey added that her friend's fighting game is evolving at a tremendous rate. Once Shafir turns pro in late 2013, she plans on putting that game on display for a fanbase having more women's MMA given to them through the rise of Rousey.
Shafir intends on competing at 145 pounds. The UFC doesn't currently have a 145-pound division for women, but promotions like Invicta FC feature fighters like her on a regular basis. If given the chance, Shafir said, she's going to collect wins because she's confident in her skills and has an impeccable work ethic.
The confidence influences her world-famous training partner, too.
"I see her going to Invicta and winning the 145-pound belt," Rousey said of her friend. "She's just going to dominate Invicta."
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