Purcell 'Rosy' Fight Will Transpire

By Mike Harris Aug 15, 2008
Debi “Whiplash” Purcell (Pictures) really, really, really hopes her scheduled Friday night fight with Rosi Sexton on the ShoXC “Elite Challenger Series” actually transpires.

She prays for it every hour on the hour. She keeps her fingers crossed 24/7, even during training, for good luck. And just in case that’s not enough, she’s made the proverbial pact with the Devil to sacrifice her soul and that of her firstborn just to ensure the bout materializes.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.

Purcell, a pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts, has been in the game since the early 1990s, yet has had only five professional fights in that time. Many other bouts were cancelled due to injuries and/or fly-by-night promoters -- an experience that has left her deeply frustrated, even embittered at times.

Purcell’s last fight was a loss to Hitomi Akano (Pictures) on Feb. 15, 2006. Her last bout before that was a win over Nicole Albrect (Pictures) way back on Oct. 19, 2002 -- close to six years ago. To say she’s hungry for the Sexton fight would be a gross understatement.

“I’ve been fighting professionally a long time -- too long to have as little fights as I do,” Purcell says, trying to mask her deep dissatisfaction with a throaty laugh. “I competed in some amateur boxing and kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, that kind of stuff. The thing is, with MMA, it’s been a really rough road because while I probably had over 35, 40 fights lined up, my record reflects how many actually came through. Some of that is due to my own injuries, but a lot of that is due to other people not showing up or promoters cancelling the shows. It’s been really bad.”

Purcell (4-1) was scheduled to face Carina Damm in her EliteXC debut, but that bout was called off in June after Damm was suspended in wake of a failed drug test.

“I was supposed to fight for Elite [in June], and the show got cancelled two weeks before,” Purcell says. “I had an opponent, then I had a different opponent and she tested positive for steroids, so that got cancelled. But it’s always like that, you know?”

“The Sexton fight is gonna happen,” she adds pointedly, almost as if trying to convince herself that it actually will. “The Sexton fight is going to go through.”

Yet given Purcell’s luck and track record, there’s still time for something to go awry. Stay tuned.

There are probably worse spawning grounds for future MMA fighters than their friendly, neighborhood punk rock scenes.

Exhibit A is Purcell, who as a teenage punker not only had to survive the rough and tumble, testosterone-soaked mosh pits at many an Exploited and Wasted Youth show but also had to be badass enough to beat the snot out of anyone in attendance perceived to be even remotely a hippie.

“I got into drugs and kinda into the whole punk rock/skinhead scene when I was a teenager,” says Purcell, who hails from Huntington Beach, Calif., which, back in the early 1980s, was ground zero for the second wave of American punk rock, the frequently neo-fascist uber-violent variety known as hardcore.

“That’s actually why I started training in kickboxing,” she adds. “I just wanted to beat people up. It was all about being angry and fighting, so I started training for that reason. Ironically, that’s what helped me clean up and get my life on the right track. I wanted to compete. I wanted to train. I wanted to take care of my body. And so I didn’t want to put junk in my body anymore. The very thing that led me to this sport actually helped me clean up my life.”

She started boxing, followed by kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do and jiu-jitsu.

“When there was an opportunity to compete in mixed martial arts,” she says, “I started training with Marco Ruas (Pictures) and mixing it all together, and that’s how it kinda started out.”

Studying Ruas Vale Tudo -- a hybrid of Brazilian submission fighting and kickboxing -- under the tutelage of her legendary mentor became a life-transforming experience.

“Absolutely 100 percent life-altering,” says Purcell, who eventually earned a black belt in the discipline. “I mean, I had purpose in my life outside of mixed martial arts, but I would say that definitely, yeah, it changed my life. It led me onto the right track.”

But just because Purcell traded in the drug-infested mosh pits of her adolescence for the clean-living MMA training pits of adulthood does not mean her life as a professional fighter has always been a Hollywood-ending bed of roses. Purcell is not bashful about making perfectly clear that MMA has been one rough road to hoe, due to the aforementioned frustrations over cancelled fights and the personal sacrifices the professional fighting life can exact from its adherents.

“I give everything to this sport -- everything,” says Purcell, who frequently spits out her words in aggressive, rapid-fire cadences, the verbal equivalents of the combos she will undoubtedly fire at Sexton’s head Friday. “Because of that, it’s really hurt me in my life. I mean, it’s hurt my relationships. When you obsess on something, when you fight professionally, you have to be selfish. You have to put yourself ahead of everything else.

“Training with Marco, he was always going, ‘I don’t care if you’re making money. I don’t care if you’re never fighting. If you’re even going to say you’re a fighter, you’re training two, three times a day, six days a week, and you’re going to train like a professional,’” Purcell adds. “At the time I was doing it, it wasn’t a professional sport.”

It was not all frustration and sacrifice. Along the way, Purcell had her share of triumph and glory, too. She became the first woman to compete and win in King of the Cage and later became the first female to coach in the International Fight League. As an assistant under Ruas, she cemented her status as a women’s MMA trailblazer with the Southern California Condors.

If the fighting life was not demanding enough, Purcell took on even more. She promoted the women’s MMA cause by helping start Fightergirls.net and becoming involved in the Women’s Martial Arts Association.

“The sport is exploding, and I don’t want to get left behind,” she says. “What I didn’t want to happen is the sport explodes, and like in every other sport, years later, the women come in and try to start their own leagues and get the support. I think because we’re such a young sport, the women actually are growing with the sport.”

More recently, she signed a three-fight deal with EliteXC.

“They had offered me a fight for about the past year, and I finally took them up on it and said, ‘OK, let’s go,’” she says. “In the beginning, I was kinda like, ‘I want to fight Gina [Carano], and I’m not fighting for you unless you let me fight Gina.’ That was kinda my bad. I basically was real stubborn and kinda bitter, but after a while I said, ‘You know what? I need a fight.’ They’ve been really good to me, and I’m real excited to be fighting for them.”

To eventually step into the cage with Carano, Purcell realizes, “I need to go win fights. I can’t just say, ‘OK, well I want to fight her now.’ She’s been winning fights, [and] I haven’t been active, so I can’t expect them to just pair us up.”

First, she needs to deal with Sexton (8-1), a tough Brit on a three-fight winning streak, in a 130-pound matchup at the Table Mountain Casino in Friant, Calif. The bout will air on Showtime.

“She’s a great opponent,” Purcell says. “She’s really tough. She armbarred Carina Damm, the girl I was supposed to originally fight for Elite, so she’s like a step above that. She’s great fighter. I’m excited about that.”

As always, Purcell has trained with Ruas, plus her fiancé -- Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt world champion Ronald Assumpcao -- and fighter/coach Adam Lynn (Pictures), who also was a member of the IFL’s Condors. She divided her time between Ruas’ gym in Laguna Niguel, Calif., and Lynn’s Subfighter MMA gym in nearby Lake Forest, Calif.

“I’m in the best shape of my life right now, and for the first time -- and I don’t want to jinx myself cause I still have a couple days left -- I have no injuries,” she says with that raspy laugh. “I feel really good.”

Purcell does not adhere to a training routine, preferring to mix things up to keep her workouts interesting.

“I think my biggest strength is that I’m well-rounded,” she says. “That’s what I spent most of my years trying to do. I don’t want to sound arrogant about it, because I know I have some weaknesses in my game, but I think my biggest strength is that I train equally in everything.”

Lynn considers Purcell’s chief assets as a fighter to include “her physical strength -- for a woman, she’s unbelievably strong -- her athletic ability and just her experience level. She only has maybe six, seven fights, but she’s been around the game for a long time, 12, 13 years.”

As far as a game plan goes, Lynn likes to keep it simple.

“Uh, win,” Lynn says with a laugh of his own. “Basically, she’s just gonna try to use her boxing technique, her size -- she’s a little bit bigger than Rosi -- and see how it plays out. She doesn’t want to come out and go balls to the wall and burn herself out. She wants to really get back in the ring and get a feel for it. We believe 100 percent that Debi is a better technical fighter than Rosi, so wherever the fight goes, she ends up on the bottom, she ends up on top, we have a plan for it.”

Purcell promises to pursue a decisive victory.

“I’m gonna come in and go,” she says. “I’m doing everything. I’m gonna take her down. I’m gonna be on the ground, on the feet. I’m going for the win, either by knockout or submission. That’s it.”

Of course for any of that to happen, the fight actually has to take place. Given all her past disappointments, no one could possibly blame Purcell for going through some nervous time right about now.
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