Jan “Cuddles” Finney is a lot of things.
She is a former collegiate softball player with a degree in business. She is a personal trainer. She is the veritable Cinderella in a story that has her fighting for a STRIKEFORCE championship belt on the night of her debut within the organization. She is the underdog, but she certainly has the skill, looks, charm and chance to potentially step into the spotlight as the new so-called “face of women’s MMA,” should things go her way on June 26.
There is one thing that Jan Finney is not; She is not afraid of current STRIKEFORCE female middleweight champion, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos.
“It’s going to be a war when I fight Cyborg,” says the 30-year-old. “Fighters like her try to break their opponents in the first two minutes. But when I’m standing there and firing back, I think it’s going to do something to her mentality.”
When it comes to her own mentality, Jan Finney has been honing hers for nearly a decade as she’s taken the twists and turns down her own personal road toward glory.
“I started out taking karate about seven years ago, and there was this girl there who kept talking to our instructor about doing MMA,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘What’s MMA?’ and I wasn’t too interested in it at first because I was thinking, ‘I don’t think I want to get punched in the face!’” But such worry faded for Finney during the stretch that she served as chief sparring partner to her MMA-bound friend, who finally entered the cage. “After that night, I finally started thinking to myself, ‘You know, maybe I should get into MMA!’” she says. And get into MMA she did, after only six months of training.
“That first time I fought it was like an out-of-body experience, like I was looking down at myself the whole time,” she remembers. “Once I started throwing punches it got better, but there was definitely some tunnel vision and an adrenaline rush. I remember almost seeing myself doing these things, but outside of my own body, and it was like, ‘Wow, I’m fighting?’ That feeling gets a little less each time, but that rush is always still there and you can definitely see your training coming through a little more each time.”
After her first fight, Finney was dedicated to improving her skill set in any way that she could, and it was that determination which eventually led her to the Jorge Gurgel MMA academy. While she went to the academy mainly as a means to improve her ground game, Finney came away with a little more than she bargained for—a boyfriend who was as deeply immersed in the fight game as she. “[UFC vet] Mike Patt started helping me out with my jiu-jitsu because he could tell that I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Finney. “He ended up cornering me for a fight and we hit it off and then when he opened his own gym, I went with him.” It was there at Patt’s gym, Beavercreek Martial Arts, that Finney received the affectionate nickname “Cuddles,” from Patt himself, after a week of training saw her accidentally kneeing one male training partner in the groin, splitting open the forehead of another, and doling out a shiner to one more unsuspecting fighter. “I guess I’m sometimes just like a bull in a China shop when I train,” she says with a laugh.
For Finney, the decision to continue pursuing fighting as a career was met with immediate praise and approval from everyone—everyone, that is, except for her parents.
“My parents got into the whole MMA thing when I was heading into my second fight,” she says. “They started watching MMA and K-1 on TV when it was on, and I remember my dad looking at me with these wide eyes and saying, ‘Jan, if they start punching you in the face too much, just tap out.’ All I could do was laugh. I was like, ‘Are you serious, dad?!’ … Once they saw me fight in a few smokers, they realized I wasn’t going to get really hurt so they were more ok with it then.”
Since then, Finney’s parents have watched nearly every fight that their daughter has been in—albeit on internet streams or videotapes—and the story will be the same come June 26, when Finney engages in the first live televised fight of her career, which also happens to be her most important bout, as well. Still, Finney insists there is no added pressure.
“I’ve gotten a few more media calls than I usually get, and my website (www.janfinney.com) and my Facebook page have been blowing up, but I still think of this as any other fight,” she reveals. “I’m putting in the same work in the gym; I’m still just fighting one person at a time; I imagine it won’t feel much different fighting on TV than it does otherwise. The fight itself is all that’s on my mind, and the rest is just details.” In contrast to her own situation, Finney feels that it’s the current champion who is dealing with the brunt of any stress in the lead up to this fight.
“Cyborg has a lot more pressure on her than I do on me,” she says. “Everyone expects certain things out of her, but no one is expecting anything out of me, so that just makes it easier. Plus, she’s the champ, and it’s a lot easier to climb the mountain than it is to stay at the top when everyone is gunning for you … I like being the underdog.” Needless to say, Finney’s days as the underdog could very well be over in less than a week’s time, but that’s ok with her, too. “I think I’d much rather be champion,” she says. “And that’s exactly what I’m determined to become.”