After 21 professional fights, Shayna Baszler has experienced just about everything in the sport of MMA. And following a lengthy layoff, the veteran was full of excitement heading into her Invicta FC 2 headlining bout with Sara McMann. However, her feelings soon turned to disappointment when the scorecards were read. The “Queen of Spades” had been dealt a hand that didn’t reflect the action in the cage.

“I was super disappointed. Especially because when I heard one judge had scored it 30-27, I thought for sure it was my fight,” Baszler told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I know I won round two. You can make whatever argument you want about one and three, but there’s no way I lost round two.

“Even worse than losing the decision is the fact that some judge thought I lost round two.”

The reason that the decision was contentious stems from the fact the Baszler threatened to end the fight on multiple occasions—both on the feet and on the ground. But ultimately, the judges rewarded the former Olympic silver medalist McMann for her efforts.

Baszler (InvictaFC.com)

“[Looking back] I should have worked harder to get my back off the cage. I was a little too comfortable there because she wasn’t doing anything and wasn’t able to take me down,” explained Baszler. “Hindsight is 20-20, but I don’t know what else I could’ve done. I took control of the center of the cage, I had much cleaner striking and my shots were landing.

“Maybe I was too dependent on the fact that there was nothing happening and that the ref would restart it. I could’ve pressed a little more, but we didn’t want to come forward too much because we were wary of the takedown.”

Even with the disappointment of the loss, Baszler was happy with her performance. Between a deep kneebar and a heel hook attempt in the second frame and a vicious left hook in the final round that rocked McMann, the fight proved that Baszler is just as dangerous as ever when she steps into the cage. While some watching at home may have been surprised to see Baszler come close to finishing the undefeated wrestler, she wasn’t the least bit.

“Personally, that was one of my best performances. I felt so good,” declared Baszler. “I remember landing that hook earlier in the fight and her stumbling backwards a little. It didn’t register in my mind at the time that I had wobbled her. What is surprising is that I don’t have a knockout on my record. In that sense, it was surprising that I was able to win the exchanges like that. This was the first fight where I’ve shown that I do have stand-up.

“[As for the kneebar] once I broke apart her defense, I thought I had it. I was surprised she got out of it, but I wasn’t surprised she got out of the heel hook. One thing I learned from Josh [Barnett] and catch wrestling is that leg locks are scrambles before they are submissions. They can be used by an inferior wrestler to put a superior wrestler on her back, which is exactly what happened. Sara McMann is a far better wrestler that I am, but I was able to put an Olympic silver medalist on her back because of a leg lock.”

Although Baszler didn’t agree with the outcome on the scorecards, she recognizes that McMann has the tools to be a force in the 135-pound division. Having already faced former champions Sarah Kaufman and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Baszler knows what it takes to compete at the highest level.

“She has a couple things going for her,” said Baszler of McMann. “For one, she’s an athlete—an Olympic athlete. A lot of people don’t understand what kind of caliber athlete that is. She’s mentally stronger than a lot of girls that are fighting today, even high-ranking girls.

“And she’s smart—she played the scorecards. She knew in the third round that she wasn’t going to submit me, and I don’t think her game plan is ever going to be to knock someone out. She came out with those short, little ‘run the pipe’ singles that look good on a scorecard. That comes from her wrestling background where you’re just trying to outwork someone and score points. She brings that to MMA. That will serve her really well.”

Baszler (L) connects with a kick (InvictaFC.com)

The fight with McMann was supposed to earn the winner an Invicta title fight against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. Following the close defeat, Baszler was quickly offered another fight against Sarah D’Alelio that may earn her a rematch with McMann for the vacant belt. But McMann’s decision to sign with Strikeforce may have thrown a wrench in that plan.

“My understanding is that the winner of this fight will face McMann,” revealed Baszler. “After the last fight, they asked me right away if I want to fight an opponent for the right to fight McMann in 2013. Then she signed with Strikeforce, so I’m not sure how they are going to do all that.

“I would like to think that I’m definitely one of the names being talked about as one of the contenders for the belt. I have a loss, and I don’t want to take anything away from Sara, but I don’t feel like that was a real loss. I still think I’m in contention.”

In addition to the possibility of a title shot in her near future, Baszler is just happy to stay active. With just 10 weeks between the McMann fight and her Oct. 6 meeting with D’Alelio, the grappling ace barely missed a beat in the gym.

“It’s been great being busy; I have bills to pay,” she admitted. “What’s cool about it is that I had one week where I went absolutely crazy, eating and being a gluttonous drunkard. Then I started getting back in the gym, and I’ve been right back at it. There wasn’t enough time between fights for me to go completely crazy. I’ve been able to have a cheat meal here or there because I didn’t put all that weight back on.

“I’ve been way ahead of schedule for this camp. I did a 10-week camp for Sara McMann and then jumped right back into things for D’Alelio. I actually had to taper off my lifting and cardio so that I didn’t overtrain.”

Yet, just because things are going smoothly in camp, that doesn’t mean Baszler isn’t ready for it to be over.

“It’s been a lot less stressful, but I look forward to being a gluttonous drunkard again,” she said with a laugh. “I hate life a little bit more than I did for McMann, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I had so much time off [before that fight]. If you take out that week I had in between, it’s been like a 20-week training camp.”

Baszler (top) works for a kneebar (InvictaFC.com)

All of that preparation will be put to use when she locks horns with D’Alelio in the co-main event of Invicta’s third event from Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. Although Baszler has a significant experience advantage over D’Alelio, she’s not overlooking the Washington-based fighter. Especially after D’Alelio upset Brazilian Vanessa Porto in her last outing by reverse triangle.

“I think Vanessa Porto got excited and she took Sarah D’Alelio lightly,” Baszler said. “Porto’s a black belt and she did the sloppiest armbar ever. She didn’t settle down and then relaxed too long in a bad position. It was an upset, but it was one of those surprises going into the fight where you thought it could happen.

“It’s so cliché to say don’t take anyone lightly, but Sarah D’Alelio is a prime example of someone you should never do that with. She’s going to catch you if you take her lightly. She’s been on the big stage and fought some tough names, so I don’t think she’s going to be struck by the lights or the glamour of being in the co-main event.

“I can’t go in thinking I can do whatever I want. I’m going to wreck her for sure, but I cannot take her lightly. Otherwise she might catch me in some reverse triangle nonsense.”

And even if Baszler finds herself in a bad position against D’Alelio, don’t count on her panicking. The crafty veteran is likely to have a card up her sleeve no matter where the fight goes.

“There’s not anywhere that she’s going to be able to put me in a fight that I haven’t been already,” Baszler said confidently. “I’ve had somebody beat the snot out of me standing, I’ve been in submission trouble, and I’ve been tired in the third round; that’s going to serve me a lot better than her.

“My style of grappling is very unorthodox. She’s going to be a lot more surprised at the stuff I throw at her than the stuff she throws at me. I’ve definitely seen a lot more than she has.”

Baszler (L) shows off her hands (InvictaFC.com)

Even with the decision loss to McMann still fresh on her mind, Baszler isn’t too concerned about going 15 minutes against D’Alelio. Between the pair, they’ve only gone the distance four times in 29 combined fights, so she’d love for it to be over much faster.

“If something is there, I’m going to rip it off and take it home,” she proclaimed. “If it’s in the first 30 seconds, that’s fine, I’m okay with that. I never go into a fight with the game plan to take it into deep waters, but I’m not afraid of going there. I actually think I have an advantage if it does go there.”

A win over D’Alelio is obviously the most important thing on Baszler’s agenda, but the back-to-back fights with Invicta have her encouraged about not only her future, but the sport’s.

“MMA in general has just exploded,” said Baszler. “As niche as MMA was, women’s MMA was even more niche. But as the sport grows, the women’s side will grow as well. Invicta has played a huge part in making that visible. It’s going to help the girls exponentially in the end.”

Part of what has helped the women’s side of the sport expand has been current Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey. Baszler is more concerned about what is happening under the Invicta banner for the time being, but she’s more than aware of what the judoka has been doing in the sport.

“To be in the sport and in the spot that I’m in, it would be foolish to say that I don’t want to fight her,” said Baszler. “Of course I want to fight her; I want to be the best in the world. Whoever has the designation as best in the world, I want to fight them.”

And while many have been offended by the way that Rousey has carried herself in the media, Baszler is eating it up like any fan should.

“She has said things that pissed me off and made me angry. She’s been disrespectful. But I love every second of it,” Baszler explained with an excited tone. “Women’s MMA needed a heel. Everybody’s such a good guy. Everybody loves Gina [Carano], everybody loves Miesha [Tate]— who do we hate? She’s got kind of a Josh Barnett-esque entertainment factor.

Baszler (R) looks for a leg lock (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“To be clear, I’ve never met her. She might be awesome. I’m talking about her as a character. We need that. People care more about the story of a fight then the actual fight. That’s the truth. You’ll always have hardcore fans care about the sport, but to make money, people want a story. That’s why pro wrestling is so huge.

“I love the bad guys. I’m always cheering for them. I’m always thinking, ‘that guy’s so badass!’ It sucks that [Ronda’s] such a good heel because if we ever do fight, I’ll probably have to be face. I’d love to be a heel as well.”

If Baszler can get past D’Alelio this Saturday and get revenge on McMann (and the scorecards), she may get her chance to test herself against the consensus top-ranked fighter. But until then, she’ll have to take it one fight at a time.

Shayna would like to thank her training partners at Next Edge, her coaches: Bruce Hoyer and Josh Barnett, Punch Drunk Gamer, NG Nutra, Horsepower Strength and Conditioning, Sports Ink Apparel and the  Sioux Falls Roller Dollz. Follow her on Twitter: @QoSBaszler

Top Photo: Shayna Baszler makes her way to the Invicta cage (InvictaFC.com)