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UFC strawweight Claudia Gadelha finding her way in the U.S.

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

It’s easy to pore over a fighter’s record and see the shortcomings. We can point out the inconsistencies or the failures to win when expected.

But the life of a fighter is about so much more than stepping into a cage and fighting another person for 15 or 25 minutes.

Claudia Gadelha is one of the most talented strawweights in the world, and on Saturday at Apex, she’ll meet Yan Xiaonan in a critical bout. Gadelha is a +110 underdog at BetMGM.

Gadelha, who is ranked fourth in the division, won her first 11 bouts after turning pro and got the call to the UFC. She hasn’t been as consistent in the UFC, going 7-4, and she won a split decision over Angela Hill her last time out that was highly controversial.

She felt she won, but was candid in discussing her performance.

“With everything going, with the pandemic and everything else, I was working out in my garage and there was a lot of emotions going through my mind and my heart, and I’ll tell you, I wasn’t at my best,” she said. “But even knowing that, I feel like I fought Angela Hill at her game and I was knocking her down with the harder punches.”

Whether you thought she won or not, the Hill fight was an example of her inconsistency. After going 11-0 on the regional circuit, she’s never had a three-fight winning streak in the UFC, though she’s never lost back-to-back bouts.

She notes, accurately, that part of it is fighting at the highest level of the sport.

But, as with many fighters, there’s more. In 2016, she left the only life she’d known in Brazil and moved to Las Vegas. She had to learn a new language, a new culture and a new way of doing things both professionally and personally.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 16: Claudia Gadelha (R) of Brazil fights Angela Hill (L) of the United States in their Women's Strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 16, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Claudia Gadelha (R) of Brazil fights Angela Hill (L) of the United States in a strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night on May 16, 2020, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

She was incredibly poor in Brazil, where she witnessed all sorts of crime and other hardships. Fighting was all she had, but after two years in the UFC, she realized she needed to move to the U.S.

There would be more and better gyms for her to work out in and she’d be better able to advance herself professionally. She came to the U.S. during a difficult, divided time for the country, but that hasn’t been as big of an issue for her as other things.

“It’s a crazy time to be alive,” she said, laughing. “In the middle of this pandemic, life is tough not just here, but everywhere. I’m from a third-world country. Seeing Americans fighting about the election and battling over things that are important, but not the most important, has been a life lesson for me.

“When I go home, it’s always a reminder: There is a huge difference between being poor in the U.S. and being poor in Brazil. I am so grateful for the life I have now. I do have a good quality of life and I feel blessed. But my friends and family, the people I love, are many miles away and I miss them. And I’m trying to learn every day about my new country and the right way of doing things.”

She’s moved around to various gyms in pursuit of what works best and landed in New Jersey with coach Mark Henry. So she lives in Vegas and spends time in New Jersey in camp.

She brought her dog with her to New Jersey, and misses it as she’s now back in Las Vegas, days away from her fight.

Her goal is to build a life after fighting and bring her family to the U.S. She understands that fighting is a short-term career and only a means to an end.

“I’ve tried to be smart, not only with my money but with the decisions I make in my life,” she said. “I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I’m not a fighter anymore and get depressed. I’m getting, and I’ve been getting ready, for the next phase of my life. I am looking into so many things. I love real estate. I love business. Fighting is a percentage of my life, but it’s not my whole life.”

She does nothing halfway, though, and she’s thrown herself into camp. Even though she’s on a two-fight winning streak, she’s determined to make a statement with her performance on Saturday.

It goes back to what she learned growing up in Brazil. Even in the controlled environment of MMA, it was difficult in Brazil. She trained with the likes of former UFC champions Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, who went incredibly hard and pushed their bodies to the max and beyond.

Her family is the bridge between her old life and her new one, and she talks to her parents every day to keep them updated on her life.

“I talk to them about how hard it is for us to be apart, but why it’s important for me to do this,” she said. “My parents are 75 years old, and I’m the only one of their four kids who isn’t there with them. It’s hard. I love my friends and my family. Even though I’m a fighter, I’m a lover, too. But they understood it would be better for me to go [to the U.S.] and become not only a better fighter and a better person, but a better athlete, as well.

“The thing is, there are so many great coaches and teams here and I have learned so much. After each camp, I think to myself, ‘Oh my God, that was so challenging, but I learned so much.’ And it’s not just about fighting, though I feel like I’m learning and getting better each time. But I learn about myself and life, and that is the most important thing for me.”

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