Ketlen Vieira will make her third UFC appearance in Edmonton, Alberta this Saturday at UFC 215. Pitted against former title challenger Sara McMann, the Brazilian “Fenomeno” looked back at the rough road that brought her onto a numbered UFC show after giving up life with her family and suffering through many sacrifices required for those who strive to become professional athletes of the highest level.
Born and raised in the Brazilian city of Manaus, Vieira had to say goodbye to her three brothers earlier this year when she moved to Rio de Janeiro to pursue her dream of being a professional MMA fighter.
“In Manaus, I had no support from anyone”, Vieira told AG. Fight. “Neither from the city nor from the people. I talked to the Nova União academy [in Rio de Janeiro], and they said that I had a lot to improve and evolve, but that I had to live in Rio to have that evolution. So, I decided to move to Rio to improve my training even more.”
So, Vieira packed up and moved to Rio de Janeiro to train in the gym that got names like José Aldo, Hacran Dias and Leonardo Santos into the UFC. Additionally, Vieira learned how to restructure her life according to the needs of a professional athlete: taking care of the body, getting healthy food and keeping focused.
“We must live for the fight, we can’t lose focus”, Vieira said. “So, those who are an athlete have to have a different life. We live through it, it’s our job, and our body is also taken to the extreme every day because of the workouts. The athlete has an expiration date, we don’t compete for many, many years, so our life changes. It is a result of the fighting.”
Despite now being the pride of her family, the Brazilian had difficulties convincing her parents of her passion when she first got in touch with combat sports. Finally having gotten the permission to train at age 12, tough, Vieira jumped into the world of fighting head-first from that day on.
Apparently, that route is a one-way street.
“[Fighting] has been a part of me since I was little. My mother had no contact with the fight scene, she didn’t even know what a gym was or anything. And ever since I knew about my passion, I always asked her [to let me train and fight], because I watched it on television, and I thought it was cool. Then I would say, ‘Mother, I want to train’, ‘Mother, take me to the gym’. But my parents didn’t even know what I meant, so they would not take me to train. But when I was 12, they took me to judo and jiu-jitsu, and that’s where I started. Initially in jiu-jitsu, and then I added judo […]. In late 2014, I entered MMA.”
Ever since then, Vieira could count on her family’s support. Still, the struggle of living away from home sometimes gets to the 26-year-old, who promises her relatives to come back after every fight and to make them proud with every performance when she steps into the Octagon.
“It’s a bit sad, because I have three brothers and I was accustomed to being with them and to having my family close to me”, Vieira said. “I always follow my dream and my whole family supports me, so that’s what comforts me, knowing that they feel proud of me. And every time I finish a fight, I go to Manaus, I spend a bit of time there and then I go back to continue training.”
Next up, it’s former Olympic wrestler and UFC title challenger Sara McMann. McMann, who has fought names such as Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Jessica Eye over the course of more than four years in the UFC, will be the biggest name that Vieira has fought yet. But with UFC wins over Kelly Faszholz and Ashlee Evans-Smith and an unblemished record under her belt, Vieira is confident that she will add victory number nine to her resume up north in Edmonton.
“We trained a lot of takedown defense”, Vieira said. “But we will fight MMA, which is very different from just taking someone down. It is different to wrestle at the Olympics and to fight MMA. Because, in MMA, you have to worry about so many things. You can go for my leg and I can give you a knee, I can punch you. If you can get me down, I can try a submission, so it’s totally different. But we trained for her strengths a lot. And we also trained my weaknesses, because she could take advantage of those moments.”