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Claudia Gadelha: History Now, Titles Later

"It is a honor to be first UFC female fighter in this division." - Claudia Gadelha

UFC strawweight Claudia GadelhaThe two-word response has been heard before over the years, but it never fails to excite, especially when it comes from a young lady from Brazil who isn’t just looking to make history as the first strawweight fighter to compete in the UFC on Wednesday night, but to make some noise heard throughout the MMA world.

So Claudia Gadelha, what should UFC fans who have never seen you fight before expect when you take on Tina Lahdemaki?

“Don’t blink.”

Bold words, but ones MMA observers believe she has the skill and mindset to back up come fight night in Atlantic City. Simply put, while 16 of the best 115-pound female fighters are battling it out in Las Vegas on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter in a quest to crown the UFC’s first strawweight champion, many think that the division’s best will be opening up the UFC Fight Night card tomorrow night.

Gadelha, 26, didn’t want to comment on TUF 20 or make a pick for who will emerge victorious from the show, just saying that the choice to stay out of the reality show competition “was a decision made with my coaches; this was a better way.” But she has made headlines due to some heated Twitter exchanges with the show’s Felice Herrig and Carla Esparza, and anticipation is building for a showdown between “Claudinha” and her rivals, especially since two bouts with Esparza were cancelled while the two were part of the Invicta roster.

It’s a great way to kick off the division in the UFC, and that’s even before the first bell rings between Gadelha and Finland’s unbeaten Lahdemaki, who the Mossoro native describes as “a fighter with a lot of strong points” while also declaring that “it will be a very good fight.”

In the days leading up to the biggest moment of her career, which she calls “a dream coming true,” Gadelha is calm, cool, and collected. Yes, there’s the always grueling weight cut (the main reason why she didn’t compete on TUF, as making weight repeatedly over the course of the competition would have been too much), but other than that, it’s business as usual for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, and a lot of that credit may go to the folks she surrounds herself with, namely the Nova Uniao team in Rio de Janeiro.

“The preparation itself is always for the moment, but it is guaranteed to be strong and hard,” she said. “My team is essential for this.”  

The first lady of the renowned squad helmed by coaches André Pederneiras and Jair Lourenço and which has produced countless world-class fighters, including Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, Gadelha’s fight game has been forged in fire, making her decision to leave home to train in Rio a wise one, even if it didn’t always seem that way.

“It was hard in the beginning, but now everyone respects my work,” said Gadelha, who turned pro in 2008 with a 17-second armbar submission win over Elaine Leite. Ten more wins have followed, six in the first round, and as far as international experience goes, she defeated current UFC bantamweight Valerie Letourneau in Quebec, and stopped Ayaka Hamasaki in Kansas City in her Invicta debut last July. But did she ever think she would be putting on gloves with UFC printed on them?

“I always believed in that,” she said. “It is a very fast growing division with many strong fighters.”

Gadelha may be the strongest and the one with the complete package that make it grow even faster in the eyes of UFC fans. That’s the plan for the future, but for now, she’s enjoying the fact that a hundred years from now, she’ll have a place in the history books.

“It is a honor to be first UFC female fighter in this division.”