Montreal native Valerie “Trouble” Letourneau knows just how important a win over fellow Canadian Jessica Rakoczy would be for her prospects in the UFC’s strawweight division.
The two Canadians face off Saturday in Montreal’s Bell Centre.
“I believe an impressive win will be a statement for the division,” she said. “Hopefully I can get a top 10 fighter, and climb my way to the top of the division after this fight.”
And as Paige VanZant proved over the weekend with a dominant performance against Felice Herrig, the strawweights are gaining significant attention, as casual fans are beginning to realize there is more to women’s MMA than just the powerhouse that is bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
In her UFC debut last summer, Letourneau was taken into deep waters by a tough Elizabeth Phillips, but “Trouble,” who took the fight on short notice, walked away with the split decision win. Despite taking significant damage to her left eye during the fight, she is coming into this matchup not just healthy, but after a full fight camp for the first time in her career.
“I never had a such a complete training camp,” she says. “Also, I’ve never known about a fight so early, without having my opponent change. I definitely feel more prepared than ever in every aspect. But I learned a lot in my last fight. I learned to never give up - to fight until the very last second. But I also learned that I belong here and am eager to get back in the Octagon, especially against Jessica.”
Training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Marco “Parrumpa” DaMatta and striking with Roger Krahl at American Top Team in Florida, Valerie says she feels she’s more well rounded than Rakoczy is at this stage in their careers.
“I am sure she has improved since her last fight, which was over a year ago. But you don't become a wrestler in a year,” she said. “I think she's going to rely on her strength in this fight, which is her boxing.”
Indeed, as most viewers of The Ultimate Fighter already know, Rakoczy is an accomplished professional boxer with a record of 33-3. The 38-year-old single mother is making her first appearance at strawweight, but Letourneau isn’t expecting the weight cut to give her an advantage since she too is coming down from 135 pounds.
“This is a hard cut for both of us,” she said. “My first pro fight was at 142 pounds. But I’m feeling good. Amanda Nunes and Nina Ansaroff are my main training partners and they have been helping me with the weight.”
“Trouble” made the move to train full-time at ATT mainly because there are more women with which to train, but also because all of the coaches are at the same gym.
“I have more coaching and every coach is in the same gym,” she said. “It makes it easier with the communication between them and the fighters. I also feel more structure here. Plus, I can't complain about the weather. I deeply hate winter.”
Letourneau says she’s expecting a war with Rakoczy, but isn’t feeling any more pressure than usual, despite how important a win on Saturday night is for her career.
“There is always pressure for different reasons,” she said. “No one goes into a fight without pressure. We both want to perform, we both want to win. The pressure is there for both of us. It’s how we deal with it that will define who we are. We are both warriors, and I am looking forward to showing it once again to the UFC and to the fans.”