Luana Pinheiro’s debut inside the Octagon was going extremely well, right up until the point where she absorbed an illegal kick to the face and the fight came to a sudden, confusing halt.
“I was feeling great; I had the best camp of my life and I was showing it during that fight,” said Pinheiro, reflecting on her debut bout with Randa Markos in May.
The Brazilian newcomer controlled things in the early going, dictating the tempo of the fight and terms of the engagement. She used her strength and judo background to control the clinch exchanges and flip the Canadian veteran to the canvas, showing the kind of smoothness and comfort rarely displayed by someone the first time they compete inside the UFC cage.
She flashed solid striking too, taking Markos off her feet with a low kick early in the contest and attacking with combinations when the two traded blows on the feet. But late in the opening round, after Pinheiro deposited Markos on the canvas for a fifth time, the Canadian looked to kick away and create space, connecting with a hard kick that sent the Brazilian tumbling back to the canvas.
“Everything went the way I was expecting,” Pinheiro said of her debut as she readies to make her sophomore appearance inside the Octagon this weekend opposite Sam Hughes. “I was winning the fight until she did something outside the rules.
“But the Markos fight is in the past,” she added. “She was DQ’ed for a good reason and deserved the loss. I studied it, learned from this fight, and I am ready to face another opponent.”
While it’s certainly the right approach to take and Pinheiro has put the incident and the fight as a whole in her rear-view mirror, it’s still not the way anyone would like their UFC debut to play out or how she envisioned collecting her first UFC win.
“It was frustrating,” admitted Pinheiro, who earned her UFC contract last summer with a first-round stoppage win over Stephanie Frausto on Dana White’s Contender Series and heads into the weekend riding a seven-fight winning streak. “My gameplan was getting executed and I was feeling good in the Octagon.
“I definitely would like to have won the fight by a knockout or submission, but it is what it is — you can’t control all the things. Markos did something outside the rules and I won because of that.”
It’s understandable that how the fight ended has been the main talking point stemming from Pinheiro’s debut, but her efforts before that ill-fated illegal blow and the overall scope of what she showed back in May shouldn’t be underplayed.
In her 10th professional fight, having never previously been out of the first round, the 27-year-old walked into the Octagon and looked right at home against a fighter who has been a part of the strawweight division since its inception.
Pinheiro took the fight to Markos, who has fought just about ever fighter to pass through the Top 15 in the 115-pound ranks during the course of her 18-fight career, flashing the kind of fluid athleticism that makes one eager to see what she brings to the table this weekend and beyond.
A life-long martial artist who started in judo and likes to say she was “raised on the mats,” Pinheiro has been focusing on rounding out the other aspects of her game, with designs on establishing herself as a potential threat in the strawweight division in the not too distant future.
“I am getting better everyday, definitely,” said the Brazilian, who trains alongside her boyfriend, UFC flyweight contender Matheus Nicolau, and has logged time preparing for this weekend’s event at various different gyms, including Xtreme Couture. “I am more comfortable inside the Octagon and I feel that I can face any challenge throw my way.
“I am working more in the little details of the MMA — improving my standup game, my submission game, everything. I know that my background is judo and I don’t want to get away from that, but I want to be a complete fighter, and to accomplish that, I need to develop every other facet of the game.”
And Pinheiro gives all the credit for the gains she’s made in the last seven months to her team.
“I think it’s the team I have around me and how I trust them,” she said when asked to identify the biggest keys to her development since her debut. “And they trust me, as well.
“What they call in training or during the fights, I am able to execute. They know me really well — my strengths and my weaknesses — and we are always able to create a gameplan to highlight the things I am good at.
“But we are not forgetting to work on the details I need to improve on either,” she added. “They are always pushing me to get better and to be a complete fighter.”
Unfortunately for the promising Brazilian, nailing down an opponent for Saturday’s fight card was been a bit of a challenge, as former title challenger Jessica Penne was forced to withdraw from the contest last week, leaving Pinheiro to head into the Octagon against Hughes on short notice, not that it matters all that much to the talented Contender Series graduate.
The way she sees things, her job is simply to handle business, ideally with style points, regardless of who is standing across from her on Saturday night, and then let the UFC figure out where that places her in the talent-rich strawweight division.
“I need to do my job in a great style,” Pinheiro said of her uncertain sophomore appearance. “I need to go out there, work my butt off, and finish the fight with my hands up; that’s what I can do to help my case.
“Outside of that, it’s up to the UFC,” she added. “But I think I am ready to face anyone, at any time.”