There was an old commercial from the 80s that gave rise to the joke “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Poliana Botelho is very much a UFC fighter, but also has the singular distinction of having played one on television.
Before making her Octagon debut against Pearl Gonzalez at UFC 216, Botelho played a small part in the Brazilian telenovela “Força do Querer" as a fighter at a fictional version of UFC 212. In these times of global pandemic programming, the show has begun to resurface in reruns in her native Brazil, bringing a flood of memories back with it.
“It was a different experience,” she recalls via translator. “There were a lot of cameras, you repeat the lines several times. Paolla Oliveira is a well-known actress and was an incredible person,” she recalls of the show’s star.
There were hidden benefits, too.
“The coolest part was that at that time I hadn't fought in the UFC yet, so that adrenaline rush of stepping up onto the scale and going up to the Octagon for the first time was during the novela, and I think it helped me to be a little calmer when I debuted in the UFC.”
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The experience certainly didn’t hurt. Botelho cruised to victory in that debut and followed it up with the fastest finish in UFC strawweight history with a 33-second TKO of Syuri Kondo in 2018. Her lone stumble under the UFC banner was a submission loss to Cynthia Calvillo later that year. Calvillo missed the strawweight limit, and following the catchweight bout, Botelho said goodbye to the division.
“When I entered the UFC, the 125 division didn't exist yet, that's why I fought at 115. But 125 is my home, that's where I'm going to stay.”
Flyweight had indeed always been her home in her early professional years, and the return paid immediate dividends when defeated Lauren Mueller at 2019’s UFC 236. But sadly, it ushered in an 18-month layoff, too.
“I haven’t fought in over a year, I had an injury that ended up putting me on the sidelines. I was supposed to fight Maryna Moroz in Anaheim, but she ended up getting hurt,” she explains without any hint of self-pity. “But I am coming back more prepared and more trained for any area of the fight.”
COVID-19 didn’t exactly make it an ideal time to come back, but she rolled with that, too.
“It was a very different experience. It is complicated to be quarantined. We had two quarantines and I think the one in London was worse, because I had to be completely alone; there was no way to train. But thanks to God I have a great team, and my physical trainer figured out a way of me working out using the couch, ropes and rubber bands. Here in Abu Dhabi I quarantined with my trainer, so we trained together and it was easier.”
Her re-entry into action isn’t exactly a soft landing. Botelho draws surging Canadian submission specialist Gillian Robertson this Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs Korean Zombie.
“I studied Gillian's fights a lot. She is well rounded, but I believe she depends more on the ground.” With a black belt in Muay Thai and a blue belt in BJJ, Botelho likes her chances.
“I am well trained, I am confident. Where this fight happens, I will be prepared to make the best fight of my life. I'm going to get there, impose my game, show everything I've been training. If I manage to put out everything I'm training, you can be sure that it will be a show.”
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