One of the great things about mixed martial arts is the sport’s ability to bring people from opposite parts of the world and demographics together. Even so, one has to wonder how a Jiu-Jitsu black belt from Brazil winds up training with a boxing guy from New Jersey.
Don Cioffi, boxing coach for UFC strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha, has the answer.
“I was working a little with (former bantamweight champion) Renan Barao and Renan liked what we were going over, which was modifying his boxing for MMA,” he said. “Him and Claudia are very good friends, and he told her that when she got back to look this guy up.”
Gadelha, fresh from a razor-thin loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their July 2016 rematch, took her friend’s advice, and she’s been working with Denville’s Cioffi ever since.
Last November, Gadelha got back in the win column and defeated Cortney Casey, and now she’s back in Albuquerque, New Mexico preparing for her UFC 212 co-main event against Karolina Kowalkiewicz on June 3. It’s been quite the year for the 28-year-old, and Cioffi respects her willingness to uproot her entire life in and out of the Octagon in order to take her game to the next level.
“She wanted to improve,” he said. “She had two close losses and I think she had some training issues. I felt that she was overtraining at times and it affected her in that second fight. In those first two rounds, she was dominant and then she just ran out of gas, and I believe that’s because she was overtrained. And for her to make a change and leave a team like (Nova Uniao), one of the top teams in the world, that’s a strong person. She’s very independent, and she wasn’t worried about what anybody else thought. She had to make the decisions that were right for her, and for such a young person to make a big decision like that, that’s impressive.”
Of course, the first order of business for Gadelha’s new coaches, which include Cioffi and Chris Luttrell, was to keep her out of the gym 24/7, which was a lot easier said than done. And while Gadelha’s striking has also been solid, there were tweaks for Cioffi to make.
“We worked on her stance and her footwork, using that to put herself into better position to continue to strike and to enhance her takedowns and jiu-jitsu game, which are top-notch as it is,” he said. “Now it’s a seamless transition, and she’s not one-dimensional. Her striking before, she was more of a slugger. She swung and they were arm punches. Now she’s learned how to throw punches properly by using her body. She’s a lot faster and smoother.”
And this old-school boxing coach, who fought professionally before putting down the gloves and picking up the mitts, has been taken in by mixed martial arts, especially the version practice in the ABQ hotbed.
“I know why people like to go out there and train now,” he said. “The caliber of fighters that are there all pull together so you can get good work in, and there’s the altitude training. I was really impressed with the atmosphere and the quality of training partners that are always there day in and day out.”
Now it becomes a waiting game as Gadelha and her squad look forward to June 3 in Rio de Janeiro. And that’s all they’re looking at.
“We’re just focusing on Karolina,” Cioffi said. “That’s the fight that’s at hand now and she’s not looking past this fight. She’s a smart person, very dedicated and very focused, so it’s not been hard to keep her on track. This fight is the only thing that’s in her sights right now. After that, we’ll see what happens.”