When people meet Ketlen Souza for the first time, they often ask about her nickname, "Esquentadinha," which, translated from Portuguese, means "hot-headed." We couldn't resist asking either when she made her first trip to Las Vegas, where she'll make her promotional debut this Saturday vs Karine Silva at UFC Fight Night: Kara-France vs Albazi.
"It actually comes from an interview I did," she explains. Exhausted after weighing in for one of her first fights, Souza was hounded by a reporter trying to talk to her while she was busy trying to replenish her fluids. “I was getting myself re-hydrated, so I was a little stressed. And he kept bothering me.
“I said: ‘Bro, I don't feel like it right now! Just leave me alone sitting here on the floor.’ He said, ‘You’re really hot-headed!’ and it caught on to this day.”
There’s nothing hot-headed about her demeanor today. The flyweight is all smiles as she takes in the sights and sounds of the UFC Apex for the first time, taking photos, visiting the Octagon and happily giving interviews. It’s the culmination of years of hard work, the realization of a goal within striking distance. She says, “The penny still hasn’t dropped,” the Brazilian way of saying it hasn’t hit her yet.
“I got really emotional and happy because it's a dream come true to be part of the world's biggest event, the UFC. Man, I can't believe I'm here.”
She thinks back on humble beginnings in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil.
“I come from a really poor neighborhood and a coach called me,” she explains of her MMA introduction. “So I went to see what it was like. I liked it and I'm still here.”
Indeed, she is. Since turning pro in 2016, she has been collecting championship belts like they were Inifinity Stones: Mr. Cage Championship, King Of The Jungle, Star Combate, SFT and, most recently, Invicta FC. Her endgame is to add the UFC women’s flyweight strap to that collection.
A student of Coach Cristiano Carioca, she’s honed an aggressive style that runs closer to her ‘hot-headed’ moniker than her calm and gregarious demeanor.
“I'm very technical and, at the same time, very explosive. That's why you can't read me. If I want to do something, I will. I don't even care if it'll work or not.”
Historically, most things have worked for her. To date, her professional record is 13-3, and she rides a five-fight winning streak into Saturday’s bout with fellow Brazilian Silva. There’s a submission victory on her résumé, but it’s her fists that have done most of the talking. Seven of her victories have come by knockout, four of those in the first round.
That dangerous game hasn’t gone unnoticed by the UFC matchmakers, who have thrown her into the deep end with the main card matchup vs the rising Silva. An alumnus of Dana White’s Contender Series, Silva brings a six-fight win streak and a lethal submission game into Saturday’s contest.
“We couldn’t study her that much, because there isn't that much footage on her,” says Souza. She says this not in a voice of concern, but more like a child eager to see what surprise awaits.
“We got some of her highlights. And from what I could see, she's a striker with some knockouts in her career. But she also has some submissions. So we're ready for everything. I said that we should do a mix of things and work on top of everything.”
A mix that she hopes contains one specific ingredient.
“I want a knockout. I can't debut without getting a knockout.”