UFC 236 will represent a fresh, new start for Brazilian fighter Poliana Botelho.
The Nova Uniao prospect signed with the UFC in 2016 after racking up a 5-1 record on the Brazilian circuit as a flyweight, but had to cut an extra 10 pounds to compete int he Octagon since the promotion had no 125-pound weight class for women at the time.
Botelho was victorious in her first two appearances, defeating Pearl Gonzalez via decision before stopping Syuri Kondo in 33 seconds months later, but came up short against Cynthia Calvillo in November, losing by first-round rear-naked choke at UFC Argentina.
Even before she stepped inside the cage in Buenos Aires to face the Team Alpha Male product, Botelho had already decided that it would be her final cut to 115 pounds.
“‘Dede’ (Pederneiras) always told me to go up, but I said ‘No, I’m fine fighting at 115’, but I made a decision in my last camp,” Botelho told MMA Fighting. “I told him in the middle of the camp that I had enough, that would be my final fight at 115. My body was too weak. My camp for Calvillo was too hard for me. The decision was already made before the fight.”
”I couldn’t train well, I couldn’t learn,” she continued. “It was so hard to learn and I couldn’t see it. Training at 125 now, I see how much I could have evolved. I think that made a big difference.”
At Saturday’s UFC 236 in Atlanta, Botelho will fight at flyweight for the first time since 2015 as she takes on Lauren Mueller on the preliminary portion of the card, and feels she has finally evolved as a martial artist over the past few months in Rio de Janeiro.
“It was a completely different training camp now,” Botelho said. “Today I realize I have a life, I can train and learn. Fighting at 115, all I had to think about was making weight. If my body felt sore, in pain, I still had to go to the gym because I had to sweat and lose weight. Making weight was my only concern, but that’s not the case anymore. My concern now is to learn, what I’m evolving at.
”My camp was way healthier now, way stronger and more confident. This really is my weight class. We always knew that, but they didn’t have my weight class before and I had to choose, but now I really have a life. I eat better, I feel better in training, so this is the ideal weight class for my body and my health.”
Forced by Calvillo to quit for the first time in her mixed martial arts career, Botelho points out that her rough weight cut affected her performance inside the eight-sided cage.
”It was really hard. … I hate losing in anything and don’t think I’ll ever accept losing, but it’s a sport and it can happen,” Botelho said. “Not taking anything away from her, I know what mistake I made. It was weakening to cut weight, I used to cut a total of 42 pounds for a fight. That’s one of the main things (that affected me). I train jiu-jitsu a lot and made a mistake, a mistake that can happen to any person, but she has the merits, too. I came back to training right after the fight.”
Botelho, who was briefly linked to a fight with Paige VanZant before signing to face Mueller on April 13, feels more confident ahead of UFC 236. Taking on a top-10 opponent in her return to flyweight, the Nova Uniao prospect won’t waste energy thinking about title shots right now.
“The UFC is building the flyweight division now, and I think it will be the strongest division in the UFC,” Botelho said. “I had no idea she was in the rankings, but I will move up the ladder, step by step. No rush, without think about the belt. It’s time to think about her and only her.”
”We always expect the knockout,” she laughed, “but I think it’s going to be a tough, back-and-forth fight (at UFC 236). I’ll be able to showcase my entire skillset. We’ll see what happens Saturday.”