For the last two years, Claudia Gadelha has been a bit of a nomad, never staying in one place for too long as she’s sought to rediscover the family-like atmosphere that permeated her decade training alongside of the best Brazilian fighters on the planet at Nova Uniao.
After leaving the renowned Rio de Janeiro-based fight team and moving to the United States, the 30-year-old contender began training with Chris Luttrell and Ray Yee in Albuquerque, New Mexico, mixing in sessions with the Jackson-Wink MMA crew on the side.
Following her September 2017 loss to current strawweight champion Jessica Andrade in Saitama, Japan, she packed up her belongings and moved to Las Vegas in order to train full-time at the UFC Performance Institute. Two fights later, she was on the move again, this time landing in New Jersey as the newest addition the collection of athletes who under Mark Henry and Ricardo Almeida in New Jersey commonly referred to as “The Iron Army.”
“I left Nova Uniao two years ago after training with those guys — (Jose) Aldo, (Renan) Barao and everybody — in Brazil for over 10 years,” began Gadelha, who returns to action this weekend at UFC 239 against Randa Markos. “When I moved to America, I was kind of lost — I didn’t have a manager, didn’t know what to do, so I went all over the place trying to find a place that feels like home.
“It was just not working for me and I saw that I needed somebody to organize my life, organize my training.”
She reached out to Ali Abdelaziz, one of the most high profile managers in the MMA space, and after agreeing to work together, Abdelaziz recommended Henry and Almeida, who coach several of his most established clients, including Frankie Edgar and Marlon Moraes.
Part of the reason Gadelha felt she needed a change was that the results she was getting were not up to her standards.
Last summer in Chicago, the Top 5 fixture earned a debated split decision win over former champ Carla Esparza at UFC 225, but then followed it up with a unanimous decision loss to Nina Ansaroff six months later.
After arriving in the UFC with an 11-0 record, winning her debut and only losing to contender-turned-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk through her first six Octagon appearances, Gadelha found herself with a 1-2 mark over her last three fights, with plenty of people suggesting it should have been a three-fight skid.
“I work with results,” said Gadelha. “When things are not giving me the result I want, I know something is wrong because I’m a fighter that works hard every day.
“Nobody has to tell me, ‘Hey Claudia, you have to wake up and go to the gym twice today.’ I know what I have to do. I work my ass off every day and I try to get better every day, but sometimes you don’t find the right connections. Like I said, I trained with the same team for 10 years, I left and I didn’t know what to do.
“I felt like I needed a team to feel like my family and they really want to help me, see me growing as an athlete and a person and that’s what I’ve done to change what is happening to me in the Octagon, change the negative results.”
Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, Gadelha gets the opportunity to showcase the results of her most recent change of address in a showdown with Markos, the Iraqi-born Canadian who has been a fixture in the division since making a surprise run to the semifinals on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter.
“I know she’s tough; she keeps walking forward the whole time,” Gadelha said of Markos, who enters off a first-round submission win over Angela Hill in March and sports a symmetrical 5-5-1 record in 11 Octagon appearance. “She’s always looking to win and she doesn’t give up.
“She’s a tough fighter, a skilled fighter and she’s fought the top fighters in the division,” she added, “and I think it’s a great matchup for me.”
Despite her recent struggles, Gadelha doesn’t see her bout with Markos as a must-win venture or feel that there is any additional pressure on her to perform on Saturday night.
“I don’t think I have anything to prove,” she said quickly, swatting away a question about being under the gun to prove she is still a contender like an annoying fly buzzing around her head. “I’ve been fighting for over 10 years. I’m a pioneer in the sport.
“I have a good life, a good quality of life, but I fight because I love the game, I love the sport; I have nothing to prove,” she continued. “I’m just going to get out there Saturday night and show all my skills, my abilities, my speed; everything I have and everything that I haven’t been able to show lately.”
While her nomadic journey from Nova Uniao to New Mexico, Las Vegas and ultimately New Jersey and the less than stellar results that have followed have prompted some to question whether the now 30-year-old former title challenger is still the same “top of the food chain” menace she was earlier in her UFC career, Gadelha’s belief in herself has never wavered.
To her, she has always been the same fighter — the results just haven’t been there because she wasn’t in the right situation.
Now that she’s found a home, it’s time to show everyone that while her address has changed, she’s still a force to be reckoned with in the strawweight division.
“I just have to do what I do,” she said when asked how she gets the victory on Saturday night against Markos. “I’m still the same fighter when it comes to heart and mindset — I’ve just added new skills.
“I did a smart camp and now I can get in there and be the Claudia everyone is expecting.”