Fight fans often play the game of who would be on the Mount Rushmore of UFC champions. It’s a fun puzzle to try to solve, but when you start to run down the list, it quickly becomes apparent that the nation of Brazil would need a Mount Rushmore all its own. To name only a few, faces like Amanda Nunes, Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva, Cris Cyborg and Royce Gracie would be under careful consideration.
Beginning Saturday night at UFC 255, Jennifer Maia has a chance to begin her campaign to one day be on that monument when she attempts to wrest the flyweight title from Valentina Shevchenko’s clutches. Being mentioned next to names like that visibly thrills and humbles the Curitiba native.
“I’m very proud and honored for this opportunity. Everyone [in Brazil] is very happy and very confident in my winning. Everyone back there knows how tough I am, how determined I am to prepare myself for this fight. I’ll do my best, and I hope that I can join this Hall of Fame of legendary Brazilian fighters.”
It’s a lofty goal, and she seized upon the opportunity to start making it a reality when she accepted a fight last August with Joanne Calderwood. Calderwood was slated to be next for the champion Shevchenko, and gambling with her place in line turned into a huge payoff for Maia. In a Performance of the Night effort, Maia submitted the Scot in the first round. It was a sweet victory, but with the title in sight, there was no time for celebration.
“After I came home, I took one week off to recover my mind and body,” she says. “But I kept training, very lightly, and after that one week I came back training hard for this title fight.”
Smart move. Since claiming the flyweight belt in 2018, Shevchenko has been nothing short of an immovable object as champion. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where one could be too prepared for being the first to dethrone her.
“My team and I have studied a lot of Valentina fights, and we have made a specific preparation for this fight, both in striking and grappling. I have the tools to win,” she says without hesitation. “Also, I really want this title. I really want to beat Valentina, and I think this will be the difference.”
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Oddsmakers, of course, can’t measure intangibles like heart and determination. As a result, the betting lines have strongly favored the defending champ in Saturday’s co-main event at the UFC Apex. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Brazilian.
“I think it’s normal, because she’s a dominant champion,” she concedes. “But it also motivates me because many people are saying that I have no chance. They don’t know my trajectory as a professional fighter, and on November 21, I’m going to show everyone what I’m capable of.”
There’s historical precedent for such a moment, and it’s one Maia thinks about a lot: November 14, 2015 when Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. Holm forever changed not only her division, but the entire landscape of women’s MMA when she bested the fighter once thought to be unbeatable. Maia sees no reason why she couldn’t do the same.
“Back then, everyone thought Ronda Rousey would smash Holly Holm, and Holly was able to overcome and surprise everyone. I really think that I’m capable of doing a surprise, too. I’m inspired by that story and I hope to do this again.”