“This is my biggest dream. This is everything I have. This fight is everything I have, and I’m giving my all.”
Janaisa Morandin is pumped up for her strawweight championship bout against undefeated 115-pound queen Virna Jandiroba at Saturday night’s Invicta FC 31 in Kansas City, but it wasn’t an easy road to get to this point.
”Evil Princess” made her professional MMA debut in 2013 after competing in muay thai tournaments in Brazil, and won nine in a row before joining the Invicta FC roster last year. That alone was a dream for the challenger, who was 22 at the time.
”When I watched the first Invicta event, six years ago, I had never fought MMA before,” Morandin told MMA Fighting. “I was sitting on the couch in my mother’s living room and said, ‘Mom, I will fight in that cage.’ The odds of that actually happening were really slim, but I said I would do it and here I am, 23 years of age, fighting for the belt. I’m really happy.”
Morandin had already received offers to compete in MMA prior to that, but living in a small Brazilian city like Erechim, with no fight tradition whatsoever, made it look like a distant reality.
”If you want it, you will battle for it and make it happen,” Soeli Santos, Morandin’s mother, told her on April 28, 2012, while veterans like Marloes Coenen, Liz Carmouche and Leslie Smith battled inside the Invicta cage.
”My mom always loved boxing,” Morandin said. “When she was pregnant, she spent nights awake watching Mike Tyson fights. My therapist jokes that that’s why my cross is so good [laughs]. My mom is my No. 1 fan. My family has always supported me. That’s why I fight for them, to make them proud.”
Back in 2012, picturing women fighting in the UFC Octagon was still surreal. It would still take almost a year for Ronda Rousey to break that barrier and enter the eight-sided cage for the first time.
For a small-town girl like Morandin, Invicta FC seemed like the top of the world, but everything still “seemed too distance and too difficult.”
The young talent decided to leave her hometown to pursue her MMA dream, joining Astra Fight Team in Balneario Camburiu. Morandin, who currently trains at Killer Bees in Curitiba, went through rough times before inking a deal with the North-American promotion.
”I already knew I had to leave that place to be able to make my MMA debut and achieve something. That was my biggest sacrifice,” Morandin said of Erechim. “I do it for love, that’s why I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice, but leaving my parents’ house, that comfort, and being away from my family, that’s my biggest sacrifice.
”People see me today and don’t know how many difficulties I had before I got here,” she continued. “I barely had money to have breakfast before training. I was alone, in a different city, in a different state, with nobody by my side. I left home when I was 18 and was forced to mature too early. I had to work for what I wanted.”
It took nine fights and nine wins — and such persistence and love for the sport — for her to sign with Invicta.
”To be quite honest with you, until my first MMA fight that aired on TV, I didn’t imagine I would be able to make money with fighting,” Morandin said. “I fought because I loved it, because I wanted to. My dream was to make a living off of this, but after my first fight that aired on TV I started to believe something bigger could happen.”
That televised bout, a 2014 decision win over Arielle Souza at MMA Super Heroes, started to change the scenario for “Evil Princess”, who improved to 7-0 that night.
”My first nine fights, I made no money with MMA,” Morandin said. “I think I only got paid in two or three before before Invicta. I fought for free most of the time. It was really hard at first.
”I spent 10 years training before I had some money back, but fighting gives me something much bigger than money. The opportunities that fighting gives me, the life I have thanks to fighting, that’s priceless. I do it because I love it.
”Today I make a living with seminars, but I used to work as a receptionist of the gym before, training during my breaks,” she added. “That’s how I made a living for a long time. Some people say it was easy for me because I’m 23 and I’m in the biggest promotion in the world, but I had to fight hard for this. I gave my blood for this.”
2,318 days after watching the first Invicta FC card on her mom’s couch and dreaming of one day becoming an Invicta FC fighter, Morandin has the opportunity to win the strawweight championship against Virna Jandiroba, an undefeated jiu-jitsu specialist.
Morandin has respect for her opponent’s abilities, but doesn’t expect many surprises when the bell rings.
”I respect her a lot, I think she’s an excellent athlete and deserves to be where she is, but she has to go through me now,” Morandin said. “She has a progressive game, a great game, but it’s predictable. She has to follow a step-by-step method. If you can block one step, I see no other alternatives for her.
”She has to follow her steps on the ground as well. Her ground game is at the highest level, can’t debate that, but I believe I’m more complete as a MMA fighter.”
The young challenger, who added multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champions in her camp for Jandiroba, admits she’s also a bit predictable when she explains how to dethrone the 115-pound titleholder in Kansas City.
”By knockout,” said Morandin, who won half of her MMA fights by knockout. “That is also kind of predictable because I always say in my interviews that my goal is to get the knockout [laughs], but I’m ready to fight in all areas. I feel confident. That would be the biggest accomplishment of my career.”