Nina Ansaroff has a chance to break into the top 10 — or even top 5 — of the UFC strawweight division on Dec. 8, taking on former title challenger Claudia Gadelha at UFC 231 in Toronto, but that scenario almost didn’t come to fruition.
Ansaroff lost back-to-back decisions in her first UFC fights in 2014 and 2016, dropping her overall MMA record to 6-5. Amanda Nunes, who was Ansaroff’s girlfriend at the time, said there was a possibility of her pausing her career to get pregnant.
Fast forward to 2018, and Ansaroff, now engaged to Nunes, is riding a three-fight winning streak over Jocelyn Lybarger, Angela Hill and Randa Markos, and now booked against Gadelha.
“I was there. I was gonna actually do it right after that fight,” Ansaroff told MMA Fighting, revealing that she almost stopped fighting after her UFC 195 loss to Justine Kish. “The day that they called me (offering Lybarger) I was kind of like, ‘should I do it or not? Okay, we’ll take this one and see what happens’. But it was pretty much done at that point.”
Ansaroff won by third-round submission in January of 2017, tapping Lybarger with a rear-naked choke, and it all changed for her.
“I feel like it was just bad luck and feeling like, ‘you know what, this is just my luck, there’s no point to keep trying,’” Ansaroff said of her early UFC skid. “The first fight I fought I had a really bad weight cut and didn’t feel good. The second fight, I thought I won and thought the judges got it wrong. ‘You know what, maybe this is just not working out for me.’
“I figured we would try one more time and I got a finish in that fight, and it got the motivation going. Angela was a good opponent to put me into that next level and maybe get a ranked opponent, which it did. Then I got Randa, and from then it kind of did the same thing.”
A win over Gadelha in December could easily put Ansaroff in the short list of possible title contenders in 2019, and that’s what keeps her motivated.
“As long as everything keeps moving forward, I’m gonna keep following this career,” Ansaroff said. “My goal is to be a champion, so if there’s any setbacks or anything that bad and no chance of getting it, it gets a little discouraging. But I’m on that way now, so I’m gonna keep pushing as long as I can.”
Gadelha is a “super tough girl, she’s No. 3 for a reason,” Ansaroff said, so “it’s gonna bring out the best in me. I always like to give myself a challenge, I don’t like to take easy fights. She’s a great fight for me to show what I have.”
With stoppages in six of her nine MMA wins, Ansaroff is confident she can become the first to finish Gadelha in MMA.
“Honestly, I can see myself beating her in any way,” Ansaroff said. “On the feet, on the ground, decision. I don’t really think of it like ‘this is what I have to do.’ I’m well-rounded. Wherever the fight goes I’m ready for it, and if I have the opportunity to finish it I’m gonna go for the finish no matter where it is.”
UFC 231 takes place at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, and airs live on pay-per-view.