Lights are on. The music is playing, and Poliana Botelho walks to the stage to weigh in for her UFC debut. The 5-1 fighter from Nova Uniao successfully hits the mark at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a day before UFC 212, and the crowd boos. Botelho gets the “uh, vai morrer” treatment from her countrymen, who choose to support Jeiza. They square off, Jeiza shoves her opponent and … they laugh.
Botelho was not on the UFC 212 card, so what was she doing at the stage moments before the ceremonial weigh-ins? And who’s Jeiza, anyway?
That entire scene was part of “Força do Querer”, Globo’s main soap opera. The network invests millions a year in their popular soap operas, and more often than not they are a success in terms of ratings. In this one, the main character, Jeiza, is a female MMA fighter who is also a police officer, so Globo decided to use the UFC’s structure during UFC 212 fight week to shoot a few scenes.
Paolla Oliveira, the actress that plays Jeiza at “Força do Querer”, talked to the media in a fake press conference for a few scenes, and then both “fighters” went to the stage for the fake weigh-ins.
For Botelho, who finally makes her Octagon debut against Pearl Gonzalez at UFC 216, the unique experience of being in front of thousands of UFC fans without an actual fight booked was interesting.
“The weigh-in was cool,” Botelho told MMA Fighting. “It was a first step in there and not for my actual debut, but it was good to feel the taste of the weigh-ins, the experience. Everyone was against me, cheering for Paolla [laughs], but it was cool, it was interesting. It was great to step in there. I think that when it’s time for me to step in there for real, I’ll be 0.0001% less nervous [laughs].”
Botelho used to be a “noveleira” (the Portuguese word for people who love soap operas in Brazil) but the routine of a MMA fighter doesn’t allow her to watch it every day anymore. Yet, she realizes the importance of having the sport in a good light every night on Brazil’s biggest network.
“It’s super cool to have a soap opera talking about MMA and women’s MMA, and that shows the growth of women’s MMA. Not only women’s MMA, but women sports overall,” Botelho said. “It’s interesting because it shows our life outside the Octagon, behind the scenes of the big show.”
Botelho expects her popularity to boost after being part of a soap opera. In fact, she’s surprised that people already stop her in the streets to ask her about MMA. The only thing missing is stepping inside the Octagon to compete (in a real fight).
The 28-year-old talent was scheduled to make her UFC debut last December, but fractured her right hand after throwing an overhand in sparring. When she was finally cleared to train again after a long recovery, she suffered another setback.
“It was a shock for me. It was hard to accept what was happening,” Botelho said. “At first, when I got injured, I wanted to put the gloves back on and continue training, said it was nothing, but I realized I couldn’t do it. I went to the hospital and saw the broken bone.
“I came back to training and unfortunately landed a punch that fractured the same spot again. I had to stop training for a while. I returned to the gym and started training everything without using the right hand, doing everything I could. I couldn’t stay out of the gym. I was shocked, it was unbelievable that I broke it a second time in the same spot.”
The Nova Uniao fighter signed has with the UFC to compete at strawweight, since the deal was made before the promotion decided to create a 125-pound division for women. With another door open, Botelho still plans on cutting more weight.
“I had plenty of time to work on my diet and adapt,” she said. “When they talked to me about the 125 division, we discussed it and decided to go to 115. We’ll do this test and see how it goes, how I’m going to feel in this division. Depending on how that goes, I’ll move back to 125, but I hope and want to continue at 115.”