Talita Nogueira only needed one win inside the Bellator cage to earn a shot at the featherweight championship, and bringing the belt back home to Brazil would be unprecedented for women’s jiu-jitsu.
Brazil has seen many IBJJF world champions make the transition to the MMA world and become champions throughout the history of the sport, like Fabricio Werdum winning the UFC belt and Ronaldo Souza capturing the Strikeforce gold, but no women has done that yet.
“Treta”, a world champion in jiu-jitsu as a black belt in 2011 and an undefeated mixed martial artist with a 7-0 professional record — with all of her wins coming by way of stoppage — can become the first woman jiu-jitsu world champion to hold a belt in a major MMA organization. On Friday night, Nogueira will meet Julia Budd for the 145-pound championship at Bellator 202 in Thackerville.
“I don’t even think about that, to be honest with you,” Nogueira told MMA Fighting. “I don’t think about how big that would be, but it would be cool. I want that. No matter what, I want that. It will be awesome, right? I’ll be thrilled.”
Many grapplers have made the transition from the mats to the cages over the past few years, especially since the UFC opened its doors for women, Nogueira explains why they are a different type of fighters.
“I think women’s MMA lacks jiu-jitsu world champions,” Nogueira said. “Now we have girls like Mackenzie (Dern), (Michelle) Nicolini and (Luanna) Alzuguir, world champions in jiu-jitsu. I understand that pure jiu-jitsu and jiu-jitsu for MMA are completely different, but we don’t lose opportunities like most fighters do. I think that’s the difference. We don’t waste opportunities.”
Budd won the vacant title back in March 2017, finishing Marloes Coenen, and then defended it for the first time with a decision over Arlene Blencowe in December. Her only losses in MMA came against future UFC champions Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes in her Strikeforce days, but Nogueira doesn’t think Budd has faced someone with her level of jiu-jitsu yet.
In fact, Budd only lasted seconds against both Rousey and Nunes in Strikeforce back in 2011, and that’s how “Treta” envisions her title fight ending.
“I’ve always imagined that, man. I’ve even dreamed about it,” Nogueira said with a laugh. “I never went past the second round in MMA and I want it to continue like that. The fastest, the better. I respect her, she’s tough and experienced, but I want it to be fast.
“I’ve dreamed that I win quickly with some little surprises [laughs]. We train so many things that I want to win in some certain ways. It’s obvious that I want to win with a submission, representing jiu-jitsu, this art that I love so much and has given me everything I have.”
Nogueira hasn’t fought since August 2017, when she submitted Amanda Bell in the opening round in her first MMA fight since 2013. After dealing with injuries and personal issues with the death of her mother, “Treta” says the pre-title fight anxiety is “a bit different” than the one she felt prior to her Bellator debut.
“Last time it was a matter of honor because I couldn’t fight twice,” said Nogueira, mentioning her cancelled Bellator bouts with Budd and Coenen, “and I had to prove I had no problems cutting weight, that it happened because all the things that happened in my life, with my mother. I had to show people that I had no problem making weight.
“[My debut] was fast and I couldn’t show much, but I’m not the same person from that fight. We evolve a lot in between fights, in training. I’m anxious to fight for the belt, of course, it’s everyone’s dream to be at this level, in a fight like this. I’m happy, and that’s what matters the most.
“Everybody always talks about me not fighting for a long time, but I don’t think about it. I’ve competed in jiu-jitsu pretty much every month. I know it’s a different sport, but the adrenaline is the same, and I’m in shape. I don’t see any difference.”
Winning the Bellator gold would be huge for her and for women’s jiu-jitsu, but also serve as an inspiration for her daughter Luiza, who pursues a career in grappling. Luiza, 15, is a blue belt in jiu-jitsu and brown belt in judo, and currently is in California after placing second in both weight and absolute divisions at the IBJJF world championship.
“I have a different mindset about wins and losses,” Nogueira said. “Of course that we always want to win, but I show her that the path to the victory is what matters the most. We’re both gonna be prepared but only one will win. What we built on the way to the fight is what really matters. Winning and losing is part of the sport. That’s why I don’t like to talk ‘I will win’ all the time. Of course that I’m confident, [Budd] is confident as well, and we’ll do our best.
“After the fight we’ll meet in California — and I want to meet her with the belt, of course, so we can party [laughs].”
Nogueira, who actually did the opposite way and started in MMA at age 21 before entering jiu-jitsu competitions, is unsure if her daughter will follow her to the MMA cages one day.
“She jokes about it, but I don’t think she has that in her. She’s too clumsy,” Nogueira laughed. “Who knows. I don’t put too much pressure on her, I let her do what she wants. She’s still too young. She wants to become world champion in every belt in jiu-jitsu, so she has to follow that path.”