Mixed martial arts is one of the toughest lines of work you can ever get into, and this lifestyle is as tough as it gets, not only for you, but for everyone around you.
How hard it is to prepare for a fight? How devastating is it to come back home after getting knocked out and see your daughter crying because you just lost? She probably doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but that scene is not an easy one to digest.
When you’re out of the spotlight, when fans aren’t there to judge every step you take and every word that comes out of your mouth, that’s when you can finally be yourself. It’s just your family with you now.
Nine women agreed to open the doors of their homes and reveal what it is like to be married to an MMA fighter. They are the significant others of former and current champions, rising contenders, and human beings fighting for the best opportunities they can get.
These are their stories.
The Realities of the Scale
An MMA fight can’t last longer than 25 minutes, but getting ready for such physical and mental effort takes weeks or even months of hard training camps. Being a professional fighter means you don’t have the privilege of doing simple things in life, like eating anything you want at any time, and being around someone with so many restrictions changes your life in many aspects.
Cris dos Anjos, Rafael dos Anjos’ wife: The diet is way easier now at welterweight, but he still has to cut weight and dehydrate on fight week. Fighting at lightweight affected him a lot. It was worrisome to see how many kilos he would lose during his camp. As a wife and a mother, I manage everything at home, so the entire family ends up on a diet. I prefer to call it a healthy lifestyle instead of calling it a diet, actually. We avoid all kinds of junk food, and I’m really creative in the kitchen when I cook for our family. We even call our kitchen ‘black belt bistro.’ I think Rafa gave me a black belt in healthy cooking.
Fernanda Gomes, Jessica Andrade’s fiancee: I started to train with Jessica in her last camp [for her UFC Japan fight against Claudia Gadelha]. I tried to cut weight with her, and it was miserable for me, but also great to know what she goes through. When it was over, I told her I admire her for going through all that. It’s really tough. You have to be prepared mentally and emotionally or your body won’t handle it.
Vivianne Oliveira, Jose Aldo’s wife: He starts to cut weight on fight week, so it’s a one-week weight cut for him. He cuts 22 pounds in five days. I don’t meet him on fight week, I rarely text him. We don’t have much contact. I never liked to be involved because it’s a bad feeling. I will feel sorry for him. I’ll want him to eat something, so I’d rather not get involved. It’s not cool to watch.
Fabyola Machida, Lyoto Machida’s wife: He only had to cut weight on fight week when he fought at light heavyweight. He felt the change when he went from heavyweight to light heavyweight, when he had to cut 27 pounds, but he completely changed his diet, so it’s easier now. It hasn’t changed much when he went down to middleweight.
Lucilene Caetano, Felipe Arantes’ wife: The bad mood is really hard. It usually starts two weeks before the fight, and I just hope it comes soon so he can go fight. It’s like PMS. He’s stressed, in a bad mood. Felipe is a gentleman, but he doesn’t have the same patience. I learned to deal with that and just ignore it. It’s hard to deal with it, so I just wait for the fight to be over.
Bruna Barboza, Edson Barboza’s wife: He’s unbearable when he’s cutting weight [laughs]. Before we had Noah, I used to go with him to every fight. We flew on a Tuesday and he didn’t eat anything before the fight. We wouldn’t talk because he was unbearable. One day I ate a cereal bar and he said, ‘Why are you eating this in front of me? Are you trying to piss me off?’ Imagine if I was eating a brownie [laughs]. I can’t speak with him on fight week, not even a ‘hi’ or ‘good morning.’
Teresa Freire, Patricio Freire’s wife: It’s horrible. He’s 30 pounds over when he’s off camp, so he gets stressed when he starts his diet. He gets tired. Sometimes he’s more stressed. It’s hard to go out to a mall or go for a walk because he will see a lot of things he can’t eat. I honestly feel sorry for him, because you see him completely worn out at the weigh-ins.
Jessica Lima, Douglas Lima’s wife: He’s always in a bad mood when he’s cutting weight, so much that I’d rather not even talk to him because he’s annoying [laughs]. When the weight cut gets tougher, he starts to say, ‘There are X days left for me to eat.’ I had to be careful with what I was eating. He asked me to cook anything I wanted before he got home so he wouldn’t smell anything. I used to go to my sister-in-law’s house and ask for a pizza, so I wouldn’t eat it at home. I try to eat what he eats, but it’s hard.
Isadora Santos, Junior dos Santos’ wife: He’s a heavyweight, but every single detail makes a difference. He has to eat the best way possible to perform at his best. He didn’t pay much attention to his diet before, but I started to take care of that, and his supplements, and he loved it. He started to feel better and perform better. I cook his meals, and when I go to his fights, I cook for him so he doesn’t need to go outside the hotel for it.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): People ask me all the time, ‘How can you watch his fight?’ Guys, the fight is the easiest part. It’s three five-minute rounds and it can be over at any moment. The tough part is the pre-fight, when his diet is more restricted and that’s annoying, so the fight is the easiest part of all.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): It changed a lot the way I eat when we started living together. I’m addicted to chocolate, but he doesn’t like sweets, so he doesn’t mind. (Our daughter) Joana is allergic to milk so she can’t eat chocolate, so we always had a healthy diet at home.
Lima: It got more difficult when the kids came because they have to eat. I can’t make our kids go on his diet, so it changed a little, but it’s still complicated. He surprised me in his last fight, though, because he wasn’t as annoying as he usually is [laughs]. He ate well. I don’t know, I think he’s getting more mature. I hope he continues like that.
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): It gets complicated on fight week. I know it’s going to be stressful when we go to the hotel on fight week, and I’m the only one that can handle her. We know she will be annoying, angry, but I’m always around. I don’t mind because I know it’s hard. Their lives aren’t easy.
Freire: I went to his last fight and followed him through this fight week weight cut, when he cut 13 pounds in a week, 6.5 pounds in a day. It’s shocking. He doesn’t eat anything, only some chestnuts and some water, and continues to train. It was shocking to see how weakened he gets due to the weight cut.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): I go on a diet with him. It’s not that I don’t eat barbecue and drink a beer here and there, but we have a healthy lifestyle in our day-to-day life. It’s obvious that white rice tastes better than mashed yams, but I know he’s focused on losing weight so I follow him. The only fight I couldn’t go on a diet with him was against (Jerrod) Sanders because I was pregnant.
Barboza: Junior is getting more focused on the diet, but when the camp starts it’s crazy. He pretty much only eats salad and chicken. No salt at all. It’s hard to watch. I’m used to this already. I pretty much live on a diet with him. It’s horrible because I have to cook for him and for Noah now. I’m used to eating chicken all the time.
dos Anjos: One thing he complains is about his diet. He’s always making sure that his family is drinking alkaline water, and he will complain if you’re not.
Traveling for Two
Your loved one is about to enter a plane or hop into a car to travel for the big night. You have an important decision to make: Do you want to be with them leading up to an important day of his career, or is being far away the best choice?
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): I watched all of his fights as a MMA journalist before we started dating, and after that I only went to his fights in Brazil. I was working for Veja when he fought in Jaragua do Sul, and he left the Octagon after the fight and went straight to the media room to see if I was alright, so I think he loses his focus a little bit. That’s why I didn’t go to his last fight in Rio. I prefer to stay at home and pray while he fights.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): The first fight I went to was against ‘[Korean] Zombie’ and I couldn’t even watch it. I go to the arena, but I can’t watch it. I don’t know, it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head of everything he went through in his camp. It’s a woman thing, I guess.
Machida: I prefer to be in the arena to watch it live, but I can’t do that anymore because of my work and the kids — and I believe that’s a job for his team. My work is done when Lyoto enters the plane, and then I focus on doing other things. I’d like to be present in his fights, but it’s not always possible.
Freire: I really enjoyed going last time, and I think it helped him too. It’s funny because I don’t watch it from home, and at the arena, I was just peeking. I’m glad it was over quickly, but I got nervous.
Barboza: I enjoyed going with him because I was like a lightning rod, a shield. I wouldn’t let anything negative get to him. And I enjoyed going to the arena to watch the fight, cheer for him.
Santos: I like to go because I can help him with his meals. We stay in separate rooms, but I take everything he has to eat. If he needs something I’m there for him. But after we had Bento, I’m no longer available. Things changed a little bit, but he’s learned how to do those things now.
Traveling to the city where your better half is about to fight, and even traveling to the arena — that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to watch them compete. You might be an avid martial arts fan, but seeing someone you love get punched in the face is sometimes too tough.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): Having worked as an MMA reporter definitely helps me because I have a technical knowledge that other wives might not have. Some might get scared, afraid. I’ve seen wives being scandalous during fights, yelling or crying, things like that, and I’ll never do such thing because I know what’s going on in there. I just hope it’s over soon, and no one gets hurt, and that he gets the win.
dos Anjos: I always watch it live. I’m constantly praying. Early in the day, I like to do some physical activity to get the adrenaline out of my body. He’s so good at fighting, but after all these years I still can’t control myself. I run, I work out, and I pray to God that he doesn’t get hurt and gets the win he deserves.
Barboza: I don’t watch the fight if I don’t go to the arena because I think it’s horrible. I don’t know what will happen, if he’s going to get hurt, and I won’t be there to help. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, I just don’t want him to get hurt. I turn my phone and the TV off and play with Noah to distract myself. I always feel it, though. I always turn the TV or my phone on immediately after someone just sent me a text saying it was over and that he won. Last time in Brazil, I was at the hotel and turned the TV on right when he knocked out [Beneil Dariush].
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): I’m in the arena, but I don’t watch it. I pray, I hope that nothing happens to both fighters, that no one gets hurt, and that Aldo wins. I sing songs, trying to calm down my heart, but nothing works. I always have a friend with me to let me know what is happening. When the first round is over I peek, but it’s not easy. It was complicated [against Max Holloway]. My friend said he was doing well, and then he was knocked out on the ground. It was a matter of seconds, and I couldn’t understand. I still couldn’t watch it.
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): I had the honor of being in her corner in her last fight. Many people saw me there and thought it wasn’t right, that Jessica would get nervous. That was her 12th UFC fight and she has a great connection with master (Gilliard) Parana. I was there to give her support up until she enters the cage. From that moment on, it was on him to help her. It was important for me to be by her side, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t have any degree in martial arts, so I didn’t give her any instruction. I got too nervous, it was terrible. I knew she was well-trained and ready to win, but I was nervous when she got cut in the first round and started to bleed. I was desperate, but I prayed to God and everything went right in the end.
Santos: I go to the arena, but I barely watch the fight. I get too nervous, it’s impossible not to be. It’s months of dedication and hard work in 15 or 25 minutes of fight. It’s impossible to control your emotions. I don’t like to actually watch it, but I’m there.
Barboza: I was at home with my mother when he fought (Gilbert) Melendez. I was showering Noah and my mom came yelling that he won. I said, ‘He said he’d fight at 10pm! He didn’t even fight yet!’ And she said, ‘I know he won because the neighbor told me he won,’ and I was like, ‘But you don’t even speak English! What did he say?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, but he was yelling, so I think he won.’ [laughs] I turned the TV right away and saw that he had won.
Freire: I try to send some positive vibes, I pray, and I wait for someone to call me. I’m usually with Patricky’s wife, so she says what happened, but sometimes I stay at home by myself.
They are days away from entering a cage to fight someone, and some believe that sexual abstinence is helpful in those situations. But does that really influence your performance, or is that just a myth from the old days?
Machida: Sexual abstinence depends on each athlete. When an athlete starts a camp, a training period, his testosterone drops and he’s not very prepared physiologically speaking. His testosterone drops naturally, so it’s not like athlete is thinking, ‘I can’t do it because I have to train better.’ His energy is focused on something else. His hormones change, but we still do it before the preparation. We don’t have any restrictions. If we want it, we’re ready [laughs].
Lima: There were times that we didn’t do two weeks before a fight, but I think he’s past that. He realized there’s no difference, so if it doesn’t make any difference…
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): We talked about it in Japan. People say you can’t do it. Master Parana said, ‘I didn’t have sex for a month before my fights, so I went there really angry to fight my opponent,’ and Jessica responded, ‘I disagree, I feel much better if I have sex. There’s no sexual abstinence here.’ [laughs]. I think women’s hormones are so angry that if you don’t release that… you have to, otherwise PMS will kill the fighter [laughs].
dos Anjos: That’s a myth. Master Carlinhos Gracie told him that once, but here at the dos Anjos family that never worked [laughs]. We’re together for many years and we’ve tried everything, including sexual abstinence. That varies on each one’s head. Rafa is a fully prepared fighter, including mentally. If he’s in a good place mentally, he has his best performances no matter if we had sexual relations or not days before. When the testosterone is released, I believe he performs better around here [laughs].
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): I think that’s a myth. We’ve been through both situations, not doing or ‘just go for it,’ and there is no influence in the outcome of the fight. I’ve seen many specialists saying it’s good because the athlete becomes more aggressive, but I think it’s a myth. At the end of the day, it depends on what’s going on. He fought when Theo was just three months old, so sex was the last thing we were thinking about, and there were times that it happened a day before he traveled to fight. It depends.
Barboza: He really doesn’t like to on the week of the fight because he has no strength to even raise a fork [laughs]. I don’t know if he thinks about it, but he doesn’t show it. He likes it days before traveling, though [laughs]. He doesn’t mind. I think he only thinks about food during fight week. He watches Food Network all day. No one understands why he does that.
Freire: He doesn’t believe in [abstinence]. Of course we won’t do it two days before a fight, but 15 days? He doesn’t believe that.
Santos: I think it’s kind of a myth, but it depends. There’s no rule with us. It might happen, but there’s no specific rule.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): We don’t have sex the week of the fight, but not because I think it’s bad, but because we really don’t see each other. I’d rather let him be focused. Weeks before, it’s all good, I don’t think it’s a problem. What really is a problem is when a wife keeps bringing problems to her man. His mind has to be free to think of what has to be done. That’s why I don’t like to be around, by his side, laying on his bed. I won’t help with anything. I’ve helped with the way I can, so this is time to focus on fighting.
The Darkest Nights
Things don’t always go your way, and all fighters have to deal with it eventually. Losing in MMA can mean many different things, from controversial decisions, devastating knockouts or even gruesome injuries. Being a partner means being around to support when the unexpected happens — and that’s often challenging.
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): The UFC title was a big opportunity for us, and losing that was a big hit. Jessica has that willpower, she wants to be the best at what she does. I told her, ‘You’re a champion because you went there and put on a great fight, fought five rounds despite an injury.’ Even before she proposed to me after the fight, she said she’d come back better, and she did it. It’s inevitable to get upset with a loss, but those who care about her are around her to help her come back even better.
dos Anjos: Every loss feels like a funeral, but it is also a learning experience from which we can take good things from it and fix it to evolve. We have a saying here at home: ‘We’re stronger together.’ We must be in harmony. If one is going down, we have three to hold him. We’re too close, so we can cheer up even in sad moments, and we learn the lessons.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): The (Conor) McGregor (loss) was devastating. It took a while, maybe a month, to bring him back up again. But I think I suffer more than he does. He has a better head. But the way it was, too fast, and the disappointment of not having a rematch when other champions had, that frustrated him. It was hard to motivate him. The second one, against Holloway, was different. He said he would come back and win because that was the first time Joana saw her dad fight. He wants to come back and win for her.
Barboza: When he loses, my God, I hope he fights again as soon as possible so he moves on, because he gets depressed. He’s not used [to losing], thank God. The (Donald) Cerrone loss was really tough, but the (Tony) Ferguson was the worst of all. My family came to visit us and he just couldn’t have a good time. We were planning on going to New York and he didn’t want to go. It was a tough month, but when they booked his next fight, he turned the page. The Ferguson loss was really bad because he doesn’t remember anything after the illegal kick. Everyone asks him why he kept fighting, that he should have stopped the fight because of the kick, and he says, ‘I’m a fighter, man. I don’t remember anything. I was dizzy, I just wanted to go back and beat him up.’
Santos: I don’t cry in front of him. I try to cheer him up, tell him he lost a fight but there’s still plenty more to come. This last loss (to Stipe Miocic) was frustrating for him because he was thinking about Bento, he wanted to give his son the belt. It hurt more, but at the same time he was happy to be with his son right after. That gave him an extra strength to bounce back from the defeat. He was asking for another fight the next day, and they gave him the (Francis) Ngannou fight. He has his time of mourning, but when it’s over, it’s over, he moves on. I think that’s important, the mourning. You have to live that moment because you worked hard for something and was frustrated.
Freire: It was really tough [when he fractured his leg against Ben Henderson]… my God [starts crying]. When I saw him in a wheelchair at the airport, it was really sad. Our son was too young, so that helped him. He couldn’t do anything. He stayed in a wheelchair for 30 days, and Davi helped entertain him at home. They were always playing. He couldn’t even leave home without help. When he goes to a fight, I don’t get distressed about winning and losing; I pray that he doesn’t get injured. Losses happen, you can come back and win next time, but injuries are complicated. It might not even allow him to fight again, so I get worried.
Lima: The last time he lost and got really hurt was against Ben Askren, so it has been a while. Our daughter wasn’t even a year old, so she didn’t understand it. Thank God he usually doesn’t come back home hurt. When he does, it’s heartbreaking.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): He loves to be at home, so he gets upset every time he has to travel. I always tell him, ‘I’ll be waiting for you at home, win or lose. Go there and do your best.’ When he comes back home after a loss, I’m there for him, to bring him back up. There’s another fight coming soon.
Barboza: I really want to see him fight Ferguson again. That fight is still stuck in my throat. Ferguson went to talk to Junior the next morning and said ‘good fight,’ and Junior was classy with him. I left because I couldn’t listen to that. This guy lands an illegal kick on my husband and then he says it was a good fight? I’d like to see what he would do if he was the one getting kicked in the face. He’s cocky. His wife came to talk to me and I couldn’t talk to her, too. I was too emotional. I would still not talk to her if we met today [laughs]. Junior jokes that I take everything too personal. I do. I’m his wife, I’m not a professional. I don’t need to be respectful to anyone.
Dealing with a bad night at work isn’t easy for adults. But imagine if you’re just a small kid waiting for dad to come home — and once the doors open, his face is almost unrecognizable.
Machida: We didn’t allow [the kids] to watch MMA before they turned 5 because a kid’s head is not prepared enough to understand that it’s a job and also entertainment. They had a psychological preparation — we introduced them to MMA. When we realized they were ready, we started to introduce Lyoto’s old fights, we took them to (Lyoto’s brother) Chinzo’s fight. But I think it’s too soon to let them watch Lyoto fight live because the unexpected happens in fights. I let them watch it knowing the result, either positive or negative, because we teach them about winning and losing.
Barboza: When Junior came back from his fight with Paul Felder, Noah didn’t recognize him. He feels it a lot when Junior leaves for his fights, keeps asking for his dad.
Lima: They are too young but already love fighting, they used to go to the gym to watch him train. They watch the fights with me, but don’t understand it that much. My daughter doesn’t care, but my son was in front of TV the whole time watching his last fight.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): [Joana] understands about fights now. She went to the weigh-ins for the Holloway fight, and lived that atmosphere, so I think she felt that loss more. I don’t let Joana watch fights, but she insisted she wanted to watch her father fight for the first time. My mother was at home with her and told me she cried a lot [when Aldo lost]. She couldn’t sleep, she stayed up until we went back home. She was crying, and that motivated him to come back. He was fine, with a good head, but he felt that. It’s impossible not to feel it and cry when your daughter is crying. He told her he would become champion again for her, when in reality I think he would just drop everything and not fight anymore.
Machida: When Lyoto came back home with injuries and bruises, we always had good excuses. For example, Lyoto got hurt a lot against Yoel Romero and had to do a nose surgery. I told the kids, ‘We have to go to Miami because daddy will undergo surgery so he stops snoring.’ They went there with us to take care of daddy. There was no need to tell them that he got hurt in a fight.
dos Anjos: My older son, Gustavo, has a competitive spirit and even won a IBJJF Pan-American tournament, and the experience of watching that final was almost like watching Rafa fight. He’s competing in wrestling in high school now, and he has good chances at winning the state league here in California. ‘Rafinha’ has also competed in wrestling and debuted with a loss, just like his dad, but when he won his first medal he gave it to dad, who was very proud. I don’t know if they will become MMA fighters, but since we’re a team already, and I have a heart condition [laughs], why not, right?
Machida: I don’t interfere in my kids’ choices because they are too young, but if they grow up and say, ‘Mom, I want to follow dad’s career,’ I will help them just like I help Lyoto. I’ll be always around. They know an athlete’s life is not the glamorous (life) some people think, they know about the challenge and sacrifice. What matters for Lyoto and I is that we raise citizens that are emotionally balanced, capable of recognizing their feelings.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): Man, I’d love if she wanted to become a fighter, but she won’t. We spoke about it. She insists she doesn’t like it. She’s too girly, likes ballet and makeup. She plays capoeira, and that’s pretty much it. I like it, I wouldn’t see any problem.
Barboza: People always say Noah will become a fighter because he loves it, but I’ve had enough. We will put him to train martial arts because of the discipline. Junior says he has to be a black belt in something, but we won’t encourage him to become a fighter. But if he wants to, what can we do? We’re encouraging him to become a soccer player. The bad part is that he’s rooting for [Brazilian team] Botafogo now [laughs].
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): We plan on having kids in 2020. We will do an artificial insemination, fertilize her eggs and put them in my uterus so we have a bit of both. Jessica can’t get pregnant because of her career, so I will give birth to our child. This is our world. We breathe this, there’s no escape. We want twins, and we would put them to train jiu-jitsu as soon as they can walk. That’s what we want and hope for, that they become fighters.
My Favorite Fight
Every fight tells a story, but they are all unique in their own way.
Machida: The fight I like the most is the one with Chris Weidman. It was Fourth of July and the American crowd was going nuts. It was the American nationalism against the Brazilian, and it was a beautiful moment when Lyoto came back in the end. Although he didn’t win the fight, it was the most beautiful one. I really like watching that fight. It’s motivating.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): My favorite fight is the second one with Chad Mendes. Even though he was beaten up too, that’s my favorite fight. It was a great fight. I like stand-up wars, exciting fights when they hit and get hit, that adrenaline. That was one of the most exciting fights I’ve even seen. I was there in the arena, but I didn’t see it. I was so nervous I had a fever, was shaking, and (UFC official) Grace Tourinho saw me and took me to the locker room after the third round. But I watched it days later on TV.
dos Anjos: Imagine a book… every fight is like a chapter in our lives. Every fight is important for us, but if I had to choose one it would be the title fight against (Anthony) Pettis. That’s the fight that changed our lives. When I met Rafael he was not motivated, there were no incentives, and he considered working as a garbageman. That didn’t make sense to me. He didn’t finish his studies, dedicated his life to sports and earned a black belt in jiu-jitsu. I had to be honest with him. ‘Fighting is your life, you were a competitor your entire life. How are you going to rip up your black belt? That photo hanging on your grandma’s house is wearing a gi and a black belt. What is your dream?’ He said that his dream was fighting in the UFC, and I said, ‘You will not only fight in the UFC, but become a UFC champion.’ When that became a reality, it was the most beautiful day of our lives together.
Barboza: The one that got me more emotional was not in the UFC, but in a Muay Thai tournament in Sao Paulo, when he fought three times in one night. He won the first one, all that adrenaline, and, ‘No, it’s not over yet, there’s another fight now.’ He took on the favorite next and won with a beautiful knockout. The crowd went nuts. The final was a rematch with San Martino, who had knocked him out in the past, and I thought, ‘I’m going to die now’ [laughs]. He won the fight and the GP. No UFC fight has been able to beat that yet.
Lima: There are so many. I like the one against Paul Daley because he won and Paul Daley talked a lot [laughs]. I like the Ben Saunders fight, too, the one he won with a high-kick knockout. I like the ones that end quickly. The Lorenz Larkin fight was long and my heart was beating so fast I thought I’d have to go to the hospital [laughs].
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): I don’t even need to mention the one with ‘Claudinha,’ the best of her career, but my favorite is the one against Joanne Calderwood in Cleveland. I love that fight because she won with a guillotine, and I think it’s a beautiful move. I love jiu-jitsu, and every time she submits someone I think it’s wonderful.
Freire: I think it’s the first time he won the Bellator belt. His MMA debut was special too, because he was 16 and his parents had to go in front of a judge and sign a paper authorizing him to fight because he was a minor, and his opponent was 33 years old. I was nervous, I was 16 too and had no idea what would happen. I had just met him. That first fight was important, but if I had to choose one it would be the first title win.
Santos: I like the one against Ben Rothwell in Croatia. The fans treated us really well there and there was a good energy in that fight. Junior was 100 percent, no injuries, and he showed that ‘Cigano’ was back with a fantastic performance.
The sport has changed a lot since your partner told you he would become a MMA fighter over a decade ago — and wait, who’s that guy talking s**t?
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): It bothers me more than it bothers him, I think. It bothered me a lot, I don’t know why. I learned another aspect of martial arts, to respect your opponent. I understand that style, but we never had to deal with that before. It really bothers me when people talk about God. I’m not a completely religious person, but I believe in God, and it bothered me when [McGregor] said he was a god.
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): The first thing I do when fight week starts is to disconnect her. She just trains, eats and sleeps. In Japan, I was reading messages and deleting it before she saw, the interviews Claudia was giving, saying [Andrade] was not technical, only a brawler. But when a reporter called the hotel to interview Jessica and asked about it, she looked at me, took a deep breath and said that she would respond inside the Octagon. When she hung up the phone she kept saying, ‘Baby, look what she said about me.’ I was dying inside, but kept telling her to ignore it. I try to block her from any negative energy.
Freire: My neighbors ask me if Patricio is like a character when he’s fighting [laughs]. He’s a nice guy at home. He has a strong personality, but he’s not rude or anything like that. He appears to be aggressive when he’s fighting or in interviews. Sometimes I tell him, ‘Wow, Patricio, you scared me. Why did you say that?’ [laughs]. He says, ‘We have to sell.’ But he’s a cool person, way cooler than he appears to be.
Barboza: Since I help him with his PR and he’s too shy and respectful, sometimes I tell him to say something, to create something, but that’s not who he is. He’s really honest. When someone turns down a fight with him I tell him to tweet something but he says, ‘No, I won’t, maybe he has his reasons.’ He’s stubborn. He only does what he wants and that’s it.
Santos: I know it’s to promote a fight so I don’t care, and I know that he talks, too. It’s part of the sport, but when people take it to the personal side and involves family, I don’t think it’s cool. It crosses a line. But since Junior never talked about anyone’s family, he’s a nice guy, no one goes that far.
Living with the Haters
If you’re at the top, you’re the greatest. If you lose … well, you were never that good to begin with. The love/hate relationship between professional athletes and fans may never change, so how do you deal with it in the age of social media, when a flood of nasty comments is just one click away?
Barboza: Critics are part of his job, and I try to show him that. At first he was upset, ‘They are saying this about me,’ but he doesn’t care anymore. Sometimes people want him to fight someone that doesn’t make any sense, say he’s ‘not a man’ for not fighting someone, and sometimes the UFC didn’t even offer him the fight. He says, ‘So I’ll fight this guy,’ and I tell him, ‘Calm down, the UFC didn’t even offer you this fight.’ Especially Brazilians. … They are idols when they are winners. Brazilians only like champions. You can’t be the runner-up.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): I think that’s a cultural thing in Brazil. ‘Guga’ [Gustavo Kuerten] was champion and everyone loved tennis, started playing. People ask me if MMA went down after Aldo and Anderson [Silva] lost, but it has not. What changed is that people had this image of them and when they lost they stopped caring about the sport. We have so many great athletes. Dealing with critics is hard, especially if it comes from people that don’t follow the sport and write stupid things behind a computer. Sometimes I want to go there and respond, but when it’s too offensive we just block them and get rid of it. Sometimes Felipe responds to them, but I don’t. I just block them and that’s it. It’s not worth it.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): It used to bother me, but I learned not to see it anymore. When they write something, I just delete it. They are people that don’t have anything to do. People on the internet are mean. We are human beings, people that win and lose, that have feelings, but people like to be mean. I just ignore those comments and delete them.
Lima: It bothers me a lot. It makes me angry, I want to write to everyone [laughs]. He’s calm, and I learned from him. I wasn’t like that. I was nervous, explosive, wanted to write back, but I don’t do anything anymore. Let them think whatever they want. It’s happening again with this next fight [vs. Rory MacDonald], but I don’t care. ‘Let them say whatever they want, they will see who I am as a fighter.’ It pisses me off, but I don’t say anything.
Santos: I get upset, I want to respond them all, but he says, ‘Why would you do that?’ For every negative comment we get, there are 10 positive comments, so I respond to the positive ones. Critics come and you have to absorb the good from it, but I get upset when people don’t know what they are talking about. He posts a picture relaxing and people comment ‘go train,’ but they don’t know how much he dedicates and trains.
Gomes (Andrade’s fiancee): We’re a gay couple and Jessica became a role model for other people. In the MMA world, especially in women’s MMA, there are a lot of gay couples that can’t come out because a woman has to be feminine, has to be pretty, use makeup, so they can’t be who they really are. But we were against all that. Jessica really is a little boy. She likes to dress like a boy, and there she is, No. 1 in the rankings. No one is obligated to like other people’s choices, but respect is for everyone. We’ve suffered with prejudice on social media, but thank God we’ve earned our space now. We behave in a way that families bring little kids to take pictures with a gay couple, something that wouldn’t be possible before. The way we portray ourselves allowed that to happen in a natural way. We receive a lot of messages from girls saying they can’t be who they are, that they hide from their families, and we embrace them, give them advice.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): It bothered me [when Dana White dismissed Aldo’s rib injury], but I know why he says those things, so it doesn’t affect me anymore. We know the truth, so it doesn’t bother as much as the haters. I know that it’s not from the bottom of [White’s] heart, that he has to do that.
Caetano (Arantes’ wife): The image I have of the sport when I was an MMA reporter changed completely after we got together. It’s too easy to criticize: ‘You didn’t make weight, you have to change weight classes, what a bad performance.’ People talk too much, but living 24 hours with him and seeing the struggle, the difficulties, the training. … We go to the gym every day to work out, sometimes we’re not in the mood to train, and these guys train three or four times a day. People think fighters are rich, but that’s not the reality. We’ve been through ups and downs over the past four years, and I started to respect athletes even more.
Santos: Dealing with [the USADA suspension] has been really hard. It’s a nightmare in our lives. When I received the news, it’s like my world fell apart because he always paid attention to his supplements to make sure nothing would go wrong. He’s proud to say he became world champion without taking anything illegal. I felt wronged for him, and for me, because he’s innocent, and it’s sad to not know how to defend yourself from something you’re innocent of. It’s been complicated. You don’t know what will happen, you don’t have a fight, you don’t know if you will have one, you don’t know if you should train … it’s the worst situation he’s ever been in.
Barboza: He doesn’t show me anything because I get angry, I can’t take it [laughs]. I can’t be a professional, I get emotional. I’m not good dealing with critics because he does everything right in my eyes. Not that he’s perfect, but no one knows what he’s been through, if he’s injured or not. People just want to criticize, and that kills me.
Lima: He wasn’t famous when we started dating, but when he went to MFC and Bellator. … I’m not jealous with these things that come with fame, he’s recognized when we go out, but it’s normal. When I see comments online, I don’t pay attention to it because I know he’s my husband and he’s coming home. I went to a Bellator event with him recently and he posted our picture on Facebook, and a woman commented, ‘You’re so beautiful, but your wife needs to work out and stop eating.’ I thought, ‘Wow, that’s an envious one’ [laughs]. It’s fine, I don’t care, I know he’s my husband.
Oliveira (Aldo’s wife): I just think he’s tired of it and wants to breathe new air. He’s not as motivated as he once was. He likes to train, and the weight cut bothers him. … I think he will fight out of his contract. I think. His plan is to box. Before Conor, he kept asking the UFC, and they never allowed him to do it. Things happen and frustrate you, you know? He asked for things and the company didn’t do, but did for others, and it’s frustrating. I think this is going to be his last five fights. It might change, but I know him and think it’s hard to change. I think he wants to stop to go to boxing. I love MMA more than he does. I watch more fights than him. I’m a fan, he’s not. He’s full of it. He wants other challenges, something that motivates him, to start from zero and win another belt.
Putting your body and health on the line to entertain millions around the world is no easy task. Fame, money, recognition, success, everything you’ve always dreamed of — it may never come to fruition in the end. And even if it does, it could come at a cost higher than you’d ever imagine.
Fighters are often treated as machines, faceless vessels designed to inflict pain, to force someone else to surrender to punches and submissions. But in the end, fighters are simply people, just like you and I. Sometimes it’d be nice to remember that when their hands are not raised in the end, because this is their lives, and believe it: They want victory more than anything in this world, not just for themselves, but for their loved ones as well.