Two years ago, Stephanie “Macaquinha” Frausto entered fights with limited training and no game plan. Plain and simple, she was there to scrap. Today, under the tutelage of brother-in-law Jorge Gurgel, Frausto is unbeaten at 105 pounds and is one of the fastest-rising female prospects in MMA.
On Saturday, Frausto scored her biggest victory to date with a 48-second submission of Amy Davis at Invicta FC 3. She credits Gurgel for stressing the importance of fighting smart and sticking to a game plan. Now 2-0 as an atomweight, Frausto looks forward to new challenges in the coming year.
Frausto (4-4-0) followed in the footsteps of her sister, Bellator champion Zoila Frausto Gurgel, and entered the realm of mixed martial arts in early 2010. She would go on to win two of her first three fights by TKO, but her skill set was still limited. The sisters trained out of the Pro Buhawe gym in Madera, California, where Muay Thai was the priority and wrestling and jiu-jitsu were not. Frausto was interested in learning more about the ground game, but with no one to properly teach her, she was unable to log many hours on the mat.
One week before her sister’s journey to Bellator gold began, the younger Frausto made her promotional debut at Bellator 22. Still fighting on heart and determination alone, Frausto entered the cage to face off against a much more experienced opponent in world-travelled grappling ace Lisa Ellis. The outcome was as most expected and Frausto was choked unconscious in just over two minutes. She had gained some big-show experience, but the massive jump up in competition was too much.
Frausto returned to California and fought once more in her home state, dropping a razor-thin decision to Paulina Ramirez at Tachi Palace Fights 6. Her sister, Zoila, had just captured the Bellator 115-pound women’s title with a five-round decision win over Japanese superstar Megumi Fujii and was planning to permanently move to Ohio to live with Jorge, whom she later married in February 2011.
With a 2-3 record and limited opportunities at home, Frausto decided that the best course of action for her career would be to follow her sister to Ohio. It proved to be a considerable undertaking – Frausto says that the entire move took about a year to finalise – but she credits her family for their support in making the transition as easy as possible.
“It was a pretty easy transition [to Ohio] because Jorge knows a lot of people here, so I got an apartment really fast,” Frausto says. “My parents drove all the way across the country to move all of my stuff. I didn’t really need a job because I was already training full-time.”
Now, in Ohio, Frausto would finally have the training that she had craved since her first day in the sport.
During the course of her move to a new life and a new gym in Ohio, Frausto was away from MMA competition. Nearly 17 months elapsed before she made her return to the cage for the North American Allied Fight Series on the promotion’s first card in the state of West Virginia in January. Frausto was set to compete at 110 pounds, but the bout was changed to 115. She faced off against strawweight standout Ashley Cummins, who had just made a successful pro debut a few months prior.
Frausto ultimately dropped a close but Unanimous Decision to Cummins, but she appeared to be a completely different fighter in the cage. The days when Frausto was merely a striker with no ground game were a distant memory. Frausto threatened with submissions and initiated a number of scrambles on the mat. Her hand was not raised in victory at the end of the night, but Frausto had put on her best performance to date against one of her toughest opponents.
The bout with Cummins marked another turning point in Frausto’s career. Her opponents at 115 pounds were stronger than her. She was advised by coach Jorge to make the cut down to 105 pounds to reach her full potential and did so on short notice in a May title bout for Women’s Fighting Championship in Wyoming. Frausto had already witnessed her sister’s brutal weight cuts to make 115 pounds three times for the Bellator women’s tournament, but much to her surprise, the weight came off easily.
“Jorge told me that I could fight at my best at 105, so that’s why I made the drop,” she says. “It was on about three weeks’ notice and I cut about 22 pounds, but I was excited that I could do that so quickly. I could tell when I fought for WFC that there was a big difference between 105 and 115. I felt so much stronger. Even though I was fighting at high elevation, I would run on the treadmill and I felt like I could keep going like my cardio was non-stop.”
The result was a dominant first-round submission win for Frausto. Her opponent, Diana Rael, struggled against Frausto’s knee strikes in the clinch and tried to shoot in for a takedown. Frausto countered by taking Rael’s back and punishing her with punches and elbows until she was able to secure a fight-ending armbar for the victory.
Frausto was finally reaching her potential, but the title win was only the beginning.
Leading up to her fight with Davis on Saturday, Frausto was feeling nervous. She wanted to put on a good show for the Invicta FC management and fans and knew that it was a big opportunity. She began to calm down and prepare herself for the fight after coach Jorge presented her with the game plan.
“The night before the fight, Jorge figured out what we were going to do. So on the morning of the fight, he told me what I was supposed to do,” Frausto recalls. “We didn’t want to give [Davis] any time to think about what she was going to do, so I just rushed in real quick to try to get a takedown. Our plan the whole time was to get a submission in under a minute, so that’s why it happened so fast. That was what Jorge wanted.
“Every time [Jorge] teaches me something, it sticks really well because he has us do things over and over again,” she adds. “Right before I fought [Davis], we rehearsed that entrance where I rushed across the cage. We went over and over it until it was perfect.”
Frausto trapped Davis in a guillotine choke and the fight was over in 48 seconds. Her performance was so impressive that she was awarded a Submission of the Night bonus. Frausto had proven that she could compete with and defeat a highly-ranked opponent and she did so in one of her most high-profile fights to date. Her trainers had tried to impress upon her how much she was improving and she was starting to see it for herself. She felt even stronger in the fight with Davis than she had against Rael.
The losses from early in her career only serve as motivation for Frausto now, who also believes that the respect that she has been taught for her training and coaches has been instrumental in her success.
“At the time [in 2010] when I would lose, it would give me a feeling that didn’t sit well in my stomach, so every time I fight I think about that feeling and it fuels me to fight hard so I never have to deal with it again,” Frausto says. “Besides jiu-jitsu, a lot of what I’ve learned [in Ohio] is just to respect your coaches and always train your best. You never know when you will be able to do it again.”
Frausto’s mother, Zoyla, remains a constant source of support and is active in both of her daughters’ MMA careers. She helps with merchandising by selling t-shirts and plays a video loop of Zoila and Stephanie’s fights on the television at her tax service in Madera. Being the sister of a Bellator world champion has also been a positive for Stephanie, who credits Zoila for helping her to get the training that has led her to where she is today.
Looking ahead, Frausto would like to take a gradual path to the top of her division. She has already rushed into fights that she was not ready for – Ellis in Bellator – and that did not work out well. Frausto would like to compete three or four more times before she challenges for the Invicta FC Atomweight Championship currently held by Jessica Penne. She hopes to return to the promotion as soon as possible and speaks very highly of her first Invicta FC experience.
“Invicta is the best. When we got there, we already had a set schedule for everything so we could plan when I was going to do my weight cut. Even the small things like having a girl there to get our hair braided right at the hotel. For us girls, it’s really big just to have our hair braided.”
Frausto then proceeds to tell a horror story from when her sister competed in Chicago. With no one around to braid Zoila’s hair, the sisters found a nearby listing for hair styling and phoned ahead. They ventured into the shady neighbourhood with boarded-up buildings, past homeless people screaming at them on the street, and were initially rejected by the hair stylist because of their race. Such incidents will hopefully be things of the past now that Frausto is under the Invicta FC banner.
When Frausto does step back into the cage, it may be under a different name. Jorge and Zoila already take care of her as if she was their daughter and would like to formally adopt her into their family. It is a unique situation.
“Jorge and my sister both take care of me, so they kind of consider me to be their daughter, I guess, even though it’s really my big sister,” Frausto says. “Every time we’re grappling or something and [Jorge] calls me Frausto, he goes, ‘Wait, that doesn’t sound right,’ and then calls me Gurgel. He says, ‘Add a hyphen in your name, I don’t like Frausto.’ I haven’t done it yet because I don’t know how to. I’ve got to look it up on the Internet to figure out how.”
Indeed, Jorge was adamant that the name Stephanie Frausto-Gurgel should be used for future fights and articles when he discussed the adoption on Sunday in Kansas City. “Then people will stop questioning whether they are sisters,” he says. “They’ll know.”
No matter her last name, there is no denying that Frausto is one of MMA’s top female prospects and she appears to have a bright future ahead of her in the atomweight division.
“I want to thank my big brother, Jorge Gurgel, for making me into a monster,” she says. “My sister for always being there for me, my mom for being my biggest fan, my teammates, Mike Ferguson at the Powerstation, and John Buckley.”
With a strong team around Frausto at last, the sky is the limit for the talented 22-year-old.