As one of the top female mixed martial artists in Brazil, 135-pound standout Vanessa Porto is well-respected among the MMA community in her home country. The six-year veteran of the sport has battled the best in Brazil and is eager to make a name for herself once again in North America.
While the future of women’s fights in major North American promotions is uncertain, Porto is hopeful that she will receive an opportunity to compete in the United States again. She speaks with MMARising.com about her plans for the coming year and obstacles that she and others must overcome.
At 27 years of age, Vanessa Porto has amassed an impressive 12-4-0 mixed martial arts record that has included fights against some of the best female fighters in the sport. The jiu-jitsu ace holds notable wins over Tonya Evinger, former Smackgirl champion Hitomi Akano and current Strikeforce signee Germaine de Randamie, and took Strikeforce Women’s Middleweight Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos to a three-round decision in 2005. After a one-year hiatus from MMA last year, Porto has picked up a pair of first-round stoppage victories and now has eyes on a return to action in the United States.
MMARising.com: Hello, Vanessa. Thank you for taking time out for this interview. For fans who might not be familiar with your career, could you start by talking a bit about how you first got involved with MMA and which martial arts you train in most often?
Vanessa Porto: Hi! I started fighting Jiu-Jitsu, and then in 2005 the female MMA [events] took place in Brazil. Pedro, my current coach, invited me to participate, and because of my curiosity I accepted. I am known today for the job I’ve been doing [in my MMA fights].
MMARising.com: When did you first know that you wanted to be a mixed martial artist?
Vanessa: As a matter of fact, I’d never wanted to become a mixed martial artist. It just happened, and today I’m recognized as one of the best Brazilian fighters.
MMARising.com: Was your family supportive of your decision to become a fighter? Do they support you now?
Vanessa: Yes, they’ve always been very supportive.
MMARising.com: You have faced many tough opponents in your career, including Strikeforce champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in a higher weight class. Which fight has been your toughest to date?
Vanessa: All of the fights have been tough! Each opponent has a fighting style quite different from the others.
MMARising.com: You hold wins over notable fighters like Tonya Evinger, Hitomi Akano and Germaine de Randamie. Which victory are you most proud of and why?
Vanessa: The victory over Hitomi Akano because I didn’t know I would fight her. My opponent was changed at the last minute!
MMARising.com: From December 2009 to December 2010, you took a year away from MMA. What led to your decision to take time off from fighting? Did you make any changes in your training during this time?
Vanessa: I had to stay away because I had no manager then, but I have never stopped training!
MMARising.com: Where are you currently training and who are your main training partners?
Vanessa: I have been training in my own gym, which I opened on May 14, 2011. It is Brazilian Fighters in Jaú – SP. I have trained with my coach Pedro Iglesias, who happens to be my husband.
MMARising.com: In the United States, female mixed martial artists have limited opportunities and don’t often receive the same recognition that male fighters do. Is this also a problem for you in Brazil, where fans are very passionate about fighting, or do you feel respected as a woman in MMA?
Vanessa: In Brazil, there are fewer limitations. Depending on the level of [skill in] the fights, it is easier to be respected.
MMARising.com: Is it easy or difficult for you to get fights at home in Brazil?
Vanessa: Getting to fight in Brazil is just as difficult as fighting in the United States. I have 16 fights in my career while there are girls in Strikeforce who have only 2 or 3. If it goes on like this, I’ll have to retire earlier than I expected!
MMARising.com: You have already competed in the United States before. Would you like to be able to fight for Strikeforce in the near future? If so, would you fight at 135, 145 or both?
Vanessa: I’d love to, but by the looks of things it is going to be hard. I’d certainly fight at 135. I wouldn’t fight at 145 [again].
MMARising.com: Have you and your manager spoken with Strikeforce about having you fight for them?
Vanessa: We are waiting for an answer from an agency regarding these fights.
MMARising.com: If you are able to compete in the United States again, who are some opponents that you would like to face in the next year? Would you fight Cris Cyborg again if you were asked to?
Vanessa: I would fight any athlete as long as she is at 135, but I don’t see any possibility of fighting Cris.
MMARising.com: What is your number one goal for the upcoming year?
Vanessa: Considering that this [past] year wasn’t so good, we have no idea of what’s coming up next year. LOL! I intend to fight a lot, though.
MMARising.com: What advice would you give to other women who are interested in getting into MMA or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? What was the toughest obstacle for you to overcome as a female fighter?
Vanessa: A lot of dedication, and having an excellent manager. It’s going to be total waste of time without one. My toughest obstacle has been the lack of a manager and sponsorship. These are the obstacles I’ve faced.
MMARising.com: You are only 27 years old and have already fought 16 times. How many more years would you like to compete in MMA?
Vanessa: I’ll fight as long as I have the strength.
MMARising.com: What message would you like to send out to MMA fans in North America?
Vanessa: I would like to send a kiss to all of my fans and say that I would love to go back and fight in the United States again. I really appreciated all of the care that the fans gave me. Lots of kisses. Who knows…I might be [back] there sooner than we expect.
MMARising.com: Do you have any final comments?
Vanessa: I’d like to have someone to support me along my career. That’s what I want most. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my career. See you soon!
MMARising.com thanks Vanessa for her time for this interview and wishes her the best for her career in MMA in the coming year.
Jonathan Luther contributed to this interview. Photos and translation courtesy of Alessandro Gelke.