MMARising.com: Were you hurt by the controversy surrounding your Bellator tournament wins? You mentioned that you couldn’t even train for those fights due to spending all of your time trying to make weight. Having worked so hard for those fights and then being met with backlash afterward, how did that make you feel? How do you feel about the situation now?
Zoila Gurgel: On top of what I have accomplished in such a short amount of time in the sport, this is something nobody can ever take away from me. No matter what anybody ever thinks of any certain fight or me as the champion, the bottom line is this: I am the champion of the world at 115 pounds for the work that I put in. I am the champion for defeating the best the world had to offer under difficult conditions and for doing what many would never even fathom doing. I did it all and came out on top, and no talk or opinion can ever take any of my accomplishments away.
I was never hurt by the backlash from winning the Bellator 115-pound tournament. All it did at first was anger me, because none of those people saw the big picture. No opinion will ever hurt me, because they are just opinions, not facts. The fact is, I dove into that division and that was a fight on its own. Every one of the girls I fought in the tournament had 3-10 years’ more MMA experience than me. I had been fighting professionally for a little over 18 months before that tournament. Not to mention, I had just previously knocked out their possible tournament winner, Rosi Sexton, who was #1 in the world at 125 pounds and #2 pound-for-pound at the time.
All four of my opponents, Rosi Sexton, Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii, had been up in the rankings as the best in the world for years! I was nobody at that time before I fought Sexton. I wasn’t ranked at all! As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have any amateur bouts before my professional career. I jumped into the sport completely as a white belt with close to zero wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I hadn’t embraced wrestling or BJJ until my loss to Miesha Tate months before my fight with Sexton.
By the time I was offered the Sexton fight, all I had been able to do was learn a little wrestling defense, and how to stay on my feet because that was the only chance I had. Regardless of how great my striking supposedly was, that was all I had, and that was far less than my opponents.
I devoted my life to Muay Thai only for a year straight before being thrown into my first professional fight. I just loved Muay Thai so much that I worked hard at making it the best I could, and had tried wrestling and BJJ in practice no more than 15-20 times before those first six fights in my career. And still, in those first six fights, I was only taken down five times and kept down and defeated only once.
In the next six fights against the best in the world – all top-ranked judo, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu specialists – all of them combined couldn’t take me down except for that last one, Fujii, which was right in the final seconds of the tournament fight. Fujii has not only defeated all of her opponents except for me, she’s taken them all down on numerous occasions and finished 95% of them, but me as a white belt, she didn’t and she couldn’t. She attempted to take me down nine times and only succeeded once!
MMARising.com: In particular, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fight with Megumi Fujii. It appeared that a lot of people mistook your comments after the fight as being cocky. Is that a rematch you want or do you feel like you don’t need to fight her again?
Zoila Gurgel: At this point in my career, it’s just normal to have controversy surrounding all of my fights. I believe it’s mainly due to the fact that I got to this spot as the best in the world in such little time. A lot of people didn’t like seeing that. Maybe they didn’t like the fact that it was even possible, let alone to see it actually happen. People can say whatever they want about me being cocky or mistake my confidence for cockiness. It honestly doesn’t bother me at all anymore. People will always take my words and flip them to try to find other reasons not to like me.
To be honest, at first, yes, I did want rematches with Megumi Fujii and Jessica Aguilar. At this point, though, I’m wondering, “What for?” Beating them again is not going to make anyone feel any better. Most of those people will feel the same about me as they did before. Not to mention, Jessica Aguilar has been disrespectful towards me as a champion and a fighter in almost every interview afterward. She even ran into the cage after my championship fight with Fujii to try to steal my thunder!
Trying to discredit my wins over her and Fujii was straight up disrespectful! If she didn’t like the way I beat her, maybe she should’ve tried harder to actually find a way to finish me and not have left it in the judges’ hands. As a fighter, I know that if I don’t finish a fight then it’s no longer in my hands. Instead of crying about a decision, she should have tried harder to find a way to finish.
On the idea of rematches: I will fight them both, I’m sure, but do I want those rematches? No. I am ranked above them both at 115 pounds and I only want to fight those that are ranked above me to be the ultimate best in the world. I’m at the top at 115, so there’s no one left to fight in that division except for the next fighters they build up to challenge for my 115-pound world title.
MMARising.com: Even dating back to your pro debut, there has been drama coming from your opponents leading up to fights. Before you faced Miesha Tate, she attacked your character by saying that she didn’t like some comments that you had posted under your fight pictures on Facebook. Michelle Ould challenged your win against her by saying that it wasn’t legitimate due to her injury during the fight. How do you feel about this and what do you think has been the reasoning behind it?
Zoila Gurgel: As far as the comments I made on some of my fight pictures (a long time ago), that’s just my personality. I really don’t have to defend it. My captions were jokes. It’s comedy! My personality is definitely not for the weak. I believe this is one of the reasons why 99% of my friends are male. I’ve always been an “Alpha Female.” I grew up mostly around men and my father even wished I was a boy! I grew up in a very athletic, physically demanding family.
I played on all boys’ teams, fought boys in martial arts when I was younger and I was forced to defend myself and fight with my older brother on a daily basis. He really wanted to kill me back then, so those were real life and death fights! (But thanks, bro, because those fights got me ready for the life I live today! We love each other now, by the way!) My father raised me to be a very strong person, regardless of my gender. Even at this point in my life, I’m constantly around men. I have those strong qualities that some women can’t handle well, especially when they’re coming from another woman!
I’m around men and their dry offensive humor and their strengths rub off on me. They constantly challenge me mentally and physically. Those challenges, growing up with males surrounding me, have made me who I am today. So, I don’t care if anyone takes offense to a joke or two that I’ve made. If they don’t like it, they can look the other way. This sport is fighting. It’s not a Miss America Pageant. I don’t have to be nice to anyone but the people that respect me and deserve that respect back!
On Michelle Ould calling my win over her illegitimate, that girl is delusional. She tapped to strikes. Who does that in a fight? Later, she said she broke her ankle from trying to take my “greasy ass” down. Was that before or after I front kicked her to the ground and twisted her ankle on the way down (completely visible in the fight tape), or was it when she was on the ground and I kicked her so hard that I moved her entire body with the force of the kick? Not to mention, there was a snap of her ankle as I kicked her on the ground that you can hear on the video! She cried out for the ref to stop the fight.
So, as far as her calling that an illegitimate win, she’s delusional. I have fought three rounds on broken bones and know plenty of other women that have done the same. She was getting beat and wanted an easy way out. You be the judge here.
Was her “self-inflicted injury” before or after she got tired and put her hands on her knees at 10:30, or when I kicked her to the ground at 10:34? Or at 11:10 when I kicked her leg and ankle or 11:12 when you can hear me snapping her ankle and she cries out for help from the ref. Did I miss where she “twisted her ankle” from trying to take my “greasy ass” down?
All I would give her credit for is taking me down more in one fight than I’ve been taken down in all of my other fights combined, and I give her credit for talking so much trash after losing so badly when there’s video of it all. The video makes it all so clear and obvious that she did not break her own ankle! She’s not very bright for picking a fight that she can never win. Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids! End of story. I’m sure she will hate me even more after this but I couldn’t care less. She has a long way to climb that totem pole to try to get to me and she’s nothing but another annoying little fly. Haters gonna hate.
MMARising.com: You’ve been out for a while due to a knee injury. Describe what happened and how hard has this been for you physically and mentally?
Zoila Gurgel: In October 2011, I was training before my last scheduled fight against Carina Damm, and took a bad shot while wrestling. I felt a pop, and I knew that something was wrong with my knee. I finished practice and I actually ended up trying throws. I kept getting this burning sensation and it would feel like I couldn’t move. It was on fire throughout the practice. I knew something was wrong, so I went and got an MRI. The doctor said it was a complete tear of my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). I would need surgery and would be out of action for six to eight months.
My world crumbled after he told me that. It happened so easily that I now believe it was something that was bound to happen, especially with the amount of training, weight cuts and fighting I’ve done in the past two years. It was all too much of a strain on my body in such little time. Physically and mentally, it was difficult. I had surgery on November 11, 2011.
After the medication wore off, reality set in. I could hardly do anything. I had to stay upstairs in our bedroom for close to a week for fear of slipping downstairs and re-tearing my knee. My husband, sister and family had to do everything for me. I was so used to cooking and cleaning and doing things all over the house! After a week, I was so sick of staying in one place upstairs. I tried to go downstairs to pitch in, but my knee would hurt too badly. I had to put ice on it and I couldn’t stand up for more than five minutes without the blood rushing and me feeling terrible.
Sleep was never easy, either. Usually I’m sleeping all over the place, kicking and moving. With the ACL surgery, I couldn’t move much in that brace. I would wake up and feel like my leg was in prison. The start of physical therapy was difficult as well. It was like learning how to walk all over again and it was the weirdest thing ever. With a positive attitude and the hard work that I put in physically and mentally as well, I have finally reached my goal of a full recovery and have resumed full-time MMA training.
MMARising.com: Having had so much time off due to your recent injury, what are some of the things you’ve been doing for fun or to take your mind off of things?
Zoila Gurgel: My idea of fun has always been partaking in anything that is physically challenging or that gets my adrenaline going. So, being out with an injury has made it difficult to have any fun. I have just been attending a lot of fights. I always enjoy that and spending lots of time with my husband, sister, friends and team during the break.
MMARising.com: At this stage of your career, what is your ideal fight weight? Is there anyone at that weight class you’d love to be matched up with?
Zoila Gurgel: My ideal weight now is definitely 125 pounds. It is a difficult weight for me to make as well, but when I’m at that weight to fight, I usually feel very strong, fast and confident. My dream matchup and a great test in my career would be Tara LaRosa for who she is, what she has accomplished in this sport and for where she stands now – in front of me as #1. She is a veteran of the sport and I believe it would be a great fight. Other than that, I’ll fight whomever Bellator puts in front of me, or anyone who beats Tara LaRosa for that number one spot before I get my chance!
MMARising.com: If you do make your return at 125 pounds (and Bellator hopes that you will join its 125 tournament), how do you think that weight class will affect your performance versus having to cut to 115?
Zoila Gurgel: The 125-pound tournament would be an absolute dream come true. It would give me the opportunity to live up another dream of holding two world titles in two different weight classes. Not only that, but it is obviously a weight that I’m a little more comfortable making than 115. At 125, I can actually have a regular training camp, which I will really need. I believe this weight will be a lot more challenging due to the depth of talent in the division.
MMARising.com: If you weren’t fighting professionally, what would your dream job be?
Zoila Gurgel: That’s a hard question. I’ve always only pictured myself doing things that have some sort of physical challenge. Nothing can beat the dream job I have. I don’t think I ever pictured anything else for my future besides what I’m doing. Boxing or running or just being some sort of professional athlete has always been a dream of mine, or training professional athletes if I couldn’t be one.
MMARising.com: What do you think is your greatest strength as a fighter?
Zoila Gurgel: I’ve always known that my greatest strength has been my mind. I can always make my body stronger and better, but it all starts in my mind.
MMARising.com: And what do you believe separates a great fighter from the average fighter?
Zoila Gurgel: Extra work, and not just doing what you are scheduled to do; like pro practices, for example. Also, working hard on the little things on your own and perfecting techniques. I believe it’s especially important to exercise your mind with things like great motivational books, religion, meditation, yoga; the list can go on for days. Most fighters don’t understand how getting your mind on point is just as important as getting your body on point, but more and more are starting to catch on.
MMARising.com: Thank you for taking the time for such an in-depth interview. We wish you nothing but the best in your return to the cage, your personal life and all future endeavors.