On August 31, Raquel “Lionheart” Pa’aluhi (6-5) will take on Yana Kunitskaya (9-3, 1 NC) for the Invicta FC Bantamweight title. The opportunity comes in the wake of her January win against Pannie Klanzad inside the Invicta cage. Kunitskaya fought recent title holder Tonya Evinger twice, with the first bout ruled a no-contest and the second ending in a submission loss. Evinger has now vacated the title in order to compete this Saturday’s UFC 214 against former Invicta Featherweight Champ Cris “Cyborg” Santos.
The Writing on the Wall:
“In January, during the radio interviews with Julie Kedzie and TJ De Santis, TJ mentioned the fight (between Pa’aluhi and Klanzad on Invicta FC 21) ) being significant because whoever won would probably fight the winner of Tonya and Yana II,” said Pa’aluhi. “When they matched me against Yana, I wasn’t surprised. I was originally supposed to fight Irene Aldana in January of 2016 after she lost to Tonya before she was replaced with Colleen Schneider. Then they gave me Pannie who most recently lost to Tonya. Then Yana who most recently lost to Tonya. I saw their pattern.”
“When my manager called about the fight being a title fight it was bitter sweet. We were originally supposed to fight on July 15th and he called to say Yana was hurt but they’d put us on the next card for the belt now that Tonya left to the UFC. I was frustrated that I’d trained five weeks already for this fight but happy that I was finally getting the shot I was waiting for. In the days to come seeing how excited everyone else was from my coaches to my family and even my students, that really pumped me up about everything.”
Climbing to the Top:
Pa’aluhi has not always been ahead on the scorecard. She is known to fight whoever is placed in front of her and spent the early part of her career fighting heavily experienced opponents, many of which are now in the UFC. Kunitskaya looks to be a challenge, but Pa’aluhi has never backed down from one before and is confident going into the bout.
“I’m excited about this fight. I think her style is a great match up for me and I’m excited to shine on August 31st,” said Pa’aluhi. “I have been working tirelessly on skill building everywhere. I’m constantly learning and growing and I’m at a place now where I’m finally confident in the fighter I’ve become. I always fought with a lot of heart but now I feel like my fighting IQ is up and I can’t wait to show that.”
Preparing to be the Best:
Sanding 5’7” on an athletic build, Pa’aluhi has always gone through the ups and downs of the intense weight cut during each fight. Recently, she has been vocal about her quest to live a healthier lifestyle and remove that stress factor from her fight camp.
“The last 20 months or so I’ve focused a lot on my diet because I was so tired of the binge eating, crash dieting and more importantly the stress in my everyday life about food and weight,” said Pa’aluhi. “I started cooking all my food and I started listening to my body. Seeing what it reacted well to and what it didn’t react well to. Knowing everything that was going into my food and ultimately into my body was the key. When you buy food out, whether it’s healthy or not, there’s so much unnecessary sodium, sugar, etc. that you don’t need. I stopped eating out so much and stopped all the little cheating and my body changed fairly quickly.”
“Having to only worry about being prepared for this fight has been amazing. Before, the weight cut was the hardest part for me. Training was hard but it was fun for me. The dieting and the weight cut has always been so stressful. Take that away and the process is 100% enjoyable for me now. Before, I’d constantly be training or doing cardio trying to sweat to keep my weight down. Now I’m able to let my body recover with rest days and even allow myself better rest through out the day instead of looking for another opportunity to sweat. It also helps that my body is getting all the nutrients it needs from food rather than cutting that out too.”
Following her Dreams:
Pa’aluhi has chased her dream of becoming a champion literally across oceans. A native Hawaiian, her early career was fought primarily on the island of Oahu. She hails from the west side of the island, which is also home to an number of the island’s high profile competitors such as UFC champion Max Holloway and others. This will be her sixth bout in the Invicta FC cage.
“I don’t want to say it was a trial but definitely one of the biggest things I did was pick up my life and move here to Las Vegas. I came here with a backwards record. I had no job, money, car or plan,” said Pa’aluhi. ‘I just knew that this was what I needed to do. I had to be away from my family, be uncomfortable for a little bit and really pour myself into growing as a martial artist. Doing that changed my life and has been the biggest blessing ever. I am 10 times the martial artist I was when I got here. I now have an amazing team behind me. I’ve gained a family and created a life for myself, which is most important for me. It’s changed my life in more ways than I can count.”
When asked what fans could expect on August 31st Pa’aluhi replied, “Fans can expect to see the best Raquel they have ever seen. Clean striking, even better wrestling and the absolute best Jiujitsu in WMMA.”
Raquel “Lionheart” Pa’aluhi is sponsored by: Amaguin Law, Jiujitsu Initiative, Hawaii Truck Parts, ATH Organics, Ivy Laser Salon, Choke Aloha, UNKO Ink, Beast Coast Unlimited