In the early days of Mixed Martial Arts, the fighters that made up the most prolific of organizations’ rosters had to claw tooth and nail to reach their goals. For the most part that remains true in modern-day, but it would be a lie to say that it hasn’t become easier to get signed to the larger stages.
Unfortunately, no matter how talented or experienced that a fighter is, it still might not be enough to draw interest from a UFC or Bellator in 2020. These are businesses after all and if putting a CM Punk-like figure in a fight is believed to gain more attention for the brand than a “boring” dominant 8-0 wrestler by the name of Joe Smith.
Though, if it wasn’t for the perseverant grinders and pioneers, there would be no sport for the crossover stars or rising prospects to get their quick starts in. But as history has shown, hard work always pays off to some degree in the end.
After 15 years of competing professionally, Brazil’s Vanessa Porto finally got the call to be a part of what many consider one of the top two premier MMA promotions.
“I was very surprised, very happy, and thankful to be a part of one of the biggest MMA events in the world,” Porto told MyMMANews of her signing with Bellator, “And now I’m just waiting to get my documentation, my passport so that I’ll be able to fight with peace of mind.
“I’m really happy. Everything is new. It’s a new division, a new organization that I’m going to be a part of. It’s a big event, right? Sometimes I don’t really have the idea of how big it is. I can’t really fathom how big it can be. But I’m really, really excited. I never choose my opponents so I’m excited for whoever appears in front of me and who that next opponent is.”
With the exception of this unique 2020, every year since 2005 has seen Porto deliver some face-punching. Of course, she hopes to get back in action before the year’s conclusion to keep the streak alive.
The story of the 125-pound flyweight division as well as the women’s portion of MMA history as a whole is one that cannot be told without the inclusion of Americana, Sao Paulo’s finest. As sparse as women’s fighters were throughout the first decade of the sport worldwide, it was arguably even more so in Brazil.
While the legacy of Vanessa Porto has been crafted at 125-pounds, she had to take what she could early on which meant fights at 135 and even 145-pounds. Therefore leading to the first five to seven years of her career seeing several notable names as the opposition.
Unfortunately for the BJJ black belt, her fifth pro fight went down as her second career loss. As for Porto’s opponent, it was their second fight and first win ever… Just earlier this month, that same former opponent collected their 23rd win when defending the Bellator featherweight crown.
As Porto now anticipates her Bellator debut and looks back on her road to get here, it’s as if everything is coming full circle.
“Each fighter has a different style, right?” Porto responded when thinking of her toughest opponents, “It’s not as much that one is better or worse than the other. It’s more of how the style matchup is. Every fight was really difficult in that sense. But when I look back at the first fights of my career, my fight with Cris Cyborg was very difficult in terms of testing my endurance. I gained lots of attention with that fight so maybe that was one that stands out for me.
“It’s very gratifying looking back and seeing how I fought Cyborg. At that time there weren’t that many fighters to fight so that fight ended up happening. It’s impossible to expect what was going to happen in the future, right? But it’s crazy to see how now we’re in the same organization fighting in different weight classes. It’s pretty cool.”
Cris Cyborg wasn’t the only future legend that Porto had to test her might against.
Before becoming a staple of the premier all-woman promotion of Invicta FC, Porto also fought Amanda Nunes and welcomed Germaine de Randamie to MMA. In totality, the Brazilian amassed a 14-4 record overall with her biggest wins coming over de Randamie, Jennifer Maia, Tonya Evinger, Hitomi Akano, and Kalindra Faria.
Eventually, Porto concretized her position among the top ranks of the flyweight division and currently holds the record for the longest-tenured Invicta fighter. Her career within the promotion spanned from Invicta 2 in 2012 to earlier this year. In the process, it seemed like the label of division’s best always avoided her as she came up short in two title opportunities.
But you know what they say, the third time is the charm.
Following her old rival in Maia’s departure for the UFC in 2018, the Invicta flyweight title was left without an owner. Thus opening the door for Porto to slide in once again after earning two solid back to back wins by finish. In February 2019, it was Porto vs. the resurgent Pearl Gonzalez for the strap.
Despite Gonzalez’s clear improvements since she had been released by the UFC and moved up to flyweight, she still lacked the experience to match Porto — an area that the now 30-fight vet will hold an advantage over almost anyone in.
Three and a half rounds of dominance passed by for Porto. Mid-way through that first of two championship rounds and an accidental eye poke connected for Gonzalez that led to the fight’s conclusion. Porto was crowned the queen via a technical decision.
It wasn’t the perfect finish to a dream come true for the MMA University product, but Vanessa Porto had finally achieved her goal of becoming a champion.
To close out the lengthy Invicta chapter of the former amateur boxer’s storied MMA career came a successful win against Karina Rodriguez. At 22-8 and 36-years old, Porto’s grateful for what Invicta provided her as she gets set to embark on further exposing herself to the masses as a legit top flyweight across the board.
“I’m really, really thankful for my participation and time in Invicta,” Porto expressed, “What stands out for me as something that really was memorable was my participation and the amount of opportunities that Invicta gave me. I ended up having three title shots and when the third title shot was offered to me I could barely believe it. But besides that, obviously, there’s the big amount of care that the organization has for its fighters. They take great care of them. I’m really happy, really thankful. Not just me, but my team, my coach, and nowadays when I look back I’m just very thankful and want to rejoice in the memories.”
Vanessa Porto has truly been there, done that, and fought a who’s who of talent throughout her MMA career. It’s just a matter of the magnitude to which she’s been showcased. Now as part of her biggest platform yet, she still awaits some unknowns.
Certain expectations in mind, the flyweight has never been one to feel all too rattled by the size of any moments. No matter how soon they came or their size.
“Normally for fights, I’m pretty relaxed,” Porto said of any potential nerves, “I think good thoughts. I get a little bit tense with the weight cuts. I think as most fighters, that’s normal. But for the fights, I just think good thoughts, good vibes, and I’m ready. I’ve always felt comfortable for a fight. The only thing is really the weight cut that gets to me but with the fights, I’m calm.
“Naturally I’m a very chill person, sometimes even a little too chill (laughs). I really have a good routine. I wake up, I eat well, sleep well, and that really makes me comfortable for having a fight with peace and mind.”
Having not fought since November 2019, the always in-shape Porto is ready to fight right now. She predicts that Bellator might even have something lined up for her before her documentation gets all cleared up. Who exactly that may be remains to be seen… but there are some more unique options afloat in the grand scheme of things.
As Porto’s time with Invicta dwindled, the promotion began incorporating one-night tournaments. Something that the champion never got to be a part of due to her status. With Bellator’s 125-pound class heating up thanks to additions such as Porto, the possibility of another Bellator Grand Prix has been presented.
On top of that, the unique thing about Bellator as evidenced in 2019 was that of their openness to work with other promotions. Most notably the partnership between themselves and RIZIN FF led to a plethora of awesome cross-promotion fights. These types of luxuries just add all the more enticement a fighter could need to want to get in on the festivities. Even ones that have been around as long as Porto has.
And having competed during those earlier days, MMA in a ring is nothing new.
“I love this idea, the format of a tournament,” she began, “The most exciting thing is that you know who you’re going to fight next. If there’s going to be a fight there’s going to be a new opponent and there’s the thrill of trying to get to the end. To get to the final of it and winning it all.
“As a fighter, I want to fight. So if that opportunity [to compete in RIZIN] presents itself, I would love to take it. Even more to get to know a new environment, a new organization. That would be great.”
Ultimately, Vanessa Porto is getting the chance to add to her legacy in perhaps the most impactful way yet.
A consummate professional and a veteran of the sport through and through, she has proven to still be a championship-caliber athlete. And even in her older age, don’t get it twisted, the intentions are fully there to keep on displaying she’s one of the very best in her newly stacked division.
“It’s not a matter of if I win, it’s a matter of when I win the belt,” Porto said with a laugh, “I know it’s not gonna be easy. There’s a long way there, it’s gonna be difficult. It’s every fighter’s dream to be able to one day get the belt and to be able to see the proof of their hard work. But I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna work hard to get it and I’m excited for it.
“I’ve already thought a lot about [retirement]. But I’m still in great shape, still training well, working well. It’s a matter of time, right? Time will tell. My fights will tell if it’s time for me to throw in my gloves. But maybe after I get my belt I’ll begin thinking about that.”