Quietly but impressively, Brazil’s Virna Jandiroba has put together one of the best records in the 115-pound strawweight division.
Nearly perfect at 16-1, Jandiroba has secured 13 of those victories via submission. Generally finishing with armbars or rear-naked chokes, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt is among the very best in the sport in that art.
Beginning her career in 2013, the now-32-year-old would win 14 straight before suffering her first career defeat. That loss coming in her UFC debut following her run as the Invicta FC champion.
“My first loss gave me a shock of reality,” Jandiroba told MyMMANews. “I discovered that I need to be even more of a pro than I already was. Technically, broadening my team, bringing more science to my training camps. It was a big reality shock but it was great that it happened in my first fight in the UFC so I’ve been able to work on that since then.
“It definitely did [relieve some pressure]. I wanted to win, obviously. It was a good fight despite losing the fight but it was humbling. It definitely humanized the process.”
At UFC Sunrise in April 2019, Jandiroba dropped a unanimous decision to former UFC and Invicta champion, Carla Esparza. Since then, both have gone on to put together great winnings streaks that inch them towards the top of the division.
And while having a lengthy winning streak is always an amazing feat, there’s a reason that it’s unbelievably rare to see. Perhaps more often than not that comes down to the mental aspect of combat as the evolution of Jandiroba’s physical skills have only continued to be displayed following the departure of her zero.
Hailing from the North-Eastern region of her country in Serrinha, Bahia, Jandiroba’s nickname “Carcara” acts as a constant reminder of who she is and what she’s fighting for. The nickname defines that of a very strong and powerful bird from her home. Thus providing a perfect representation of herself as it embodies the resilience and power of those who reside in that area.
Having an ever-kind and humble personality, Jandiroba admits that the nickname is a union of two extremes in a way—her sweet side combined with the fierceness seen in the Octagon. Therefore allowing her to bring out the carcara when she needs it.
On December 12 inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, UFC 256 will see Jandiroba back in action. For the BJJ wizard, her fourth appearance in the UFC matches her opposite someone with that same rare level of grappling abilities. It’s Jandiroba vs. Mackenzie Dern.
“This camp was a very special camp,” Jandiroba began. “I was able to train with a lot of people that really helped me in multiple ways. Helping me spiritually, helping me technically… Every camp is special. But there was something a little bit more special about this camp. Maybe that’s related to being in contact with nature more and there was just something really nice about this camp for this fight.”
Already supremely proficient on the mat, everyone is aware of what both Jandiroba and Dern are capable of when the fight goes to the floor. That alone gives the fight plenty of intrigue from a stylistic standpoint.
But of course, there is more than just grappling involved in MMA, and the Bahia native has continually worked on her striking. In the lead-up to this fight, Jandiroba has been aided by the likes of Valesca “Tina Black” Machado who is a champion in Muay Thai and currently holds an 8-2 record in MMA. Meanwhile, Jandiroba is always honing her masterful BJJ as she’s been working with Michele Oliveira.
When it comes to Dern, the Jiu-Jitsu aces are familiar with one another after having first met at Invicta 26 in December 2017 for fights that were both of their promotional debuts. The two talk every now and then on social media and there’s nothing but friendly exchanges and respect between them. But that’s the fun part about MMA… No matter how friendly you are with someone, that all changes once you’re locked in a cage together.
“It’s funny, we have the same weapons, right?” Jandiroba laughed. “I’ve already fought other strong grapplers before but Mackenzie really is a reference in this area. In general, I prefer to fight strikers maybe because most of my former opponents were strikers so I got used to that. But it’s a great fight, I’m really excited for it. Maybe I can end up showing different things besides my Jiu-Jitsu, different areas, explore other things. It’s a fight that I’d pay to watch it as a viewer.
“I can’t talk about my strategy, I’ll talk about it a little superficially. I’ve been training to feel comfortable in all fields of the Octagon. I’ve been studying Mackenzie very well, all of her qualities and her flaws. I’ve been training for something special but I can’t say what it is right now.”
The strawweight division in MMA is among the very best in the world today and the combination of the submission specialists is just a small sample size as to why. A win for either will really set them up for an even more significant step up in competition.
Despite Jandiroba’s more accomplished resume, she finds herself ranked two spots below Dern in the official UFC rankings. So with a win here over No. 11, her current streak would extend to three and surely put her where she arguably should already be—the top 10.
“Being overlooked is something that I’m expecting already to happen,” Jandoiroba expressed. “I like it, I can always show something and really impress with my skills.
“Even though Mackenzie isn’t necessarily a veteran of the sport, she’s a very well-known and skillful fighter so getting a win would definitely be a breaking point in my career. It would help me a lot to get on the way to a title shot. I wouldn’t get a title shot directly after a win in this fight, I know that. But it would be a breaking point because it’s the two best of Jiu-Jitsu fighting against each other. So that would help a lot.”
As a girl with a dream from Bahia, Jandiroba has already come a rather long way and her journey is still only just getting started.
Having already had a full career competing in Jiu-Jitsu to work her way into MMA, Jandiroba decided to continue challenging herself. And she met some eventual very notable names along the way.
Also residing from her home state is the current queen of the UFC bantamweight and featherweight divisions, Amanda Nunes. Often forgotten due to her fantastic striking abilities, Nunes too is an owner of a BJJ black belt and competed in several competitions during her early days. Some of those matches even happened to come against the much smaller “Carcara”.
Ultimately, the size difference wasn’t an issue for Jandiroba as she can forever say she holds wins over one of the greatest fighters of all time. But having watched each of their journeys unfold to this point has been nothing but inspiring for the former Invicta titlist. The two are strong representatives for their home and if Jandiroba has anything to say about it, she intends to keep on doing Bahia proud.
“It’s really cool looking back and seeing the matches we had,” she recalled. “In total there were three matches, two of which I won, the other Amanda won. We’re both from the same region in Brazil, from the same state and we lived close to each other. So it was bound to happen at some point.
“At the time, when I first fought Amanda, she wasn’t the champion she is today. She was an up and coming fighter so they were great matches. We fought in the absolute weight class where people of different weights go up against each other. It’s really nice seeing where Amanda has come right now in her career being that we’re from similar realities, similar backgrounds. It’s an inspiration seeing where Amanda has come and where I also have come in my career right now.”