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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

Fan favourite Amanda Ribas getting used to the spotlight ahead of UFC 257

Brazilian, who takes on Marina Rodriguez ahead of McGregor-Poirier bout in Abu Dhabi, is proving a force of nature in and out of the octagon

Although already a fighter with three UFC victories under her belt, it felt that UFC Fight Island was where Amanda Ribas’ star skyrocketed.

The Brazilian, then 26, became an instant fan favourite during the inaugural series in Abu Dhabi last July, not only for a competitive talent that suggests a long and luminous career, but for her charisma. She dominated Paige VanZant in the octagon and dazzled in front of camera or microphone.

Ribas is ebullient, bubbly and shines bright in seemingly any company. Sit across from her and immediately it becomes as clear: Ribas’ personality packs considerable punch, too.

“I think when you smile, you change not just my world but yours too,” she tells The National. “This makes a big difference.”

Ribas is seeking to make a big statement on Sunday morning. Part of the much-anticipated UFC 257 – the closer to a third Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi and the promotion’s first pay-per-view (PPV) of the year – she faces Marina Rodriguez at Etihad Arena not long before Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier square off.

Ribas may be 4-0 in the UFC (10-1 overall as a pro), and that most recent fight featured on the PPV-generating UFC 251, but this feels a step up. And all the better, since fans are clamouring to see Ribas compete again.

“It is such a big event,” she says. “And I’m really happy for you to say that, because it is McGregor and Dustin Poirier card. So for me, to hear that everybody wants to see my fight is amazing, thank you.

“My fight will be on fire. Because I want to win – she does for sure, too – so this will be a tough fight because she is No 8 in the rankings. But I will put my heart again inside the octagon.”

Plainly, Ribas has plenty of reasons for the sunny disposition. Although, truth be told, it’s not always necessary like that.

“No, definitely not,” she says. “Today in the morning, in training ... because sometimes I’m a little lazy to think in the morning. So I need my dad to scream at me, and I do my mad face.”

Ribas contorts her face like she most probably plans to do to Rodriguez on Sunday, before letting out a now-familiar shriek of laughter. It draws double-takes in the W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island lounge. Never fear, though. Ribas is getting used to the attention.

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Gallery from UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi

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“I like it. I was signing the UFC [poster in the hotel lobby] because there’s a lot of ‘Amanda Ribas, Amanda Ribas. Marry me’. And I was like what?” she says, extending the final word. “I’m feeling so good and so special for that.

“Because I did not expect that. Before my first fight in the UFC, I was wondering with my dad, ‘How can we sell the fight?’ because I’m not good in trash talk, I’m not good to do [posey] photos. ‘Oh my god, how can we do? How we can do?’

“‘Let’s go do your way. Just talk.’ And with me just talking, and talking I don’t know positive things, it’s been good.”

Good seems an understatement. Ribas’ popularity and profile continues to swell: currently, she boasts more than 650,000 followers on Instagram, and is affiliated now to American Top Team, the gym that trains the likes of Poirier and No 1 pound-for-pound female Amanda Nunes.

Make no mistake, life has altered considerably since Fight Island 1.

“Just in the case of my sponsors,” Ribas says. “It’s good, the visibility, a lot of people trying to make interviews. But I want to keep my mind focused because a lot of fighters, when they start to go up, they forget to train, to fight, just want to social media, social media.

“And I don’t want that. I’m a fighter. I need to train, I need to fight. So all the time I talk to my dad, my coaches, my family, ‘Hey, push me down. Don’t let me be this crazy person that forgot her life. Because my life is fight.’”

It helps that her father knows the game. Marcelo Ribas is a former fighter himself, a mixed martial artist who teaches jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and judo.

“I’m not angry when I go inside the octagon. I am focused,” his daughter says. “Because all the time all the fights pass like a movie in my mind. Because I’m in this life, not just five years in MMA, but this MMA life since I was born. My daddy was a fighter, without gloves, so since a baby I watched this. For me it’s normal.

“In my house there are pictures of him with blood and everything. In the beginning my dad and mum lived at the gym because they didn’t have a house, so I slept on the mat.

“Sometimes the people at American Top Team say ‘Hey Amanda, let’s go to house, you need to rest.’ But for me, inside the gym is the rest, because I like it and feel comfortable.

Jose Aldo, Jéssica Andrade and Amanda Ribas arrive in Abu Dhabi from Sao Paolo. Etihad Airways
Jose Aldo, Jessica Andrade and Amanda Ribas arrive in Abu Dhabi from Sao Paolo in July. Etihad Airways

“So when I get into the octagon, for me that is extremely ... not pressure, but I feel I need to give my best. So I focus on my strategy, I focus on everything to give my best. So that’s my mad face, or my focused face.”

Remain focused, stay on this steep trajectory, and the sense is the sky could be the limit. Now ranked 10th in the strawweight standings – she competes at flyweight also – Ribas will witness up close a genuine superstar on Sunday, the sport’s marquee name who makes his comeback after a full year away.

McGregor's status and stature serves as motivation. Maybe one day Ribas could command a similar spotlight.

“I hope so. Imagine that,” she says. “If I turn a little like Ronda [Rousey], a little bit like Conor, a little like Jose Aldo, a little bit like a lot of fighters, I will be blessed. Because they changed the vision of how normal people who don’t do the sport see us.

“The best MMA fighter was seen as a bad person. I remember in the past when people would say, ‘Ugh, your dad’s a bad guy, he punches guys in the face.’ But now we changed that. Now you’re an athlete, a fighter, and that’s amazing.”

As McGregor has proven, fighters can become truly transcendent.

“I think we can do everything,” Ribas says. “If I want to be an actress, I need to work for that, I need to get better in my bad ways. But if I want it I need to work to get it.

“So if I want to be not just No 1, but above the No 1, for sure I can do it.”

For now, the move into movies – “something about chocolate, or Cobra Kai,” Ribas howls again, eyes wide – can wait. Sunday, on the year’s opening PPV card, not long before McGregor and Poirier go at it at the Etihad, against a No 8-ranked strawweight opponent (12-1-2) and her toughest test to date, is the sole mission.

Fans anticipate much from a clear fan favourite. “They can expect to see the best Amanda that they’ve never seen before,” Ribas says, suddenly serious for a second. “Because I trained so hard. I was training in gym, in the city, in my dreams. I am training everything, and everywhere.

“I will do my best. So they can send the good vibes for me because I will try to represent the best way. Because I love this life.”

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