Bellator 159 will feature the debut of two undefeated Brazilian prospects, and the similarities between them go far beyond the same first name.
Bruna Vargas and Bruna Ellen, both talents managed by the same man, Gilbert Faria, signed with the promotion in February, and are set to take on Emily Ducote and Jessica Middleton, respectively, at Friday’s show in Mulvane. And when their manager called to inform they had signed with Bellator, they couldn’t believe it.
"I was a bit surprised because fighting for a big promotion like Bellator is an opportunity that every fighter wants," said Vargas, "and I’m really happy about it."
"I said wow. We didn’t hope to sign with a big promotion yet," Ellen said. "Since the beginning our goal was to sign with an international promotion, but I thought it would take more time, that I would need to fight more in Brazil. I was really happy when that happened."
Vargas and Ellen are both 2-0 in mixed martial arts with one stoppage victory each, and another similarity between them is their physical attributes. Both fighters gained notoriety in Brazil for their beauty even before signing with Bellator, and Ellen admits that it might have helped them sign a deal with the North American company after only a couple MMA fights.
"I fought twice in Brazil and already got some attention from the media," Ellen said. "A website made a list of the 10 most beautiful fighters in the world, and I honestly didn’t expect to see me there. I was surprised, but obviously happy about it. I believe that helped me, and made things happen faster than I expected."
However, being a beautiful fighter doesn’t equal being a talented athlete, and that’s the true reason why they believe they were signed by Bellator.
"It would be hypocritical to say that beauty doesn’t help, but I believe that it’s not only that," Vargas said. "I fight muay thai for 10 years, I’m 2-0 in MMA, and I’m sure that I’ll show in this fight that they didn’t sign me only because I’m beautiful. I’m going there to fight, not for a fashion show."
"I think it might start in the beginning, but it’s no use if people watch you because you’re beautiful, but you go there and don’t put a show for the fans," Ellen agreed. "I think it’s nice to combine both things, it’s good for the media and all that, but I’d rather get attention because of my fighting skills. It does help, though."
Competing in a big stage like Bellator in your third professional MMA fight can bring a lot of pressure, but both Ellen and Vargas guarantee that previous experience in combat sports was more than enough for this challenge.
Vargas, 26 years old, started fighting at age 17, racking up a 9-1 record in professional muay thai, while Ellen, 20, has competed all over the world for years in sanda tournaments.
"I competed overseas before, and I know how it’s like to fight with the crowd booing you and all that, and that kind of helps me," said Ellen, who competed in sanda tournaments in Argentina, China and Turkey. "The crowd was booing me in Turkey, and cheering a lot when my opponent entered the gymnasium. This pressure actually helps me, to silence the crowd. I know how it’s like. I react well under pressure, and I’m mentally prepared."
Vargas’ background in combat sports helps, but her Bellator debut comes after a long layoff. The Porto Alegre-native hasn’t fought since 2014, and she blames XFC. To avoid ring rust, she kept competing in other martial arts in Brazil.
"I was stuck in a contract with XFC for two years, waiting for a fight that never came," Vargas said. "It was complicated because I wanted and needed to fight, but had to wait. But I kept training, working on the things I needed to improve, like jiu-jitsu, and waited for a call. I also competed in jiu-jitsu and boxing in those two years away from MMA."
At Bellator 159, the Brazilian duo will face opponents with more experience under MMA rules. Ducote, who faces Vargas in the main card, has a couple of five-round fights under her belt. And even though Middleton is making her professional MMA debut against Ellen, she has racked up a 4-1 record as an amateur MMA fighter, according to Tapology.
"I didn’t even know she fought five-round fights before, but that doesn’t change anything," Vargas said of Ducote. "I know she’s a wrestler, and she uses her striking to close the distance and get the takedown. I focused on that, not getting taken down. I believe she will try to take me down since I’m a muay thai fighter, but I’ll be comfortable if the fight goes to the ground."
"Based on what I saw, she’s a kickboxer and likes to keep the fight standing," Ellen said. "I trained based on that, but also on everything else because we never know what to expect. My strategy is to impose my game, put some pressure, and make her feel my hands. If I have to, I can also take her down and ground and pound, go for a submission, but I want to impose my game first."