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Priscila Cachoeira overcame crack addiction, sexual abuse in improbable journey to the UFC

Priscila Cachoeira makes her UFC debut in Las Vegas.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

NITEROI, Brazil — Priscila Cachoeira will make her UFC debut against longtime veteran Valentina Shevchenko at the UFC's first trip to Belem, Brazil, on Feb. 3, but the road to the Octagon had its ups and downs.

On her first day of training at PRVT in Niteroi, Cachoeira was put inside the cage to spar with UFC strawweight contender Jessica Andrade. She unsurprisingly got beat up by the one-time title challenger, but in the end, one word from Andrade made Cachoeira’s Octagon dreams sound possible: “Believe.”

“I looked at master (Gilliard) Parana and he was talking to another coach, ‘This girl will get there,’” Cachoeira said, "and I’m thinking, ‘But guys, I got beat up [laughs].’"

That sparring session happened just 18 months ago, and now Cachoeira is in the UFC. It’s a meteoric rise, and it’s even more impressive when the Brazilian flyweight explains what she had to overcome on her journey.

"A series of things hurt me inside,” Cachoeira said. "I was mistreated by my father, he said I wasn’t his daughter, he did things to hurt me. The funny thing is that I still had him as an idol.

"I played volleyball for Fluminense, but I was stabbed in the back and removed from the team. In between those two things, I was molested by someone who was a member of the family back then, my brother-in-law. And then I caught my boyfriend cheating on me."

Cachoeira, a young girl from Rio de Janeiro who just wanted to become a professional volleyball player, didn’t care about school and sports anymore.

"I started going to parties every day and met people that used drugs,” Cachoeira said. "My life changed, I dropped studies and sports and started sleeping during the day and partying every night. That’s how I started using ‘loló’ (a blend of chloroform and ether), marijuana, cocaine and crack.

"I spent a long time using crack, more than three years,” she continued. "My biceps were the size of my wrist. Crack almost killed me. I prayed for a way out, I wanted to stop. I knew I was dying, I knew I was killing myself, but I couldn’t stop. My body kept asking for more drugs, and I couldn’t control myself."

Cachoeira’s mother, Rosimeri, was desperate — and had no idea how to handle the situation. It got to a point where Rosimeri would give her daughter money to buy drugs just to avoid something worse.

"I thought she was being an accomplice in my drug addiction,” Cachoeira said, "but I understand now that she was giving me money so I wouldn’t get to the point of prostituting or stealing things. I didn’t go that far.”

Cachoeira was a shell of her former self, having spent years under the control of drugs, and the light at the end of the tunnel seemed far away. She would avoid home for days, using drugs non-stop, until her mother decided to put an end to her misery.

"I was using crack for three straight days, and my money was already over, but other people started to buy it for me,” Cachoeira said. "On the third day, I couldn’t take it anymore, my body wouldn’t take it anymore, but I had no strength to stand up and leave.

"My vision was blurry, I was disoriented. I wanted to leave. I looked at the door and I saw a light, I saw that someone was coming in my direction. I recognized the dress and said, 'It’s my mother.’ The other junkies left, scared, and I wanted to leave as well because I thought she would beat me.

"She avoided the traps we set up for cops and said, ‘Let's go home.’ She gave me a hug and we started crying. The junkies came back, applauding her, saying, ‘I wish I had a mom like yours. Don’t you ever come back here.’ I left that place and never came back. I was rescued that day."

Quitting drugs is no easy task, and Cachoeira decided to go back to sports as a way to try to become who she used to be in the past. Volleyball wasn’t an option anymore, but that’s when she saw a Muay Thai gym across the street.

"The drugs were getting out of my body through my sweat,” she said. "I had setbacks and used drugs again, I confess, but my willpower was bigger. When I realized I was talented for fighting, I decided I wanted to do something for myself."

Her brother already was a MMA fan before “Pedrita" fell in love with martial arts — and he didn’t quite believe her bold prediction.

"Two years ago, when I decided I was going to fight, I told my brother that I would become a UFC fighter in three years,” Cachoeira said. "He laughed. ‘You're crazy, you don’t even know how to punch.’ He kind of doubted me. And here I am, two years later. When I promise something, I do it.”

The PRVT fighter made her MMA debut in 2016, and again had the help of her mother to overcome difficulties. Fighting for a promotion called “Your Chance MMA,” which fits well with her life story, “Pedrita” won a unanimous decision.

"I was getting beat up so much in the first round that I thought about quitting,” Cachoeira said, "but then I heard her voice: ‘Don't give up, my daughter.’ I didn’t quit, and I started fighting like a maniac. One punch landed flush, and my opponent looked back at me, and I knew I had her respect. I started to hunt her down and won the fight.

"My past, this dark shadow from the past, is what made me get so fast to the UFC. This past gives me strength to enter the cage and do my best.”

Cachoeira didn’t have the money to take her mother to Las Vegas, where her initial UFC debut was supposed to take place earlier this month. But Rosimeri will be in attendance in Belem. Rosimeri currently lives in Bangu, Rio de Janeiro, where she helps take care for Cachoeira’s 5-year-old son Juan Marcelo.

An undefeated flyweight, Cachoeira enters the Octagon for the first time after winning eight in a row on the Brazilian circuit, including four knockout victories, and vows to entertain the fans.

"Every time I fight is a war, the best fight of the night,” Cachoeira said. "I want to break records and become the fighter with the most bonuses in the UFC. Not for the money — it’s important, of course — but I love putting on a show to entertain the crowd.”

Shevchenko is seen as one of the future contenders for the 125-pound belt, but “Pedrita" believes her own run to gold can be as fast as her journey to the UFC.

"I always say that two or three good wins, putting on a show for the fans, it’s possible that I get the belt,” Cachoeira said. "Your hard work and determination makes dreams possible, and it might come faster than you imagine."