Irene Aldana’s career as a professional fighter has come a long way in a short amount of time.
The Mexican fighter, who’s considered one of the best female prospects of Latin America, began competing in MMA as a hobby a little over fours years ago. Today, Aldana finds herself competing for the biggest promotion in the sport: the UFC. MMA Fighting recently caught up with the bantamweight fighter to talk about how she began her career in MMA, her upcoming fight against Katlyn Chookagian at this Saturday’s UFC 210, and more.
Below is a transcript of the conversation:
Danny Segura: How did you start training MMA?
Irene Aldana: Since I was little, I’ve always done some kind of sport. I would dance, go to the gym, do spinning. I was always active. Later in life, I moved to Guadalajara to study my career, graphic design, and I went like two years without doing any type of exercise. I was too busy studying, school was taking up a lot of my time, and I was in the stage of beginning to experience living by myself. So after those two years, I decided that I wanted to start exercising again and I was looking to see what to do. I had a friend that trained at Lobo [Gym] and he would always talk to me about it. It was actually very funny because I would always drive by the gym, look at it and then leave, then I’d drive by it again, look at it, and leave. I did that for a whole week; it really had my attention, but I never had the courage to get out of the car. And one day, I said to myself, ‘something is calling me,’ so I decided to get out of the car, go in, and take a trial class. And that day I decided to stay.
DS: How long ago was that?
IA: That was towards the end of 2010. I started super late, I was around 23 years old.
DS: Seems time hasn’t really been a factor though, you’re fighting for the UFC.
IA: Yeah, and that speaks a lot about the dedication that we’ve put into this. Mainly the work of my coach because I didn’t have any type of combat sports background, I never did boxing or anything that involved martial arts. And apart from that, to start at 23 years old, not having exercised for two years, he’s had very little time to bring me up to the level that I am. In 2012 and 2013, I only had three fights in Mexico, professional fights, I never fought amateur. After those three fights, I was hired by Invicta and then after by the UFC, so I believe that the journey has been very fast, but, well, that’s a testament of all the hours I’ve put in the gym.
DS: Where you able to finish your career in graphic design?
IA: Yes, I did. And I think it’s important to have a career. I always tell and advise the young guys that are starting in MMA to have a professional career despite them wanting to pursue MMA because at one point that will come to an end or maybe at one point they’ll need their professional studies. So I think that’s important, and I think that you can have a balance between both. My last year in school, I was studying and training. It was actually around the time I made my MMA debut. It’s very difficult and hectic but it can be done, you just have to manage your time right.
DS: What do your parents make of MMA? And what were their thoughts on you leaving your career as a graphic designer to become a professional fighter?
IA: They love it. They're huge fans of MMA and the UFC — they don't miss a single card. At first it was a little hard. Like all parents, they didn’t want to see their daughter get hit and be at risk. But they’ve been a huge support for me, and thanks to them I was able to dedicate the time that I needed to dedicate to my training. Honestly, without them, I don’t know if I would’ve made it to the UFC. Now they know that nothing will happen, that I'm not going to die, that the risk is small, and that injuries heal, so they’re always helping me and sending me their good vibes.
DS: Let’s talk UFC. You made your promotional debut last December against Leslie Smith at UFC on FOX 22. It didn’t go as planned, but you did win a $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus. Did that make the loss easier to process? How did you feel?
IA: Well, of course I would’ve loved to win, but I was very happy to win Fight of the Night. I think that showed the way I fight as well. We gave it 100 percent and I’ve always wanted to have a fight like that; I’ve wanted to experience a very competitive fight where there was no stopping, where both of us where giving it our all. I’m also happy that I got to learn a lot about myself as an athlete, and that the people watching the fight were able to enjoy it. MMA is also about entertaining fans, and I think people were really entertained.
DS: So now you’re fighting Chookagian. How do you think you match up with her?
IA: I think we both have a similar style on the feet. I think that right now, I’ve improved in many areas, as I’ve been focusing on improving all areas of my game. I hope to enter this bout more confident, and more aggressive. I think my boxing technique will be cleaner and I think I will be a bit more aggressive then her. But anything can happen, we’ll see where the fight takes us.
DS: Is competing in the UFC’s new women's featherweight division something that would interest you?
IA: I think that’s an interesting option, but probably later down the road. Right now I want to focus on bantamweight. I want to break into the top 10, then top five, and eventually obviously the belt. I know it’s a long road but that’s the objective at the moment. I think in the future it would be an interesting idea to move up a weight class, maybe I’d feel stronger. But right now I see the bantamweight division as a personal challenge and it’s a division that I want to test myself in.
DS: Lastly, looking back at these past four years, what do you make of the direction your life has gone and your career as a professional fighter?
IA: I wouldn’t change anything, I’m where I want to be. I think I’ve achieved a lot in little time and I’m happy that I took the chance, because sometimes due to fear, or other reasons, you don’t encourage yourself to get things done. But I decided to take the chance, to see what would happen, and I don't regret anything. I’m excited to see what’s ahead.