Juliana Velasquez’s father introduced her to the judo mats when she was only four years old. The young carioca entered high-level competition 11 years later, capturing a few medals in the South American judo circuit. At age 28, she decided to try her luck in the mixed martial arts world.
One month after fellow judoka Ronda Rousey destroyed Sara McMann in just 66 seconds in the UFC cage, Velasquez won her amateur debut via second-round submission in 2014. Later that year, Velasquez kicked off her professional career with a decision victory.
Velasquez never came close to achieving what Rousey has done in judo competition, but she sees her career in mixed martial arts as a chance to get to the top of the world.
On Friday night, the unbeaten Brazilian faces Alejandra Lara at Bellator 212 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and her eighth win in the sport could grant her a shot at the flyweight belt, which will be on the line the following night at Bellator 213 between champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Valerie Letourneau.
”I came from an Olympic sport, so my head is always prepared for everything,” Velasquez told MMA Fighting. “I knew that Bellator was a huge promotion, but it’s always gratifying to realize where I am. I give thanks every day for being in this position I am right now. My head is in MMA mode today, so my focus is to win the Bellator belt, so I don’t even talk about Olympics or anything like that. To me, being Olympic champion is winning the Bellator belt.”
Velasquez is 7-0 in MMA with four stoppages to her name and sees Lara as a good matchup style-wise, but expects the Colombian to avoid any type of grappling exchanges. If she’s forced to stay on the feet, the Brazilian plans to showcase her striking skills one more time, like when she knocked out Rebecca Ruth with a body kick back in April.
”Last time, I expected Rebecca to grapple with me but she didn’t, but I work on every area, I don’t do only one thing, so I’m ready,” Velasquez said. “If she changes her game, I know what to do. I’m ready to stand with her, to go to the ground, I’m ready for everything. I try to be as versatile as possible and evolve in those areas I’m not that good, to feel comfortable on the feet. I feel confident.”
Velasquez foresees 125-pound champion Macfarlane successfully defending her Bellator throne against Letourneau on Saturday, and plans to be in attendance to watch the championship bout. If victorious on Friday, Velasquez hopes to be invited to enter the cage at Bellator 213 and be announced as the next in line.
”I hope so,” Velasquez said with a laugh. “One step at a time, I’m not thinking about it right now. I want to win this fight, and win it well. If I get a title shot next, I will be ready for it. I believe it will happen, but no matter what, if it does or not, I face every fight the same way, with the same importance. My will to win is the same.”