UFC veteran Henrique “Frankenstein” da Silva will compete for the first time since being cut following a loss to Gokhan Saki on March 10, but the main event is not the biggest attraction of Mr. Cage 34 in Manaus, Brazil.
Mr. Cage 34 will feature a strawweight fight between Railson Paixao and transgender woman Anne Veriato at the event.
Veriato, who is 21 years old, has been training and competing in jiu-jitsu since she was seven. Training at a gym in Manaus alongside several athletes that had already done the move from jiu-jitsu mats to the MMA cages, Veriato wanted to experience fighting mixed martial arts as well.
”I’ve been fighting jiu-jitsu for years, and I wanted to do something different,” Veriato told MMA Fighting. “A lot of people in my team fight MMA already, and I wanted to do it as well.”
Veriato has already won countless medals in jiu-jitsu tournaments against men.
”When I entered the mat to compete, they always thought I was in the wrong category, asked for documents and everything,” she said. “My opponents and their teams always said ‘You’re fighting her? Ok, this is going to be easy.’ Every time I won, they would come up to me and apologize. I kept competing and winning tournaments, and people started to respect me.”
Veriato’s transformation happened years after she started training martial arts, and it forced her to stay away from the gym for a few months. When she came back, no one knew who she was.
”It was a bit hard for people to get used to it in the gym,” she said. “I left the gym for a while and when I came back, no one recognized me. It’s all good now because they were used to it, but it was different in tournaments.”
Veriato recently met Samir Nadaf, who promotes Mr. Cage in Manaus, at one of the tournaments.
”My coach Andrea McComb asked Samir what would it take for him to sign a 0-0 fighter, told him my story, that I was a little different [laughs],” Veriato said. “Samir said ‘I can believe it! Bring her! I’ll do it!’”
Nadaf wanted to give Veriato an opportunity, but was against matching her up against a woman. He didn’t agree with fighters like Fallon Fox, a transgender woman who competed against women in the United States between 2011 and 2014.
”This [fighter] is a phenom in jiu-jitsu, and you look at [her], it’s a woman,” Nadaf told MMA Fighting. “They asked me for an opportunity. My answer was ‘I can give you an opportunity, but at Mr. Cage, men fight men, it doesn’t matter if you have a penis or not. If you were born a man, you’ll fight a man.’ [She] said ‘that’s exactly what I want.’”
Nadaf visited Veriato’s gym a few days later, and signed a deal to become her manager and promote her MMA debut on March 10.
”It’s only fair to fight men,” Veriato said. “It never crossed my mind to fight a woman because I think I’m too good. If I beat men my entire career, I can still beat them despite the hormone process. I only know that I’m good after I beat men. That’s what makes me happy and hungrier to train. I don’t think it’s fair to fight women.”
The jiu-jitsu brown belt believes she’s good enough to fight — and beat — men in MMA, but admits that the process of changing her body to becoming a woman has affected her during competition.
”It’s completely different,” she said. “Since we do hormonal therapy to become more feminine, the male hormone starts to disappear and don’t come back anymore after a while. I didn’t have the same strength in the gym after that, so that’s why I train so hard to be strong enough to fight men. I feel the difference in strength, and that’s why I work hard.”
Veriato expects Paixao to try to keep it standing and avoid her dangerous ground game when they enter the cage to fight in Manaus. She doesn’t think Paixao is expecting an easy fight, but wonders if his teammates give her the same respect.
”His teammates and friends probably tell him that he has to win, put this pressure over him,” Veriato said. “It was like that my entire career in jiu-jitsu, so it won’t be any different in MMA.”
The 0-0 transgender woman is hoping to have a long career as a mixed martial artist, but doesn’t think the MMA world outside of Manaus is ready to embrace her with respect.
Fallon Fox has always faced some criticism, but Veriato believes that the fact that she’s fighting men makes it easier for people to accept.
”I know that a lot of people will talk, a lot of prejudice,” she said. “There are a lot of people rooting for me, especially after they start to know my story, but some still don’t respect me. They think I just want attention. They will only respect me after I have a few fights, but I know that a lot of people still won’t respect me.”