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Jennifer Maia honored to carry the Chute Boxe flag back to the UFC

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Jennifer Maia left Invicta FC as the undisputed flyweight champion.
Esther Lin, Invicta FC

CURITIBA, Brazil — Chute Boxe was at the top of the world in the PRIDE days, collecting trophies and titles in PRIDE with Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva and Murilo Rua, among others, but the scenario has changed when most of the stars left between 2003 and 2007.

Chute Boxe has had many representatives in the UFC over the past year, like Thomas Almeida, Felipe Arantes and Lucas Martins, but none of them came from the main gym in Curitiba — the trio trains at Chute Boxe Diego Lima in Sao Paulo. In fact, the last talent from the Curitiba unit to sign with the UFC was Vinicius Queiroz, who got cut after losing in his debut in Oct. 2010.

It will all change Saturday night, when Jennifer Maia faces Liz Carmouche at UFC Boise.

Training under the tutelage of Ed Carlos “Monstro” since she joined the team in 2003, when most of its top stars were still training at Chute Boxe, Maia fell in love with muay thai and mixed martial arts right away. Maia entered an MMA ring for the first time in 2009, and she went on to compile a 15-4-1 record that led her to the UFC after winning and defending the Invicta FC flyweight title.

In a moment when the only Brazilians to hold belts in the UFC are female fighters Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg, it’s a women that brings Chute Boxe Curitiba back to the eight-sided cage.

“Carrying the team’s name to the UFC is very special because I’ve been a Chute Boxe fighter my entire life,” Maia told MMA Fighting. “I started a long time ago, back when Wanderlei and ‘Shogun’ were at the top, and now I’m the one at the top. It’s very important for me to represent the team.”

It’s also a special moment for Chute Boxe leader Rudimar Fedrigo, who built Chute Boxe in the late 1970’s.

”Our team is used to having champions,” Fedrigo said. “We have Cris Cyborg, a role model for women in the gym, and now we want Jennifer to do the same thing Cris has done and bring the belt to the team. Chute Boxe has had many titles, and we always want more — and people expect that from us. Every time someone from Chute Boxe fights, people get excited about it.”

The challenge and goal, Fedrigo agrees, is to make Chute Boxe as relevant today as it was back in PRIDE days.

”Sports are about results,” Fedrigo said. “When you don’t have good results, you don’t look good. We’re going after what people have always expected from the team. This fight, her career reflects what Chute Boxe is about. We’re a big family.”

Maia brought the Invicta FC title with her to Curitiba, and now aims to do the same with the UFC gold “for Rudimar, for my team, for Curitiba, and for my country. It would be amazing. It would be really special.”

Invicta FC champion Jennifer Maia trains at Chute Boxe's main gym in Curitiba, Brazil.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

The road to the 125-pound title starts at UFC Boise against “Girl-Rilla”, the first women to ever enter the Octagon to compete. Carmouche, who recently dropped a split decision to Alexis Davis in her flyweight debut, is exactly what Maia expected for her first challenge in the division.

”I think it’s the ideal even though she’s coming off a loss because she’s a great fighter,” Maia said. “There’s no easy opponent in this division, and I really wanted someone like her as my first opponent. I want to win no matter how. Knockout, submission, decision… I feel prepared. I think it’s a good match-up, but I don’t know how the fight will end.”

Maia was used to finishing her opponents in the Brazilian circuit, but went the distance in all of her four wins in American soil.

”It’s definitely is something I want,” Maia said of a stoppage against Carmouche. “Every fighter wants to finish a fight as quick as possible to surprise the audience, but in the end winning is the most important, so that’s what I worry about.”

”It’s a tough fight, no doubt about it. There’s no easy fight in the UFC,” Fedrigo agrees. “I hope it ends by knockout. Landing a big knee, Chute Boxe-style. I’ll be really happy. It’s our brand, Chute Boxe way of fighting.”

With the women’s flyweight division still developing, Mais hopes to be one step away from a shot at the title since “I’m not coming to the UFC as a nobody, I have the experience of being a champion in one of the biggest promotions in the world.”

“I think my path can be a bit quicker, but I have to put on good fights,” Maia said. “Maybe not the next one, but maybe two or three wins and I can fight for the belt.”

The belt current belongs to Nicco Montano, who won it through the 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter, but the promotion hasn’t been successful in its attempt to book a title fight between her and Valentina Shevchenko yet.

If it takes longer, Maia suggests an interim title bout with “Bullet”.

“It’s taking a long time with that, maybe they could do something to create an interim belt so it doesn’t hold the division like that,” Maia said. “I’d accept it, for sure. I think it’s good, and fans would definitely enjoy it.”