Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Brazilian flyweight Ilara Joanne before. To be fair, she’s not even popular in her native country as well. At the end of the day, truth be told, Joanne is just a body brought in to share the cage with UFC veteran Bec Rawlings, who makes her Bellator debut on Friday.
But that’s exactly when Joanne plans to shock the MMA world and change her career and life altogether.
Joanne, 25 years of age and 8-4 in the sport, is managed by Bellator double champion Patricio Freire and his longtime associate Matheus Aquino. That’s the main reason why she was able to land a spot in the card against Rawlings to begin with, she admits, but being in such position is everything she’s always dreamed of.
The young Brazilian started practicing karate at age 7 and began doing capoeira four years later. From that point on, she would simply jump from one martial art to the other, practicing muay thai and jiu-jitsu before falling in love with MMA and joining the Pitbull Brothers team in Fortaleza.
Being a professional fighter is far from a very profitable career in Brazil, though, especially so early into the sport, and Joanna had to do all sorts of things to bring money home, like working as a salesperson, telemarketing and a security guard in a night club.
After moving to Natal to train at the main Pitbull Brothers gym earlier this year, Joanne was finally able to stay in the gym all day — even if that meant working most of the time.
“You can’t make a living off if fighting in Brazil. Unfortunately, only a few fighters can do it,” Joanne told MMA Fighting. “I’ve worked a lot and still do. I currently work in the reception of the Pitbull Brothers gym, but always focused on the main goal. I work to be able to afford chasing my dream.
“I’m always in the gym, and Patricio actually opens exceptions that allows me not to miss any training, so his support has been very important for my career.”
Joanne expects her life to change “100 percent” with a win in the main card portion of Bellator 231 in Uncasville, especially against a big-name opponent like Rawlings.
“I think it’s going to be great for my career,” Joanne said. “I’m very aggressive and hungry to win. I’m ready for everything. My focus is to win the Bellator belt.”
Rawlings has racked up a 2-5 record inside UFC’s eight-sided cage between 2014 and 2018. She left the company on a four-fight skid, but those defeats came against some of the best in the business like Paige VanZant and Tecia Torres.
Since then, “Rowdy” Rawlings took the gloves off to compete in bare knuckle boxing matches, going 3-0 under the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship banner.
“MMA and boxing are completely different things,” Joanne said of Rawlings’ recent run at BKFC. “The number of rounds are different, everything is different, so that makes no difference to me. I’m on a good rhythm and training harder in mixed martial arts. I’m better prepared.”