One of the first things Viviane Araujo did after the biggest win of her MMA career – a unanimous decision nod over onetime UFC title contender Alexis Davis at UFC 240 – was extend an offer of support to women who’ve dealt with domestic violence.
A former Pancrase strawweight champion, Araujo, who meets Jessica Eye in a flyweight contest at UFC 245 on Saturday in Las Vegas, said she felt the need to take a moment and discuss violence against women in a moment like that.
“The UFC is such a gigantic and powerful platform,” Araujo said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “To be able to say that there, carry that message to all women, was something I felt I had to do.
“A word from a woman can change your life and self-esteem.”
The 33-year-old talent currently holds an 8-1 record in the sport with two wins inside the Octagon. She became a jiu-jitsu practitioner – and later on an MMA fighter – because she was tired of watching her mother Maisa suffer at the hands of her alleged alcoholic and abusive father.
“My father would get home completely drunk and hit my mom, so I was always getting out of the house to do something else and try to clear my head,” Araujo said. “I started playing soccer and people said I was talented, but I wasn’t so disciplined, until one day a jiu-jitsu coach invited me to train and I loved it. That was a way to forget the problems I had back home. I went out to train to only go back home at night. I was evolving as an athlete and as a person, dreaming about taking my family out of that situation through sports.
“We have so many people going through things like that that I felt the need to talk about it. We’re suffering with domestic violence and violence against women. I lived that reality since I was a kid. I’ve suffered with that, and I managed to turn the table with sports. My mom is a warrior.”
Araujo’s mother wasn’t so thrilled when she left soccer for jiu-jitsu, though.
“People that don’t understand martial arts see fighting as something violent, but I insisted on it, because I felt I was getting better as a person,” Araujo said. “She never watched me fight in Brazil, but after I went to Japan to fight for the Pancrase title, she saw how big it was and started supporting me. She’s my No. 1 fan now.”
It was only after Araujo joined the UFC that she was finally able to quit other jobs as a jiu-jitsu teacher and a personal trainer to fully focus on her MMA career. She left college and gave up on the idea of getting a physical education degree anytime soon, too, and doesn’t regret it one bit.
“I can live off fighting now,” Araujo said. “I came from a poor family and had the dream of joining the biggest MMA organization in the world. When the opportunity came, I had a great debut.”
“My hands will land, and I hope to knock her out”
Araujo made flyweight her home after scoring a decision win over Davis in July, less than three months after making a short-notice Octagon debut as a bantamweight and knocking out Talita Bernardo in the third round.
The Brazilian 125-pounder returns to the cage against former title contender Eye in a catchweight competition of 131 pounds, the result of Eye coming in heavy at the scale. Araujo hopes to take home a win that will cement her as the next in line after Katlyn Chookagian challenges Valentina Shevchenko on Feb. 8.
“I’m relaxed about a title shot,” Araujo said. “I want to show my work in the UFC and be ready to fight whoever they put in front of me. The belt is the consequence.”
Araujo is in no rush, but don’t get her wrong: Her ultimate goal is to have a golden belt around her waist.
“I’m moving step by step in the UFC,” Araujo said. “I had my UFC debut this year, and still can’t believe I’m already in the top-10 of the flyweight division. But this is my goal: Always put on great performances in my fights and excite the crowd, give them what they really want to see.”
Araujo isn’t considering a moving back to strawweight in the future, especially after seeing how well her body reacted with an easier weight cut to 135 and then 125.
“Vivi” sees the possibility of going to the ground with Eye to show her grappling skills at UFC 245. But she envisions herself handing Eye her second straight knockout defeat in 2019, six months after the recent title challenger’s brutal loss to Shevchenko.
“She’s coming off a loss to the champion, but she’s a complete athlete with a good ground game and good striking,” Araujo said. “She will be very aggressive since she lost her last fight, but I’m coming at her like an animal to secure this victory. She’s a warrior who managed to bounce back and evolve with her loses, but I won’t let her win. I want to close the year with an excellent performance.
“My hands are very heavy for this division, and I’m constantly working on my striking and movement. She won’t be able to find me in that cage. My hands will land and I hope to knock her out.”