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Tatiana Suarez has the look of a future champion, and that future isn’t so far off

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

People knew Tatiana Suarez was a lot of things ahead of UFC 228 last September. They knew she was a survivor. They knew she could wrestle. And they knew she was undefeated. What they didn’t know was just how good she was.

That changed a bit after 28-year-old Suarez put a major beatdown on Carla Esparza that night in Dallas, thoroughly taking the first two rounds before finishing things in the third via a TKO. If controlling every inch of the fight didn’t open people’s eyes, her post-fight interview sure did. Even after such a dominant showing, she said she wasn’t as dominant as she could have been. She seemed mildly disappointed in herself.

That’s the kind of competitor Suarez is.

“I just feel like I get better every fight, and that’s just coming from experience in the cage, getting more cage time, feeling more comfortable in there,” Suarez told MMA Fighting this week. “With the Carla Esparza fight I just felt like I started hitting her in the head really hard, and I kind of zoned out a little bit. I wasn’t picking my shots as well as I should have been. I feel like I could have hit a lot sooner. That’s what I learned from that fight, and that’s what I said in my interviews. 
“That I felt like I could have had a finish sooner than that and it could have been even more dominant than it was, and people thought that was cocky too. I know what I’m capable of. And I know what I do in practice, and what my coaches go over with me.”

Cocky and confident have always been a connoisseur’s distinction, but as Suarez gets ready to return next Saturday night against Nina Ansaroff at UFC 238, this time people have an inkling that she’s legit. Not only is her wrestling a major problem for opposition, so is her relentlessness…and her scrambling ability…and her ground game…and her striking. Thus far Suarez has given very little indication of her weaknesses.

Now as a No. 2 strawweight getting set to face the No. 3 in Ansaroff, Suarez’s name isn’t just a buzzword in the industry. It’s more like a locomotive getting set to plow through whoever is left in front of her.

“I feel like I’ve heard a lot of buzz, especially after the last fight,” she says. “For me, I’m just focused on my next opponent. I never look past anybody. I always go into a fight thinking that they’re the best in the world, and that I’ve got to take them out, and that they’re going to try and take my head off. So, I go in with that mindset, and I think the future…when go fight by fight, that’s when I do the best. It’s really nice to hear people talking, but it’s also like, what? That’s crazy.

“Before I used to hear, like, ‘she’s not that good.’ And then it became, ‘oh, now I’m the Tatiana train,’ and then it went back to, ‘nah, I’m still not sold,’ and then after this last fight it was, ‘wow, I think she’s going to be the next champ.’ It’s crazy.”

The timing might not get any better for Suarez to make her case for a title shot. She is fighting Ansaroff, a high-profile strawweight who has won four straight fights, on a big pay-per-view event that features five total women’s fights from top to bottom. There will be a showcase element to the proceedings.

Then there’s the fact that Jessica Andrade just dethroned Rose Namajunas at UFC 237 in Brazil, knocking “Thug” Rose out with a brutal second-round slam. With Namajunas unsure if she wants to continue fighting, Suarez — with another emphatic victory — could move into catbird’s seat to challenge Andrade next.

“I loved that [Andrade-Namajunas] fight, it was so technical, it was amazing,” she says. “Rose was, in terms of her technicality, she was using her distance beautifully. She was keeping her at bay. But Andrade was doing what I expected Andrade to do, just as Rose was doing what I thought Rose would do.

“I just felt like it was a matter of time before Andrade took over the fight. I just felt like she was pressuring her so much. Rose was going backwards beautifully, but I felt like the pressure was a lot on what Rose could mentally handle in terms in that fight. I though it was a matter of time, you could see the tides turning in that way. They did, just more in a crazier fashion than I expected. I just thought Andrade would start overpowering her.”

If anybody has been keeping in proximity to a title, it’s Ansaroff, who is playing with the same set of stakes in Chicago. Her fiancée is the current bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes, who has helped mold Ansaroff into a contender over the last couple of years.

Suarez says she respects everything about Ansaroff, from her ability on down to her demeanor, but that it doesn’t bother her in the slightest to hit people she’s friendly with.

“I think she’s a great opponent,” she says. “She uses her distance really well. She’s long, she has long legs, she has a long jab. She’s a good striker. I remember watching her fight Angela Hill and thinking, ‘she’s a really good striker.’ And you know what, she’s worked really hard to get where she is. She beat Claudia, she got that upset, and that was really great for her career.”

Suarez feels primed for the division to begin running through her, and sees her tilt with Ansaroff as the next definitive moment to get everybody on board.

“They were saying we want this to be a title contention fight, but you just never know with the UFC,” she says. “They can tell you one thing then another thing happens. So I’m not like thinking I have to win this to get a title fight.

“I want to win this just because I want to win. I’ve worked really hard, I’ve sacrificed a lot, and I want to win every fight equally the same. So, right now I’m just focusing on getting the W and putting on a dominant performance. I know I can. I know I can put on a really good performance, really dominant. I just really believe in myself. I work so hard, I know how well I do in practice, and if I do this right there’s no reason I shouldn’t win this fight.

“That’s why some people take it as I’m cocky, and I’m like, ‘no, no, that’s not it at all. I just work super hard and know what I do to prepare for fights, and I do really well. I just can’t see anybody stopping it.”