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Tatiana Suarez puts status as heavy favorite out of mind ahead of UFC 238

Tatiana Suarez (pictured) fights Nina Ansaroff in a strawweight bout Saturday at UFC 238 in Chicago
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Never tell Tatiana Suarez the odds.

It’s not that she’s worried about losing a mental edge or that she’s superstitious. She just doesn’t care about what people are predicting will happen before she even makes the walk to the Octagon. Because once fight night rolls around, any pre-fight chatter is just that: noise.

“I don’t think about those things,” Suarez recently told MMA Fighting when asked about how it feels to be the favorite in all of her UFC fights so far. “When you’re locked in a cage with someone, you don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m the underdog, I’m the favorite.’ Those things kind of go out the window when someone’s trying to kick you in the face. Those things aren’t really important, you just kind of focus on the task at hand and that’s winning the fight and dominating. That’s what I try to do.

“If I’m not dominating every part of the fight, there’s something wrong here and I have to make adjustments. For me, I’m trying to dominate every single position and be three steps ahead of everybody else.”

The oddsmakers have put their faith in Suarez (7-0) ever since she ran through the competition on The Ultimate Fighter 23 to win that season’s 115-pound tournament. And Suarez has only become more favored with every impressive performance she puts on, even against the likes of Carla Esparza, the inaugural UFC strawweight champion, and Alexa Grasso, a top prospect that Suarez submitted in under three minutes.

This Saturday, Suarez meets Nina Ansaroff in Chicago on the preliminary portion of UFC 238 in a bout that is likely to produce the No. 1 contender for the strawweight title. According to at least one betting site, Suarez is as high as a 13-1 favorite.

Tatiana Suarez attacks Carla Esparza from top position at UFC 228 on Sept. 8, 2018
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Even though she might not pay attention to the odds, Suarez is betting on herself every time she goes out there. Many of the UFC’s greatest fighters had to experience loss before putting together their legend-making runs, but losing is not something that has crossed Suarez’s mind yet.

“I don’t prepare to lose ever,” Suarez said. “Obviously, I know there’s going to be a winner and a loser, but I don’t prepare to face a loss ever. I go out there and I’m like, just go do what you’re gonna do and have fun. If you do that, you’re gonna be fine.”

Suarez struggled to recall the last time she truly felt like her back was against the wall, at least as far as competition goes. The 28-year-old certainly faced hurdles early on as wrestler before reaching elite status, and a thyroid cancer diagnosis (that was successfully treated after surgery) in 2011 threatened to derail her athletic aspirations.

Having survived a battle with the highest possible stakes, Suarez’s MMA debut three years later must have seemed almost insignificant in comparison. This July will mark the fifth anniversary of her first pro fight and she remembers being supremely confident at the time, albeit inexperienced.

“I was really green. I was definitely nowhere near the fighter I am now. I hope I’m better now,” Suarez said with a laugh. “I remember knowing that I was gonna win and believing in myself and I was excited to just go and become a pro fighter because I knew that’s where I belonged, I was no amateur, and I was just a step closer to becoming the UFC strawweight champion.”

After winning her first three pro bouts, Suarez was cast as one of the fighters on TUF 23 and she credits that experience with raising her confidence even more. Her success throughout the show confirmed what she and her team already knew, that she was a UFC-caliber fighter.

Suarez is now regarded as one of the physically strongest fighters on the 115-pound roster and she’s emphasized improving even further in that department as she marches toward the front of the contenders’ line. She credits her non-stop training schedule (according to Suarez, she took one day off after the Esparza fight before getting back in the gym and that’s it) and her sponsor BODYARMOR with keeping her in peak condition.

“Since 2016, my first fight in the UFC, I’ve been consistently in the weight room trying to get stronger. Trying to get leaner,” Suarez said. “And I think if you look at my Ultimate Fighter picture and you look at my picture now, you will see the change in my physique. My body mass and composition are definitely getting leaner and leaner every single fight.

“I have to be very conscious when it comes to my diet and everything because I am tall and I am putting on more muscle, so I have to be very careful about what I eat and what I drink.”

That visible improvement is one reason why Suarez is constantly being referred to as a future UFC champion. She’s ready for that opportunity, though she insisted that should the matchmakers decide to go in a different direction for Jessica Andrade’s first title defense, she plans to fight again rather than wait for her shot.

Suarez just likes to fight and the word “fun” comes up repeatedly when asking her about her job. Asked to define what it means to have fun when participating in an actual bloodsport, Suarez evoked a more traditionally cerebral game.

“It’s like a whole other feeling, I can’t even—I think fighters always try to explain it, but you kind of can’t explain it, you’re caged in with another human being who wants to knock you out and wants to hurt you,” Suarez said. “You go into a warrior mode and you’re like, ‘Alright, let’s do this.’ It’s like a chess match, a violent chess match.”