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USADA scare, 0-3 start and flashes from a beatdown: Priscila Cachoeira has ‘no other option but win’ at UFC Auckland

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Belem-Shevchenko vs Cachoeira
Valentina Shevchenko handed Priscila Cachoeira a rough loss in her UFC debut in Belem, Brazil.
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Priscila Cachoeira won’t sugar coat her situation in the UFC: She’s in desperate need of a win to save her job.

Cachoeira’s quick rise in the Brazilian regional scene – with eight wins in just 15 months – catapulted her to the UFC in 2017; she signed to face Lauren Murphy in her promotional debut. The fight fell through when visa issues prevented Cachoeira from making the trip to the U.S., so the company came up with a solution: Cachoeira would welcome Valentina Shevchenko to the flyweight division in Brazil.

What felt like a mismatch turned out being a massacre in Belem, with Shevchenko mercifully ending the contest with a rear-naked choke late in the second round after Cachoeira badly blew her knee in the opening seconds of the contest and was outstruck 95-2 in significant strikes.

The PRVT flyweight, who was sidelined after a serious knee surgery, went on to lose decisions to Molly McCann and Luana Carolina in her next appearances. The company opted to give her one more chance.

Now, Cachoeira knows it’s a must-win situation.

“I have no other option but win. That’s what I think,” she told MMA Fighting. “I have no other option. Winning is my only option. It’s either win or win, period. That brings me more hunger, more excitement. It’s a mater of honor for me now. The UFC trusts me, and I want to repay them.”

Getting another opportunity in the biggest MMA promotion in the world after a 0-3 start is rare. As surprising as that was USADA’s decision to hit the Brazilian fighter with only four months of suspension for a diuretic positive in 2019.

In her defense, Cachoeira said her mother, who works as a nurse in Rio de Janeiro, administered hydrocholorothiazide when she started feeling ill with high blood pressure and blurred vision. The UFC fighter was randomly drug tested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) two days later, and she popped for the banned substance.

“I believe in God, but I was a bit surprised,” Cachoeira admits. “I was anxious and nervous (during the process), calling my manager all the time. I expected at least six months, but they gave me four. I was surprised, yes, but they understood it was unintentional. It was a huge relief.”

“Pedrita” was pulled from a UFC Sao Paulo clash with Ariane Lipski as the process went through, and feels like a different fighter going into her 125-pound bout with Shana Dobson at Saturday’s UFC Auckland in New Zealand.

“I see this fight as a huge opportunity for me,” Cachoeira said. “I don’t underestimate her, but the real ‘Pedrita’ hasn’t fought in the UFC’s Octagon yet. My head is 100 percent this time and I will show you all the real ‘Pedrita.’”

Asked why she wasn’t able to show the “real” Cachoeira in the Octagon yet, the 31-year-old flyweight goes back to the Shevchenko loss and everything that followed to offer an explanation.

“Look, my head was really shaken since the Valentina fight,” she said. “It took me a long time to be able to get my head together. I believe I’m 100 percent this time and I’ll be able to show what ‘Pedrita’ can do inside the cage, not that ‘blind Pedrita.’ I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing after the Valentina fight. I had memories of the Valentina fight in my head, so my mind wasn’t ready yet. But I still put on great fights. When this ‘Pedrita’ reveals herself in the cage, get ready – she definitely is a top-five fighter.

“Valentina didn’t want to trade with me even with a blown knee. She took me to the ground, where she felt safer. I do believe that if Valentina stands and trades with me, that would be an ugly brawl. It would be a beautiful fight to watch, a beautiful show. I like to brawl and that’s what I wanted, for her to come and trade with me. But even with a blown knee she preferred to go to the ground, right? I knew that my chances of beating Valentina would be a hand landing. I say odds were 90 percent Valentina and 10 percent mine, with a hand landing, but she still didn’t want to trade with me.

“What messed with my head was that I was on a long winning streak in Brazil; I went 8-0 in 15 months in Brazil and became the best fighter in Brazil, (and) nobody wanted to fight me. All of a sudden, I see myself laying on a bed with a blown knee. I can’t move. Friends left me.

“‘Beatdown,’ ‘massacre’...look, what I endured inside that cage, I’ve never seen anyone do. That’s what affected my mead, the whole process after the fight. Yeah, that beatdown affected my head. It did. But so did being in a bed with a long road of recovery and still dealing with dengue hemorrhagic fever and almost dying.”

“Those ghosts are gone now,” Cachoeira added. “Those thoughts that could affect me, they are all gone. You’ll see a completely different ‘Pedrita’ inside that Octagon.”