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Valerie Loureda motivated by bond with Joanna Jedrzejczyk: ‘She always tells me I’m gonna be the next champ’

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As far as role models go, Bellator flyweight Valerie Loureda could do a lot worse than Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Loureda, 21, worked closely with the former strawweight champion at the American Top Team gym ahead of Jedrzejczyk’s title fight against Zhang Weili at UFC 248 last month. Jedrzejczyk and Zhang would put on one of the greatest championship bouts in MMA history, battling back and forth for five rounds before Zhang emerged with a split decision to defend her title.

The striking war was both physically and emotionally exhausting, even for those who simply witnessed it. Loureda can certainly speak to that and she told MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck on the What the Heck show that working closely with Jedrzejczyk has been a life-changing experience.

“I did every spar with Joanna for that camp; I was her main sparring partner for that camp with Mike Brown and Katel [Kubis],” Loureda said. “Just knowing how much I put of me, I gave her all of me, because I really wanted her to perform the way she did, and it didn’t matter if I was not on weight, if I was overweight, if the night before I didn’t sleep, if I was exhausted, I would show up Tuesdays and Thursdays and I would give her all of me, because I knew she needed me really bad. That fight was more emotional for me than anybody else. We’d cry together on the mat, we were hurt together. I would go home with bruises everywhere. And Joanna would be like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, you’re a champ!’

“We have a very different bond. I’ve never trained with anyone that trains like me, like Joanna. Joanna and I, we train alike, we just understand each other. We can curse at each other and hug each other after. I just gave her my 100 percent, so watching her performance in the fight was the most beautiful thing to me. I idolize her, I look up to her so much, she gives me so much advice. She always tells me I’m gonna be the next champ. We just understand each other. That fight just motivated me more than anything.”

One major topic of discussion in the aftermath of the fight was the facial injuries that Jedrzejczyk appeared to suffer. Though they turned out to be nothing too severe, the superficial damage drew plenty of reactions, some of which Loureda didn’t take kindly to.

Loureda addressed the comments on Twitter, passionately defending her friend and teammate.

Asked why she felt she had to speak up, Loureda elaborated on why cracks about a fighter’s appearance can be even harder to take for a woman.

“Obviously, when she finished the fight, I know how she looks, and I completely get it,” Loureda said. “I know that fans are fans, on Twitter they’re terrible, they’re gonna destroy or whatever, but I feel like it got to a certain point after a while like that’s it. We’re female fighters, if I was in a position and I finished fighting the way she did and people all they were talking about is the way she looked, I would have been pissed. I feel like we should stop criticizing. Like, that fight was the most entertaining fight ever. That’s another level of entertainment, and I just felt bad because of the way they were making fun of her.

“Joanna is beautiful. We’re female fighters, (and) no girl wants to be criticized about the way they look. I went crazy on Twitter for a little bit and I’m sorry, but I had to do it. I love her to death. I respect all female fighters. What we put into this sport, not everybody could do it, it’s very specific, people who do what we do. Especially as females, it’s so hard on our body, like the toll it takes on our body, just getting scratched up, bruised up, black eyes. Just female things that we have to be on top of that this sport destroys.”

Loureda knows she has a long way to go to match the achievements and popularity of Jedrzejczyk, but she’s not lacking in confidence. Nor is she struggling to gain a following as she’s excelled in the early stages of her MMA career, earning a 2-0 record with both of those appearances in the Bellator cage. She also doesn’t shy away from expressing herself on social media.

She recently competed on the U.S. version of the international reality show Exathlon—the same show on which UFC stars Yoel Romero and Jorge Masvidal appeared—and Loureda credited the experience with giving her a fresh perspective, though it also led to an injury that forced her out of her most recent fight this past January.

Rather than be discouraged by the time off, the lifelong martial artist has used it to rest and heal and maintain the positive mind set that she wants to share with other young women who may be getting undue criticism for how they conduct themselves.

“This is who I am,” Loureda said. “Like, I am an amazing fighter, but if I don’t feel pretty and feminine and elegant, I’m not Valerie. Even going into fight week, I take it like a beauty pageant, because this is my beauty pageant. Literally, I have fight week, I have media week, I’m skinny, I don’t look like this all the time, I do my photoshoots, I do my interviews, but my whole camp I train harder than any other girl in this world. I’m so sorry to say, I train harder than anyone and I’m confident in that. So fight week comes, my hair’s pretty, my makeup’s done, I have my interviews, I have all of fight week. I make weight like I always do, and I don’t have to suffer cutting water weight, etc. The next day I go out to fight with my eyelash extensions, my hair done, but that’s who I am. Why can’t I be both?

“People sometimes are like, ‘Oh, she’s just a social media influencer.’ I’m like, no, I’ve been fighting since I was two years old. It’s just throughout the years I also have other passions, so I do movies, I do acting, I do entertainment, I was a dancer my whole life. I’m a normal woman except I was born into fighting, I was born for war, like my body structure I was born for war. My dad, this goes way back for many ages in my family. I was born into this world, my whole family were all black belts.

“So it’s very hard for me to be taken seriously, but honestly, I just think it’s just time, as long as I keep winning fights that’s all that matters. Everybody will shut up and I’m gonna be both. I’m gonna be the most beautiful woman in the world, I’m gonna be the most bad-ass fighter in the world.”