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Duda Santana relied on donations from fellow UFC fighters to survive during COVID-19 pandemic

Duda Santana (left) shares a house with her mother, her 4-year-old daughter, and siblings.
Photo via Duda Santana

Duda Santana finally has food in her refrigerator again.

The UFC bantamweight revealed in a heartbreaking interview to Combate that she was running out of food at home since her entire family wasn’t able to work due to the coronavirus pandemic in Rio de Janeiro. Santana shares a house with her mother, six siblings, and her four-year-old daughter at the City of God favela, and had no money to buy groceries.

When UFC lightweight Alan Patrick read that story online, he decided to act. “Nuguette” told MMA Fighting he knew Santana and her family and felt he had to do something.

Patrick shared the link on a WhatsApp group with almost 80 UFC fighters hoping to gather donations for their fellow UFC athlete. Former light heavyweight title contender Glover Teixeira was the first to raise his hand and offer support, Patrick says, followed by Amanda Ribas, Anderson dos Santos and Raphael Pessoa.

“I helped ‘Cowboyzinha’ because I’ve been in her situation before,” Patrick said. “I know how it feels to be hungry, to share a house with several siblings and not have anything to eat. We know ‘Cowboyzinha’ and her family are victims of the system. The system doesn’t let you acquire knowledge and grow as a person.

“Thank God and thank to sports she was able to achieve something and get to the world’s biggest promotion, but everybody in Brazil thinks like, ‘boom, your problems are over’ if you’re signed by the UFC.”

Patrick, who used to shine shoes in the streets of Brasilia as a kid, went onto criticize the UFC’s office in Brazil for not taking the lead and helping Santana and other fighters who may be in a similar situation.

“It’s embarrassing not for me, but for the organization in Brazil,” he said. “They could have thought, ‘no, let me do this.’ I started the campaign and talked to other UFC fighters. ‘Are we going to see this story and not do nothing while our friend starves?’ Doing for someone what others have done for me in the past is priceless.”

Dos Santos, who like Santana hasn’t entered the UFC cage in almost a year, decided to contribute even though he’s not a wealthy fighter after just two octagon appearances.

“We get emotional with a story like that from a fellow fighter,” dos Santos said. “Some fighters got together and, even though we’re all going through difficult times, we made the donation.”

The donations came in last week and a “happy, emotional and thankful” Santana quickly went to the supermarket to buy food for her entire family, she told MMA Fighting. Money came at the right time, especially after “Cowboyzinha” had to pull out from a planned clash with Sarah Alpar before the global pandemic eventually forced the promotion to cancel the entire May 2 show.

“We’re broke like everyone else,” Santana said. “It’s complicated. I depend on the fight and the win, and I was counting on the money. We work hard and train hard every day to fight, so it’s a bit frustrating. That’s the word, we get frustrated.”

For now, “Cowboyzinha” and her mother are trying to secure R$ 600 ($105 dollars) as part of the Brazilian government’s emergency salary plan. Santana’s UFC show money is $10,000, and winning a fight would mean double in her pocket. Yet, she wouldn’t be able to compete in the United States until the embassies are open once again.

“That would be a relief,” Santana responded when asked what a $10,000 check would represent to her family. “We would be relieved for a whole year. We would be able to level up a little bit. Well, $10,000… Damn! My last fight I bought a TV and other things I didn’t have at home. UFC’s purse is a relief.”

“Cowboyzinha” (3-1) wants to compete and volunteered to be part of one of the first “Fight Island” cards expected for June, but admits she’s afraid to go outside while COVID-19 continues to take lives.

“I want to fight, but I think it will take a bit [until I get offered a fight],” said Santana, who lost her Octagon debut to Bea Malecki on June 2019. “[Coronavirus] worries me. I’ll tell you this, I’m scared of this virus. I just heard that a friend of a friend, someone we know, just died. He was 28 and very healthy. That scares you.

“But I want to fight. Tell Dana White to give me an opportunity so I can put on a show [laughs].”

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