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Lesson in humility: How a back injury changed Livinha Souza ahead of UFC 252

Livia Renata Souza (Scott Hirano, Invicta FC)
Livinha Souza looks to go 3-1 in the UFC with a win over Ashley Yoder in Las Vegas.
Scott Hirano, Invicta FC

Livinha Souza is hungry to fight Ashley Yoder at Saturday night’s UFC 252 in Las Vegas after a long layoff, but had to be patient.

A former Invicta FC strawweight champion — and very outspoken when she’s not locked in a cage with another human being —, Souza went through a rough patch over the past year and so. First, “The Brazilian Gangster” suffered her first loss in the octagon in a disappointing performance versus Brianna Van Buren. Then, a “complicated” back injury forced her to be on the sidelines for way too long.

“I had a bad phase with injuries,” Souza said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I couldn’t take a shower by myself, I couldn’t brush my hair. It was really bad, but thank God, and thanks to my team of coaches and physical therapist and UFC’s doctor, I was able to recover and get in shape to fight again, and fight for a spot in the top 10.”

A high-level athlete all of a sudden depended on other people to do basic day-to-day stuff, a wake-up call in a sense.

“It was a lesson in humility, we realize we’re not superheroes and have to take care of ourselves, we depend on other people,” Souza said. “Sometimes we want to do things by ourselves but nobody does anything by themselves, not even get born.”

The COVID-19 pandemic proved that point, too. With gyms closed to avoid the spread of the virus as the outbreak went out of control in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Souza was isolated with her main coach and basically did her entire camp with him as her sole training partner. It all went well, culminating in her first injury-free camp since joining the UFC.

“I even felt weird that I was able to train everything because I always had to slow down a bit to spare the ‘machine’ for the fight, I was never able to give 200 percent in the gym so I could save it for the fight,” Souza said. “I didn’t miss one practice this time due to injuries or microinjuries. I had nothing. It was 1,000 percent. It was great for me, both physically and psychologically.

“This is my first UFC fight where I had no injuries. My strategy was set, I only had to worry about cutting weight and fighting. This is the first time I can do it in the UFC and that helped me a lot in focusing on evolution. It’s hard to evolve when we’re in pain, you tend to do the same things you always do.”

“Finally” able to work other things in the gym despite going from her usual five or six training partners to just one, Souza feels like a complete threat for Ashley Yoder. Both strawweights scored the majority of their MMA wins by way of submission, but the Brazilian advises “The Spider Monkey” to attempt something different on Saturday.

“I hope she doesn’t try that because it will be the worst scenario for her,” Souza said. “It’s hard to do something against me on the ground. My counters are sharp. Going to the ground with me is like swimming with alligators, you know? I wouldn’t go that route if I were her, I’d stay on the feet and stall — but I have some well-calibrated guided missiles there, too. If I land a good one on her, I’m sure she will bounce on the octagon.”

Looking to get back on the winning column after her first loss in the octagon, Souza vows to unleash pure heat on her opponent.

“I have hatred injected into the neck vein, right, brother,” Souza said. “I hold no grudges towards the last fight, Brianna really won all three rounds, and I have no sad story to tell. The scorecards show what happened in the fight. I only bring the hatred of not being able to do my best, of getting hit and not answering back, and being frustrated because my fans, my family and coaches know I’m not that fighter.

“I’ll show who I am. I’ll put the train back on the tracks again so the locomotive starts running through strawweights again.”

A locomotive fuelled by hate, Souza predicts a knockout victory with a post-fight bonus followed by Las Vegas casino party with champagne sparklers. The Brazilian might not be able to get the celebration she’s dreaming about due to the health crisis, but it’s up to her to make the first prophecy come true.

“A fight is a fight,” she said. “But if she creates the smallest of the opportunities for me to take her down, she will suffer a beating.”

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