Amanda Lemos flew to Las Vegas for the first time to enter an octagon Saturday night, as she battles former Invicta FC strawweight star Mizuki Inoue in the preliminary portion of UFC on ESPN 15 at the UFC Apex.
This experience felt unfeasible less than three years ago.
Lemos had just defended the Jungle Fight bantamweight championship for a second time in 2016, boosting her professional record to 6-0-1 with a third-round round knockout and dreaming with an opportunity under the UFC banner. The call did not come, waking up “Amandinha” for the reality that she would have add a few more victories to her resume first.
Problem is, Jungle Fight was one of the many Brazilian promotions struggling at the time and wasn’t giving Lemos a platform to defend her 135-pound belt more often. When a chance to make her international debut opposite Arlene Blencowe six months later fell through, Lemos decided she had enough of it.
“I had to choose between training and working,” Lemos said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I had bills to pay, so I decided to stop (fighting). Nothing was going on for me, I had no opportunities. I was the Jungle Fight champion and decided to stop.”
Lemos began working as a motorcycle taxi driver, something she had never done before up until that point. Being on a motorcycle for many hours a day in such a hot and humid city like Belem was no easy task.
One serious accident Lemos suffered left her with a fractured spine that was only fixed with surgery in 2018.
“It’s so hot here. It’s unbearable,” Lemos said of the capital of Para, which humidity levels usually travel between 85 and 95 percent. “I fell off the motorcycle a few times, had some accidents, it was quite complicated. I would ride from morning until the night, and even overnight sometimes. It all depended on how much money I was making, you know? When I got some money early I would stop and get some rest, otherwise I would not stop riding.”
By “good money,” Lemos means 15 to 20 dollars a day.
“There were days I would only make 20 or 30 reais (3.50 to 5.30 dollars),” she said.
Life as a retired athlete wasn’t easy, but that changed in June 2016. Lina Lansberg was forced out of a featherweight clash with Leslie Smith due to injury at UFC Glasgow, and Lemos’ phone finally rang. It wasn’t in her weight class, it was on short notice, but “Amandinha” couldn’t say no.
“I took the fight on 15 days’ notice and I wasn’t even training, I had already given up on this (MMA) world,” Lemos said. “I was working, I didn’t go to the gym for four months, and then they called me. It was a big opportunity and I took it. The week I started training I got injured, my coach asked me if I still wanted to do it and I said I would. I went there and gassed fast. I knew that would happen [laughs].”
Lemos lost via second-round knockout in Scotland, her first defeat as a professional MMA fighter. The Brazilian would suffer another devastating blow four months later, being handed a two-year suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.
The Belem-native finally scored her long-awaited UFC victory in Dec. 2019, returning to strawweight and choking out Miranda Granger in the first-round in South Korea. Now, the former Jungle Fight queen hopes to keep the train moving versus Inoue, a former Invicta FC title contender who returns to her strawweight following a UFC debut win over Wu Yanan at 125 pounds.
“I’ve studied her game a lot and I’ll capitalize on (her mistakes) to catch her,” Lemos said. “I don’t fool around, I always fight very serious. She’s always very open on the feet, she also has that single leg takedown, and I love fighting on the feet, but I’m prepared to fight in all areas. If we go to the ground, you can be sure that I’ll submit her.”