Van Buren — who will be introduced as Brianna Fortino in her next octagon appearance — last competed against Torres in June 2020 in just her second promotional bout at UFC Vegas 3, where she had a four-fight winning streak (not including a pair of one-round Phoenix Series tournament wins in one night for Invicta FC) snapped via unanimous decision. “The Bull” was victorious in her UFC debut, defeating Livinha Souza in July 2019.
The reason Fortino has been out so long is because her life outside of the cage took a very happy and positive turn.
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Fortino told MMA Fighting while appearing on We Got Next. “I got married, I had a baby and I took some time to focus on my health. My husband and I bought our second home through the whole Tecia Torres fight camp, so a lot of great things have been happening outside of the octagon since my last fight.
“I got to catch up with everything that’s been going on with my personal life and getting back to who I am and just doing what I do.”
After her wedding to her now-husband was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the happily married couple decided they had waited long enough once October 2020 rolled around and tied the knot in a small ceremony. At the same time, Fortino was pregnant with her son Jackson, whom the couple welcomed into the world in April.
Fortino is as competitive and as driven as they get when it comes to being an athlete and was asked what life might’ve looked like had she defeated Torres.
“I think, for sure, things would have played out differently,” Fortino said. “I don’t know, though, but there’s a reason things played out the way that they did. That loss, it humbled me. It put me in a position where it was like, ‘OK, you need to grow.’ I learned a lot from that fight. I grew a lot from it and [gained] just a mature mindset competitively, and even outside of fighting, I learned a lot about myself as a woman.
“I don’t things would’ve been the same. I think, if anything, who knows, I probably would’ve taken another fight, but I don’t know. But looking back at the way everything had happened, I don’t think it would’ve played out the way that it did [had I won that fight].”
The Invicta Phoenix Series 1 champion admits that since she’s been out, FOMO has been a very real thing. Fortino says after every big fight, she texts — and likely annoys — her uncle and head coach Anthony Figueroa with a slew of messages. Most recently, the strawweight title fight between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili at UFC 268 got her to get up and go for a five-mile run.
Now that she has had time to enjoy life as a wife and a new mom, Fortino has been actively training and preparing for a return to the octagon — which she plans to happen by the second quarter of 2022.
“We have been thinking about it for a while,” Fortino explained. “Even throughout pregnancy, I was one of those people that really didn’t enjoy pregnancy — as selfish as that sounds. The competitor in me was like, ‘I can’t wait to fight, I can’t wait to train,’ but once Jackson was born and I was cleared to start training again, I’m thankful that my body healed up.
“I’m hoping to get back in there either around Jackson’s birthday which is in April, or maybe in May. I don’t want to rush, but at the same time I also don’t want to wait for opportunity to pass me by — especially since I’m an impatient person and I really want to fight. I truly believe that one day I will be the UFC strawweight champion so I can’t be out for too long.”
Despite the 18-month layoff, Fortino has moved up a spot in the current UFC rankings at 115 pounds to No. 14. Along with training, Fortino is also assisting former two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier as a coach for the Gilroy High School wrestling team — where Fortino competed on the varsity team during her student-athlete days.
Now that she’s ready to return, Fortino is open for any fight the UFC presents her, although there are a couple of 115-pounders that stick out to her.
“I like that Loopy [Godinez] girl,” Fortino stated. “I mean this in the most respectful way, but Ashley Yoder would make sense. I accepted that one [at some point] and I don’t know what happened with that. But those fights make sense to me, but these girls are all tough. The strawweight division is the most competitive women’s division right now and I just know that I’m gonna be ready for whoever they give me.
“But I like Loopy, Ashley Yoder, or some of these other girls who are on a streak. I like to be challenged as you can expect, and what I mean by that is that I asked for a top 10 fighter and they gave it to me after I fought Liviniha. They gave me Tecia Torres. I can definitely say I was humbled by that loss, but I want tough fights, I want those good fights and I think some of these up and coming girls taking two or three fights in a row, picking up wins, those are the ones that stick out to me.
“Either way, it doesn’t matter. They’re all in the way. They’re all in my way to chase that belt so I’m eventually going to have to fight them, and they’re all eventually going to have to go through me. They can all get it some day.”