Valerie Loureda would like to remind people that despite her manicured image, louder-than-life personality and flashy strikes inside the cage, she’s still just 22.
For Loureda, who faces Hannah Guy on Friday at Bellator 259, that means she’s still finding her way, fighting through tough situations, focusing on her goal of becoming a champion. She’s run into plenty of roadblocks and cleared some hurdles far away from the filters of Instagram.
“I have three professional fights,” she said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I put myself in the worst positions so I could grow. You guys are seeing the development of my career, so people don’t realize my age.”
When she signed a contract with the ViacomCBS-owned promotion, she said she was living in a studio apartment without a kitchen and waiting tables at Tijuana Flats in Coral Springs, Fla., to support her training at American Top Team.
Now, she’s a full-time fighter who keeps meticulous track of every part of her image and performance. She takes cues from Jennifer Lopez and Demi Lovato on sharpening her personal brand.
“I’ve always had this routine I do before and during my fights,” she said. “It’s not just to market myself. This is just what makes me happy, knowing my fight is perfect, my banner is perfect, my corner is perfect, my braids are perfect. Everything has to feel perfect in order for me to feel prepared and perform in the cage.”
Loureda has invited fans along for the ride. She has aggressively marketed her appearance online to get to the top faster, which has come with a lot of assumptions about who she is and who she should or shouldn’t be as she pursues her passion of fighting.
One of her most vocal critics was her previous opponent, Tara Graff, whom she said accused her of being “demoralizing to the sport” and harassed her every day online. She knocked out Graff at Bellator 243 and danced in celebration.
“When I get into the cage, I’m there to do one thing, and it’s to kill,” she said. “Once it happens, I turn back into myself. And the dancing is pettiness, because no one wants me to do Tik Toks and this and that bothers everybody, so I’m going to dance in your face.”
After her dance party went viral, she said talent agents and directors came calling. Among the opportunities offered was a reality show featuring her and her sister. She declined in favor of building her MMA career.
“I was like, ‘Hold on,’” she said. “I’m going to be a little patient, because I’m 22 years old, and right now, I still need to focus 100 percent of my time into training. When I’m training, I’m training 100 percent. I’m a completely different person than I am outside of the gym. When I feel like the moment is right, I’m going to do something crazy different.”
At 15, Loureda’s goal was to become an amazing martial artist and win Dancing with the Stars. There’s plenty of time to do both, but now is the time to walk the harder road.
The past 12 months have not been easy. The night before she left for a fight with Graff, she was involved in a car accident that left her badly shaken. Her grandfather died from COVID-19. Not long after she started training for Guy, she was cut by a training partner and needed 20 stitches above her eye, delaying her meeting with Guy.
But she loves her new scars, visible or otherwise. In public, people think she’s an actor or dancer. She lets them guess her profession.
“They don’t believe me,” she said. “I’m like, ‘It’s a sport. Guess what sport.’ They say cheerleading, or volleyball, or a dancer.”
There will be a day when she decides to give the latter a try. For now, she is committed to fulfilling a promise she made to Bellator.
“I told them I’m going to be the most recognized and most influential woman in the world if you give me the opportunity, and they did,” she said. “I brought in a new market, the Hispanic market, Miami, everybody knows who Bellator is, so right now I’m very happy. I always give back to those who believed in me when I was nothing and I had no followers, and I’m going to keep doing the same thing and blow it up.”
For more from Loureda, check out her Bellator 259 media day scrum: