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    Dione Barbosa makes UFC debut thanks to dreams and determination
    • May 4, 2024

    The past four years of Dione Barbosa’s life can be described as geometrical, going full circle into an Octagon.

    The former Brazil Judo National Team member embarked on an ambitious dream less than four years ago in pursuit of a pro MMA career. She left Brazil and moved to Huntington Beach to live and train with MMA star and countrywoman Cris Cyborg, helping the Grand Slam champion prepare for her Bellator featherweight title defenses while honing her own skills for her future in the sport.

    The goal was ultimately realized in September, when Barbosa locked in a first-round armbar submission on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a UFC contract. And what better way to debut in the UFC than to go back to her home country and face Ernesta Kareckaite in front of a partisan crowd at UFC 301 on Saturday in Rio De Janeiro.

    “Oh my gosh, this is like a special moment for me,” Barbosa (6-2) said by phone on Wednesday from Rio, which is roughly 1,500 miles south of her coastal hometown of Recife on the easternmost point of Brazil. “I’m so happy and glad to be back in Brazil. I go to the USA because I really want my UFC contract and everything, so to come back to Brazil with my contract and fighting here is like the world for sure.”

    Barbosa’s journey was even more challenging than it sounds. She received the opportunity to fight for a UFC contract eight months ago only after another fighter had to withdraw. That meant Barbosa, who turns 32 on Wednesday, had to cut 16 pounds on four days’ notice to make the 136-pound bantamweight limit.

    No problem, right? Other than the fact that Barbosa is a flyweight and accustomed to fighting 10 pounds lighter and she was nursing a knee injury.

    Then heavy rains caused the cancellation of her flight to Las Vegas. Undeterred by the downpour, Barbosa got in her car. The whole way, Barbosa was dead set on stepping in that cage: “I will fight. I will. I will. It’s my moment, it’s my chance. I will get my contract,” she said.

    In the end, after driving nearly eight hours there, she needed just 4 minutes and 35 seconds to secure the victory.

    Then came the waiting game. Barbosa’s was the first of five fights that night. A victory is no guarantee of a contract. So she had to agonize through four more fights before waiting to hear if UFC president Dana White called her name.

    “When he said my name, I’m like, ‘Whew, yeah! I get it. Yes!’” Barbosa recalled. “I do whatever I need to do, but I never wait for a lot from people, so I really put myself in position and I can like make the work done. But in this situation, we have like no idea.”

    Nicknamed “The Witch,” Barbosa gushes about Cyborg and the opportunity to learn from one of the sport’s greats and grow into the fighter she has become, which included earning her Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. When asked what advice the Bellator 145-pound champ gave her, Barbosa says the biggest lesson has simply been watching the Brazilian legend go about her business on a daily basis.

    Barbosa, who also trains at Huntington Beach’s Kings MMA under Master Rafael Cordeiro, has won her past three fights, as has the 25-year-old Kareckaite (5-0-1), a two-time Lithuanian kickboxing champion who earned her UFC contract on the same show three weeks after Barbosa.

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    And now, Barbosa’s dream is over. For now, it has become an achievement.

    “I know that the day I decided to come to the USA, I come here for this contract, for this moment. So like I’m not just dreaming. I’m like working hard,” Barbosa said. “I did what I needed to do, like I do whatever I need to do. If my coach talks to me like, ‘Oh, you need like run every day like 20 miles a day for you to have the result you want?’ I will. So yeah, in my mind there’s no halfway and I just do what I need to do.”

    UFC 301

    When: Saturday

    Where: Rio Arena, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    How to watch: early prelims (3 p.m., ESPN+); prelims (5 p.m., ESPN); main card (7 p.m., PPV via ESPN+)

    ​ Orange County Register