(Guimaraes works the pads. Props to Martial Arts Times.)
by FIGHT! contributor Kelly Crigger
Women’s MMA received a serious boost from Gina Carano’s televised fights on CBS and Showtime, but few female fighters have stepped up to share the spotlight. If women’s MMA is growing, where are the prospects? American Top Team might have two answers to that question.
Stephanie Guimaraes is known at ATT as “Cyborghina,” Portuguese for “Junior Cyborg.” Guimaraes is just 20 years old but has been fighting in muay Thai bouts since she was fourteen. At 145 pounds, this Rio de Janeiro native moves and strikes like a professional ten years her superior. Her stocky frame and powerful physique make her more adept to wrestling than Brazilian jiu jitsu, though she’s quickly rounding out that skill as a member of the heavily BJJ-oriented American Top Team.
She was brought to the U.S. by friend and fellow fighter Jessica Aguilar and almost immediately did something very unexpected.
“I tried to join the Army,” she says. “My father was in the Air Force in Brazil, so I grow up with this way of life, so I want to join the Army here and be a soldier. Everybody told me I was crazy because there was a war going on, but I learn so much from my father about serving your country and discipline, that I really wanted to do it.”
Guimaraes was turned away due to visa issues, but the Army’s loss is MMA’s gain. With a current record of 1-1 that consists of a KO win and a decision loss, Guimaraes has a long way to go. But with the incredible roster of talent at ATT, she couldn’t be in better hands. Two of those hands belong to her sparring partner, Ediene Gomes.
Gomes’s story is on the other end of the spectrum from Guimaraes. While Guimaraes was gleaning life lessons from her professional father, Gomes never knew hers and only recently learned who her mother is. She was raised by an aunt and ancle in the favelas of Sao Paulo and lived in their tiny garage.
“Everyone has a fight or flight instinct and mine was to fight,” she says when reminiscing about those underground bouts. Gomes went legit and amassed several wins in Brazil before coming to the U.S. to pursue her dream. Luckily for her she had a friend here in the States to help her out.
“I used to travel to Sao Paulo to compete in Jiu Jitsu tournaments,” UFC light heavyweight contender Thiago Silva says. “Ediene let me sleep in her garage when I went out there. So when she wanted to come to the United States I was happy to help her out.”
There’s no doubt that the unwillingness of the UFC to support women’s MMA hinders its advancement. But that exclusion from the juggernaut of the sport just gives other promotions a niche to exploit, which several have. Strikeforce in particular has stepped up to promote female fights at nearly the same level as mens, providing the world with its current high water mark of women’s fighting with the Carano-Santos bout.
So are Guimaraes and Gomes the next big thing? “Yes!” JZ Calvancante says without hesitation. “I don’t need to think about that. They can beat up half the men in this gym.” Since both women are 145 pounds, the obvious question is, would they fight each other? Guimaraes hesitates, but Gomes doesn’t. “If the money was right, for sure.”
When you come from nothing, you’ll take anything.