Already having reached the rank of 4th Dan in Taekwondo by the age of 20, Valerie Loureda is looking to continue her lifetime’s work in martial arts as she makes her professional MMA debut at Bellator 216.
In Taekwondo, to reach the level of Fourth Dan requires several years of training after achieving an initial rank of black belt. To stay committed to the sport often requires a level of a dedication that only comes with age, but it is a rank Bellator newcomer Master Valerie Loureda reached before graduating high school. Now ahead of her professional debut, she looks to carry the banner of her beloved martial art into the cage this Saturday at Bellator 216.
There was never any question that Loureda would participate in Taekwondo. Her father has been the owner of Master Frank’s Taekwondo Academy since before she was born. Her mother Mily was pregnant with her when she tested for her black belt and her first steps were on the mats of her father’s school. She also has two sisters, one with a fourth Dan like her and another who also holds the rank of black belt. But even when it’s the family business, burnout and the allure of other interests can pull children away from martial arts.
Yet as Loureda puts it, it is more than just a hobby or even passion for her. It is a part of her very identity.
“If you see most instructors and Grand Masters that have their schools, the kids get to a certain age and they stop because they get burnt out or they just don’t love it anymore. But I can tell you honestly that every single day I have never gone without throwing a kick, a punch, or train some type of way for this goal I’ve always had in my mind because of how in love I am with this sport and how much I know I was born different to do something big with my life. Taekwondo is my calling and from the first time I fought MMA I knew this was my next step. My dad has been my coach and now he keeps an eye on me and I have my different coaches at American Top Team. Taekwondo is always the biggest thing in my heart. It’s made me the martial artist I am and also the woman I am. It’s given me the discipline and values that I want to portray to other people.”
Coming from a traditional martial art, Loureda joins a list of notable masters in their craft who look to represent their background in the cage. Even now, fighters like Mackenzie Dern and Lyoto Machida showcase a lifetime’s commitment to jiu-jitsu and karate in the complex system of MMA. Loureda sees herself differently, pointing out that no one has been the flag bearer for Taekwondo in MMA. At least not yet. “I just believe that people are not very educated when it comes to Taekwondo because there hasn’t been one person to bring it in. I really believe I was born to be that person for Taekwondo in MMA. If you see my amateur fights, that’s what I strived to do every day. I don’t just do it to perform. I do it because it works. Taekwondo works. Some things do and some things don’t just like any other discipline. There hasn’t been that one person to bring that into the cage and that’s what I’ll be doing on February 16.”
Many people are aware that she was a member of the U.S. Olympic team and a competitor at the 2017 World Championships. But what’s forgotten is that Loureda did all of this while she was still a student and that meant that she gave up many of the experiences that others her age get to experience. “In high school, all my friends were going out and I was in my house in the sauna cutting weight for a tournament, for example, in Mexico the next weekend or I was constantly traveling. My senior year of high school I was even homeschooled to train for the Olympic qualifiers and I did lose a lot of my friends. A lot of people just didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand me and I was okay with that. I knew I was born different. Then comes college. I’m still a student. A lot of people don’t know that. I have one year left. All of this I’ve done, I’ve also gotten Dean’s List in school every single semester. When I started MMA, I told myself ‘Valerie you can’t go to campus anymore. You have to train three times a day to catch-up in Jiu-Jitsu and Muay-Thai.’ So I became an online college student and sacrificed that experience for this experience that I know will give me my satisfaction and will allow my dreams to truly come true.”
One would imagine that her life has been committed to Taekwondo to the exclusion of everything else. But Loureda has no plans to give up on her education as her MMA career takes off. She has ambitions of a career in broadcasting as well, and it’s one that she is passionate about enough to share her time with as she enters MMA. “I went to an all girls private high school in Miami and it’s actually one of the most difficult in South Florida. While I was in high school, I also developed the first broadcast journalism program and that’s my career right now. I did leave my legacy at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy both with my broadcast journalism program I developed with my teachers in my first class and my Olympic dream. I didn’t get to go to the Olympics but I did go fight at the World’s level and did everything I wanted to do. Now I’m in college and I’m going to finish my degree. I’m going to pursue this. I’m going to be very influential. I’m going to win my debut and be very confident in myself. I know what I was meant to do with my life.”
Her Bellator start has already thrown her a curveball as an opponent change has given her a new foe in Colleen Fletcher as she steps into the cage on Saturday. To help her prepare, she has joined American Top Team where she is around the likes of Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Kayla Harrison. A testament to her hard work, she has the rare privilege of being an amateur to train alongside the professionals at ATT.
So what does motivate a 20 year old to sacrifice the hallmarks of adolescence for the unforgiving world of professional sports? “My mentality is that I suffer now, I sacrifice now, I don’t have friends now, etc. but I’m going to live forever and I’m going to leave my legacy on this world forever.”
Valerie Loureda will take on Colleen Fletcher on the main card of Bellator 216 this Saturday, live on DAZN.