UFC on ESPN 8: For Claudia Gadelha, Empty Arena Show Brings Back Early Career Memories

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Between coaching on TUF and the early part of her career, UFC strawweight Claudia Gadelha has a handle on empty venues.

Claudia Gadelha returns to action in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 8 this weekend. The Jacksonville, Florida card is the third of three events in just eight days at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. It’s also a rebuilt UFC on ESPN event: the original was expected for March, with a different pair of heavyweights, Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, booked to close the show.

They fought last Saturday, at UFC 249. This time out, it’s Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris closing the show. Gadelha will battle Angela Hill in the co-feature.

Since fighting for the strawweight title in 2016, a losing effort to then-champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the Brazilian has gone 4-2 inside the octagon. Trading wins and losses of late, she’ll enter the fight with Hill off a victory over Randa Markos.

The weight class itself, in that span, has undergone a radical makeover. Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade have come and gone as champions. China’s Weili Zhang currently reigns supreme, coming off a win in a hotly contested battle with former Queen Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248.

“It was a great fight. Beautiful performance by both fighters,” Gadelha said of that fight, speaking to Cageside Press at the UFC on ESPN 8 virtual media day. “They showed a lot of heart, a lot of technique. One of the best fights I ever seen my life, and that’s inspiring. I’m pretty sure everybody in the division is watching this and going back to the gym hungry, trying to get better to step in there the same way.”

Gadelha also said the performance of champ Zhang inspired her. “I feel like when the top fighters in our division are giving everything to become better, everybody else steps up and tries to do the same. This is what separates the top of the division from the rest of the division— it’s the hunger and what you are doing to become better every day. So when you see great performances like that, it only inspires you to to do the same. To become better and to step in there and do the same thing.”

Fighters, like everyne else, have been stuck in quarantine of late, even if they are training for fights. But Gadelha told us that her life hasn’t changed all that much so far. That’s thanks to a “crazy work ethic,” she said. Gadelha’s been living with fellow UFC fighter Sijara Eubanks, which also helps her focus.

“We would wake up every day and look to each other and like, ‘let’s go, let’s do this,'” she said. “And we would train all day, and then do our own thing.”

Come Saturday, we’ll once again be seeing an empty arena show. Rather out of the ordinary for UFC fighters, but Claudia Gadelha looks back to the early days of her career for a comparison.

“I started fighting when the women’s division was not in the UFC, right? And it was back in like 2008, I think. I fought in various more organizations in Brazil, and there was not a lot of people watching,” she said. “It’s kind of like bringing me back those memories. And I feel like, I’m gonna be okay with it, especially because also, I was part of the Ultimate Fighter 23. And I had the experience of being there with my fighters for six weeks, so it’s kind of like the same.”

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