Better Late Than Never: How Vanessa Porto pioneered her way to the top
For one of Brazil’s most unheralded Mixed Martial Artists, the third time was the charm when it came to their crowning moment. Similarly to fighters like Jon Fitch or Urijah Faber in the UFC, Vanessa Porto seemed to be stuck in that constant No. 2 position. She was the best fighter that could never seem to win the big one… that was until February 15, 2019.
13 years and 361 days prior, Porto made her professional debut against Carina Damm. 10 hours East of her hometown of Americana, she began her fighting journey in São João da Barra, Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, Porto wouldn’t get her hand raised against her fellow future women’s pioneer. Regardless, the Americana native was off to the races as this would be only her first of five duels throughout her rookie year.
Porto made her arrival in the premier all women’s fighting promotion that is Invicta FC in 2012. This came after she accumulated an attractive record of 14-4 that consisted primarily of great submission wins. Some of her victims included the likes of future champions such as Jennifer Maia, Germaine de Randamie, and Tonya Evinger. She also dispatched of notable names in Kalindra Faria and Hitomi Akano.
Since entering the Invicta cage, the now 35-year old has gone on to become their most active fighter having racked up more fights than anyone else. And throughout those 10 fights, she would be granted a title shot or two… or three.
Having competed against some of the sports all-time best such as Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Amanda Nunes, Porto would eventually end up dropping down in weight and establish herself among the flyweight’s elite. Alongside her in that conversation would be the likes of future champions and divisional No. 1’s, Barb Honchak, and the aforementioned Maia.
Getting opportunities to fight both of flyweight’s best, Porto would do so on occasions that saw the gold on the line. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t be able to provide positive results in either outing. Thus leaving her no choice but to persevere and keep beating those thrown in front of her until she made her dream a reality.
At Invicta FC 34 earlier this year, the Brazilian did just that.
She would be tasked with the resurgent former UFC strawweight hopeful, Pearl Gonzalez, who was riding high on three consecutive wins. However, none of Gonzalez’s opponents were at the caliber of Porto and that was proven when the pair met in the cage.
For three and a half rounds, the nearly 14-year veteran would have her way with the Chicagoan before she suffered an eye poke that rendered her unable to continue. It was an anti-climactic and bittersweet celebration for Porto, but ultimately she earned her technical decision win that came with a championship strap as the prize. After putting in the work not only in the fight but everything that led up to it for all those years, Porto had shown that there was more to her than just playing second fiddle.
“This belt is what I’ve wanted most for my career,” Porto told The Scrap. “It took me a lot of work with my master, Pedro Iglesias. I was winning on the scorecards. It was not how I wanted but I am happy [to get the win.]
“I think all the fights [have been big learning experiences]. I did the training, the walks that we have done until today, all of this has been a big learning experience. Every day we are learning. And if you want something in your life, grab it because it will come.”
Despite clearly winning her third Invicta title opportunity on the scorecards, the extremely well rounded Porto still has something to validate because of the way that things concluded on that fateful night. At Invicta FC 38 this Friday, she’ll get her chance to get that bad taste out of her mouth.
The MMA University product will headline her third Invicta card and for her first title defense, it will come against flyweight tournament winner, Mexico’s Karina Rodriguez.
Like Porto in a way, Rodriguez has really built her reputation through Invicta and is now getting her first crack at gold. Stylistically, Rodriguez, as all of her Lobo Gym teammates, is rarely in a boring fight. And having won the four-woman tournament she competed in to get here, she’s fully displayed her claim.
For all the time and effort that Porto put into getting to where she now is, there’s no time to slow down. In fact, it may be time to press down even harder on the gas pedal. As with the title comes responsibilities and perhaps even some new opportunities.
“I’ve seen some of her fights,” the champion said of her challenger. “If she is in this fight it is because she had the opportunity, so we could have a great fight. The tournament was good, she ranked the best out of the fighters. I do not choose my opponents, just hope to know who is next… This is my job.
“It would be very interesting to participate in other [cross promotion] events, it would be something different. I’m willing if they called me I can talk. But first I need to talk to [Invicta President] Shannon [Knapp] because it’s been eight years since I [started] fighting for Invicta FC… I’m grateful for this event.”
Being a consistently top-ranked flyweight, it’s come as quite the surprise that Porto hasn’t gotten bigger opportunities sooner. As is the case with every one of her past opponents mentioned outside of Akano, they’ve gotten to test their skillsets inside the UFC Octagon.
Upon the organization’s introduction of the 125-pound division, Porto seemed like a prime candidate to finally get the call-up and act as what she had been for years prior; a staple among the top.
Instead, she’s just continued to hone her craft in the promotion that has seen the most in her. And it’s been there that she’s quietly etched herself into the history books. Because when reflecting on the flyweight division’s lineage, you can’t look back on it without seeing the mentions of the current champion.
As for what the future could hold… If it’s inside the UFC Octagon down the line, the Brazilian believes she’s just waiting for “the right day.”
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The Scrap’s Drake Riggs is an MMA writer and YouTuber based out of Brush Prairie, Washington who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. Riggs has been a passionate MMA fan since 2009 and has written for various news sources. You can follow him on Twitter (@Dre_Kriggs).