MMA records can be deceiving. With just four professional fights under her belt and a record of 3-1, to the untrained eye, Michelle Nicolini looks like a combat sports novice.
The reality is that she’s anything but – MMA is just the next chapter in Nicolini’s storied martial arts career. The Evolve MMA strawweight is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with eight world championship titles to her name, and is a member of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Hall of Fame.
Nicolini’s road to ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY on 21 April was anything but linear. The path was full of twists and turns. In fact, after taking up BJJ following a few years of capoeira, Nicolini wasn’t sure if rolling around in a gi was for her at all.
“In the beginning, I was not sure,” she says. “I did not have the technique. I had a very hard time on the mat, but I told myself I needed to learn this.”
Even after pushing through the initial adversity, she hit another major roadblock when she tried her hand at competitive tournaments.
“I tried three times and I lost all three,” she recalls. “I told myself I was not going to compete anymore.”
Also complicating matters were the people in her ear wondering what exactly BJJ was all about. Contrary to conventional wisdom, BJJ was far from a sensation with Brazilians in its infancy.
“People did not know [what it was],” she explains. “They did not see this as a career path. Everybody thinks it is very popular in Brazil. Back in the day, it was not.”
In a final effort to make something of her new passion, Nicolini switched camps, opting to train with accomplished coach Robert Drysdale. With Drysdale, she found her technique improving, as well as her confidence.
“He (Drysdale) started to work with me, and he made me more confident to try again. He was able to fix some of my mistakes and places where I was getting stuck. He could see what I was doing wrong,” recalled Nicolini.
Peer pressure also played a role in Nicolini entering competitions, as all of her teammates were also competing. Not content to simply sit and cheer from the sidelines, Nicolini wanted a piece of the action.
“Everyone from the gym was competing, so I went to watch,” said Nicolini. “Then I wanted to compete. After I won a couple times and got my purple belt, I realized I wanted to do jiu-jitsu for life.”
Though BJJ is her first martial arts love, Nicolini set it aside to pursue MMA full-time. In her promotional debut at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR last November, it took her just over two minutes in the opening round to choke out Egypt’s Mona Samir.
The strawweight division was officially on notice that a new contender was in town.
In her next contest, Nicolini will tangle with Irina Mazepa in a classic grappler versus striker showdown. Despite her vast experience on the mat, Nicolini promises a more well-rounded version of herself come fight night.
“[Fans] can expect me to give my best,” she promises. “One hundred percent, for sure. I am super excited to fight again. I have improved a lot since I have been at Evolve MMA. I hope I can show a different Michelle Nicolini in the cage.”