SAO PAULO, Brazil — Livia Souza is one of the latest former Invicta FC champions to make the move to the UFC, but it took a while before she was able to enter the eight-sided cage.
“Livinha” signed with the UFC in October 2017, but a serious hand fracture forced her to withdraw from a planned debut against Jessica Aguilar in February. Souza was anxious to step inside the Octagon for the first time, but ultimately the cards didn’t fall in her favor.
Now fully healed and booked to compete against Alex Chambers at UFC Sao Paulo at Saturday night’s event in Brazil, Souza finally feels ready to face the biggest challenges in the strawweight division.
“Brazil was my junior high school, Invicta was my high school, and the UFC will be my college,” Souza told MMA Fighting. “Let’s see if I have what it takes to graduate. I hope so.”
Souza’s first challenge in “college” is Chambers, an American Top Team talent who brings a 5-4 professional record to the table. Her record may not look good compared to Souza’s 11-1, but Chambers has faced tougher competition since her professional debut in 2010.
“Our records don’t say much about us. It gives an idea of what we have done in our careers, but doesn’t say much,” Souza said. “We know some fighters that have many losses but are really tough. She has a lot of experience competing in a higher level in the UFC, fighting girls like Rose (Namajunas) and Paige (VanZant), so I don’t underestimate her by any means. I will bring my best game, my best positions, so I don’t give her a chance to survive.
“[Chambers] has good wins, but also some losses, but we know it’s a fight,” she continued. “We’re fighting in my home country so I can’t make any mistakes and be surprised like many fighters have in the past. We have to believe in ourselves, but never overlook what our opponents can do. I’ve watched her fights, I know that ATT has high-level coaches and I’m sure they are planning a few surprises for me, but I did my best to come out victorious.”
The outspoken Brazilian plans to capitalize on every mistake Chambers makes in the Octagon, especially if the fight hits the ground, where “Astro Girl” has suffered several submission defeats in the past. However, “Livinha” envisions herself getting the job done before she even has a chance to showcase her jiu-jitsu skills in Sao Paulo.
“MMA is a complete sport, everybody trains everything, but that does show a path we can follow,” Souza said. “If I get to a good position and squeeze her head or force her joint, I know she will quit. We always look for the best way to win as quick as possible. I will take advantage of any chance she gives me.
“I don’t want to make any predictions,” Souza continued, “but I think it won’t go past the first round. Based on my training camp, if she comes like she has fought in her past fights, I will open her face, beat her a lot on the feet, and maybe I don’t even need to use my jiu-jitsu. I predict a knockout.
“I know everybody still considers me a grappler even after I knocked out (Ayaka) Hamasaki and DeAnna (Bennett). They will always consider me a grappler. I think that’s an advantage because those girls will feel the power of my hand and then I can use all my weapons.”
The Sao Paulo native definitely wants to add more belts to her collection, and is eyeing the UFC strawweight title that belongs to Rose Namajunas today. But being an ex-champion in Invicta FC won’t make Souza’s run for the belt any quicker, she thinks.
“I’m starting from zero in the UFC. It’s like I have no fights at all,” Souza said. “We know MMA is a cruel competition. The level is so high we can’t take into consideration what we’ve accomplished in the past. My past was good, great, I’ve beaten some tough opponents, but that means nothing. It’s 50-50. I don’t take that into consideration. When we lose fights, we come back hungrier. I know that from my own experience, but I won’t let that interfere in the fight. I will be very consistent and do my best in there. MMA is the most honest sport in the world, one hand connects and you’re out. One mistake can cost you a lot.”
Returning to Sao Paulo almost four years to the date of her last fight in the city, Souza — who only needed 47 seconds to win that night at Circuito Talent de MMA — is excited to compete in front of her family for her UFC debut.
However, “Livinha” will miss some of the boos she was used to hearing in the United States.
“Since my soccer and jiu-jitsu days, I was always the underdog, always the bad girl. I was always the Chael Sonnen,” Souza said. “No matter where I fought, I was always booed. I think the only time I had the crowd on my side was when I fought in Araraquara. The crowd is good for the spectacle, but it doesn’t help you. It’s two people fighting and the best one will win.
”I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to fight in this card because every Brazilian wants to fight close to their families. ‘Minotauro’ (Nogueira) insisted on having me in this card and I have to thank him for that. I’m in the UFC for a reason, I’m here to make history, and I’m glad he trusts me. There are a lot of legends in this card, but I feel no pressure. Fighting at home or not, that means nothing. When the cage closes, they won’t be able to hold my opponent for me. Honestly, I prefer to fight in enemy territory. But since we’re going to hear ‘uh, vai morrer,’ let’s go kill her.”