Just after UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro, a photo landed on my social media timeline featuring Amanda Ribas and middleweight champ Alex “Poatan” Pereira.
Now an image featuring the Brazilian standouts was not unexpected, as many of the top stars from the host nation were in attendance at Jeunesse Arena that evening, but it’s the composition of the shot that caught me off guard.
On the left of the frame is Ribas, the perpetually bubbly, shimmering ball of joyous light, standing dead straight with a scowl on her face, and on the right is Pereira, a towering figure who usually shows zero emotion, flashing a toothy smile.
“Do you believe it was his idea?” Ribas said, giggling with excitement to discuss the image when we spoke on Wednesday morning, just a few days prior to her fight with Viviane Araujo at UFC 285. “He’s a really nice guy! I was like, ‘Hey Poatan — can you take a picture with me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, of course, but you do my face and I’ll be smiling!’”
The 29-year-old lets out an energizing laugh, clearly still tickled by the role reversal image.
“I love it!” she added, before admitting she broke character the second the picture was taken.
What Ribas loves more, though, is competing, and this weekend, she finally gets to step back into the Octagon for the first time in 10 months, as she makes a second straight appearance at flyweight against the Araujo.
After landing on the unhappy side of a split decision verdict in her clash with Katlyn Chookagian last May, Ribas was booked to take on ascending flyweight Tracy Cortez in an intriguing matchup of fighters with promising upside as part of the December UFC on ESPN fight card in Orlando.
Amanda Ribas Fight Week Interview | UFC 285: Jones vs Gane
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Amanda Ribas Fight Week Interview | UFC 285: Jones vs Gane
Each woman went through their full training camp and stepped on the scale Friday morning, making weight without any apparent issues, but shortly after weigh-ins, Cortez was removed from the contest for an unspecified medical issue.
While Ribas was her effervescent self in the crowd the following evening, posing for pictures with Cortez and anyone else who asked, not getting the payoff of stepping into the Octagon definitely stung.
“Yes, this is awesome for me, because I love to fight,” she said when asked about being just a couple days away from finally stepping back into the cage to compete. “Really — I love to fight, and my last fight, I did all the camp, and then the fight didn’t happen, unfortunately.
“I did all the camp — the worst parts,” she added, laughing. “It was not good, but thank God, the UFC offered me a huge fight against Viviane. One week after (the December event), they tell me about her and we scheduled it and I started camp again.
“You know that feeling where you want to fight? I have that now!”
Ribas enters her first fight of 2023 in a unique position, as she’s ranked No. 9 in the strawweight division, but set to take on a Top 10 talent at flyweight, where she’s competing for the second consecutive bout.
Her greatest career success has come in the 115-pound weight class, including wins over Mackenzie Dern and Virna Jandiroba, but Ribas does enjoy having the option of shuffling up to flyweight whenever an opportunity presents itself.
And lately, she’s just had more opportunities to compete at 125 pounds.
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“My weight division is strawweight, but it’s good because when I have the opportunity to fight at flyweight, I can take the fight with one week because I don’t cut too much weight,” said the 29-year-old talent. “At strawweight, I need more time because I get a little fat.”
Ribas lets out an infectious giggle before addressing whether she’ll stay at flyweight long-term or make the move back to strawweight next time out.
“It depends on the result of the fight and how long I have to take a fight,” she admitted, clearly fully committed to being able to shift between divisions.
If she gets a victory on Saturday, however, it might be in her best interest to remain in the 125-pound talent pool, as beating Araujo carries a great deal of weight.
In just eight fights, the Cerrado MMA representative has established herself a fixture in the Top 10.
She’s also become the veteran hopefuls need to beat in order to put themselves into title contention or re-establish their place in the pecking order, as the first two fighters to defeat Araujo inside the Octagon — Jessica Eye and Chookagian — did so, soon after falling to divisional queen Valentina Shevchenko, and the latest person to get the better of her inside the UFC cage, Alexa Grasso, is facing off with “Bullet” in the first of Saturday’s two title fights.
“I hope so!” Said Ribas when I mention that Araujo has only been beaten by championship contenders and Grasso earning a title shot after defeating her in October. “Everything depends on the results of the fight.
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“I think I need more fights to do it, but I will put on my best fight like I always do, to give a huge fight for the audience, for me, for my team, and for the UFC, too.”
Despite coming off a loss and dropping two of her last three appearances, Ribas knows that she’s continuing to improve as a fighter, and admitted that she feels more comfortable inside the Octagon each time out.
And while she’d much rather not face a fellow Brazilian, the improving rising star is quick to put a positive spin on facing off with her countrywoman on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“I think there are a lot of really good Brazilians, and sometimes we have to fight each other,” began Ribas, who has already faced fellow Brazilians Marina Rodriguez and Virna Jandiroba under the UFC banner. “Of course, it’s a little hard because for the Brazilian audience, it’s half-and-half and I like when it’s all for me.
“But I always ask everybody to send good vibes for both of us to do a great fight, to represent our nation really well.”
Asked how she sees the fight with Araujo playing out, the engaging Ribas kept it simple, tying her outlook back to the efforts she’s put in along the way to UFC 285.
“I hope for me to finish the fight with my arms in the air and with a bonus,” she said cheerfully. “I’ve been training a lot and I hope I can do all that I did in my camp inside the cage.”
Should that come to pass, expect her customary non-stop smile and bouncy exuberance, not another “Poatan” impression.