Special. That's the word they use around Valerie Loureda, the 22-year-old MMA fighter who is on a collision course for the flyweight title with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane sooner rather than later within the Bellator MMA fight league.
After just two professional MMA fights, Loureda, possibly prematurely, is being thrust into the limelight. It is not difficult to see why, given her potent combination of charisma and athletic skill. Plus Loureda is a seriously sassy badass.
Training with former UFC straw-weight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and mentored by fellow Cuban-American Jorge Masvidal in Miami, Loureda has the kind of looks, aura, and appeal that could see the the former taekewondo fighter cross seamlessly into the mainstream.
Loureda has it all, seemingly - photographic model, ballerina, media studies graduate who had considered a career in television presenting - told your correspondent in no uncertain terms that the maternal strength she learnt growing up has allowed her the freedom to be herself as female role model, and fighter.
“I don’t do anything for social media, I do things for myself. I am an extremely girly girl outside of fighting," she explained to me from Mohegan Sun Resort on the eve of weighing in for her contest at Bellator 243 with Tara Graff on Friday night, the everts's opening preliminary fight.
"The way I market myself is not for social and it’s not for men, it’s for myself. I’ve worked my whole life to have this body and have this figure," explained Loureda. "I was a ballerina, I was a martial artist - I’ve done both. I think that’s people’s mistake, it’s not for social media. I am the way I look like and I’m also a fighter. What does one thing have to do with another? Just because I look different to other fighters doesn’t make me any different form them. This is my identity."
She went on: "This is why Valerie Loureda is different. I have different passions outside of the cage and that’s okay. The way I am doesn’t mean I market myself like that. It means I am a normal girl who has an education outside the cage and that should be recognised.”
Those views of women in the sport using their sexuality to market themselves are thus, systematic, she adds. “It’s just jealously and they’re not educated in that aspect. They’ve not seen it before but they will see when I get in the cage.”
The promising thing for female fighters is that the appetite from the fans - largely a male audience at present - is growing. There are still the Luddites who denigrate the women's arm of MMA, but those numbers are diminishing. And quickly. Indeed, it has changed enormously, and it is almost seven years now since Ronda Rousey appeared for the first time in Scott Coker's Strikeforce organisation. It was the start of a flood of fighters into women's MMA. But as Coker has outlined many times, way back in 2006, the fight promoter was an advocate of having Gina Carano on cards within Strikeforce.
Loureda believes her black belt in taekwondo has helped many of her fundamentals in MMA. “Yes I feel taekwondo is a lot more prominent in mixed martial arts. I feel more people want to do it. I know how to do it. Taekwondo is the type of thing you need to start young or else it’s very hard to get that footwork. I’m blessed to have that. I feel it’s a beautiful martial arts and it comes out of me naturally in the cage. I know exactly how to use it in the cage and show off my pretty kicks and knock someone out.”
“The other thing I have from taekwondo is my discipline and my respect. I take that with through life and in my mma career. The discipline taekwondo gave me helped me cope with quarantine and stay fit and close to my weight and keep my mind on track. I stayed ready for the Bellator call.”
There is no ring rust, she insists. “I haven’t been in a cage for a year but I’ve been sparring. I did Joanna’s camp and then the quarantine happened. I don’t feel like it’s been a year. I feel it’s been only three months since I last fought, I feel very fresh. And I don’t think ring rust is a worry going into this fight.”
There have been major benefits in working with Jedrzejczyk. “Just seeing how we spar together but above all seeing her mindset and why she is a champion."
"I share more in common with Joanna more than any fighter in the world. I see myself in Joanna. She always tells me if I stay focused I will be a champion. She sees how I train, she sees how hard I work and the passion I have for this sport. I learned a lot from her in a champion’s perspective. I’m looking to follow in her footsteps.”
Victory over Graff could send her in that direction and up a notch in her pursuit of Macfarlane, and towards her aspiration off being queen of the Bellator women's flyweight crown.