‘My parents were against it, but I love fighting’ – new UFC recruit Liana Jojua (VIDEO)
The Georgian bantamweight, 23, penned a four-fight deal with the world’s leading MMA promotion earlier this month.
Jojua heads to the UFC with a record of seven wins from nine fights, as well as the accolade of being the first-ever female professional MMA title holder in Russia, having claimed the inaugural Fight Nights Global bantamweight championship in Moscow last year.Also on rt.com Enter 'The She Wolf': Russia's first female MMA champ Liana Jojua pens UFC deal (PHOTOS)
Speaking to RT’s Ruptly video agency at a gym on the outskirts of the Russian capital, Jojua said she is pursuing a dream she has nurtured since her youth, which she spent idolizing American women's MMA pioneer Gina Carano.
“I’ve being doing martial arts for six years, but MMA for the past four years professionally,” Jojua said.
“I love fights, watching fights, I watched the fights of [American MMA legend] Gina Carano, I loved the sport and her."
But as her passion for the fight game grew, she faced a different battle convincing her parents that it was the right career for her.
“I persuaded my parents to let me do Muay Thai when I was 16.
“My father thought it wasn’t something for women, and I wouldn’t argue with that, but as a profession, someone’s a doctor, someone’s a driver, I’m a fighter, it’s my job, my income, and I love doing it,” she added.
“My mother, of course like any mother, would worry about her son’s or daughter’s health, she was always absolutely against it.
“Her first question after a fight is, ‘what happened, do you have any injuries, how is your opponent?’ She even worries about my opponent.
“My father watches fights, he’s proud of me.
“My mother can’t watch, I don’t want her to worry, she watches the replays, but she can’t watch it live and I don’t want her to,” said Jojua.
Both parents have had plenty to watch so far, with their daughter heading into the UFC on a five-five win streak.
The last of those victories came against Russia’s Marina Mokhnatkina at a Fight Nights Global (FNG) event in Moscow last February, when Jojua claimed a majority decision win after a grueling five rounds.
The youngster cites that bout as her toughest test in the cage to date.
“My last fight was the toughest, Fight Nights against Marina Mokhnatkina… it was really tough, five rounds, 25 minutes… morally as well, I had pressure from the press and fans,” Jojua said.
“I was the underdog, I knew she was strong. When the fight finished, my face was battered.”
That kind of experience will be essential for Jojua as she joins a UFC bantamweight division bristling with threats at every turn.
Brazilian star Amanda Nunes is the apex predator, but dangers lurk in the form of the Netherlands’ Germaine de Randamie, America’s Holly Holm, and Russia’s very own Yana Kunitskaya – to name but a few.
But the young, hungry fighter nicknamed ‘Mgeli’ – which translates from Georgian as ‘She Wolf’ – will relish hunting down the established names in the promotion.
The UFC is also, of course, a terrain roamed by giants of the men’s game, including Russian lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.Also on rt.com Big hitters: Khabib Nurmagomedov listed among the world's most famous sports stars in new ESPN list
Like Khabib, Jojua has a formidable grappling game, and she said she will look to the undefeated Dagestani fighter’s example as she attempts to crack the women’s UFC ranks.
“I signed with the highest promotion in the world, the same as Khabib,” said Jojua.
“I think Khabib is the strongest in his division… he’s one of the best, one of the legends of MMA, unbeaten… high-class fights.
“A lot of people see him as an example, including me,” she said.
Anticipation will be building for Jojua’s own UFC bow, but as yet she says there are no definite details on when, where and against whom she will take her first steps in the octagon.
“It’s the best athletes in the UFC, I signed a four-fight contract, soon I’m waiting for my next fight, but I have no definite details yet,” she said.
But when she does make her debut her father will be watching on proudly – and who knows, her mother might even tune in again for the highlights.