The UFC currently finds itself at a crossroads.
The stars of yesteryear seem to have all disappeared in various ways. Jon Jones has yet another set of legal battles. Conor McGregor seems to be in a career limbo, where he doesn’t know if he’s a boxer or an MMA fighter. Ronda Rousey is effectively retired. Between these facts and recent ratings, it’s clear that the UFC needs a couple of fresh, marketable faces.
Therefore it’s even more peculiar that it has been so long since we’ve seen "Ultimate Fighter 23" winner Tatiana Suarez, who is finally stepping back into the Octagon on Nov. 11 against fellow unbeaten strawweight Viviane Pereira at UFC Fight Night 120 in Norfolk, VA.
Suarez is young, good on the mic, and a known finisher; it would appear that she has all the makings of a future headliner. After 15 months outside of the cage, Suarez spoke about what kept her away from the sport she loves.
“I asked for a fight a while back, but it was very difficult for them to find a matchup for me,” she says matter of factly.
Furthermore, the 26-year-old California native states that she’s been looking for a fight since right after the UFC athlete retreat back in May.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Suarez seems to hold no ill will or place any blame as to why she didn’t get a fight.
Some opponents said no, some women were held up with injuries, and the timing wasn’t right for others. Although this situation would likely get others down, Suarez used this as an opportunity to change up how she trained so she could avoid the injuries that originally initiated the layoff.
“I think there’s pros and cons to everything, and it’s also your mindset,” she says. “I think it was a good thing for me, because I had to take a step back and reevaluate the way that I train — to be smart with my training partners.”
While the technical aspects of Suarez’s training were on point, her ability to speak up needed improvement. Like many lighter weight fighters, Suarez sometimes finds it hard to find training partners of her size and skill level, leading to odd matchups.
“Sometimes the size difference is extreme,” she says with a laugh. “I walk around at 130 (pounds) and sometimes I spar with someone who is 200 pounds.”
And it’s in those matchups that she had to learn to tell her training partners when the strikes become a little too much for a sparring session.
“Even if I’m checking your kick, because you’re so big, it’s messing my leg up,” Suarez explains.
She attributes her wrestler mentality as to why she wasn’t saying anything in the first place, despite realizing the damage it was doing.
“In wrestling you get matched up and you’re never like ‘Oh, you’re going too hard,'” she says. “In the fight world, it’s a little different because you’re actually striking someone.”
Speaking up has become important as she rotates through her mostly all-male, much larger cast of training partners.
“I would let it happen and that’s probably why I got hurt,” she admits.
With her new focus on being injury free, she hopes to continue the run and stay busy after her fight with Pereira.