juliana-carneiro-lima.jpgBefore she was a mixed martial arts fighter, Juliana “Ju Thai” Carneiro Lima was a college-educated professional with a good-paying job and a comfortable life in Brazil.

Then, like others in the sport, she was romanced by MMA from the first time she was exposed to it by her brother. She trained some, tried some Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and then dove directly into a professional MMA career without any amateur experience.

For her, fighting wasn’t her only choice. It was just the choice that she made.

“I didn’t need to fight,” she told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) via email, “but I chose to and give up my job to pursue my dream.”

So far, that decision is paying off. The 31-year-old will take a 5-0 MMA record into her U.S. debut on Friday when she faces Katja Kankaanpaa (7-0-1) at Invicta FC 5 in Kansas City, Mo. Theirs is one of 13 fights on the card headlined by Jessica Penne vs. Michelle Waterson and a co-main event of Vanessa Porto vs. Barb Honchak.

In her five previous fights, Lima has shown a strong stamina that allowed her to win four by decision. All came in Brazil, the country in which she still lives in the house where she was born.

She also is dropping from 125 pounds to 115 for Invicta, a commitment that allows her the exposure other female fighters have already experienced with the promotion. She considers it her chance to display her skills to a U.S. audience, as she hopes to continue what Brazilian fans already have been seeing since November 2010.

“This is a dream come true and I’m so excited to step in that cage,” she said. “I was proud to fight in Brazil, but to fight at Invicta, it means my hard work, dedication and sacrifices have paid off.”

Hometown girl

Lima was born and raised in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, a large city in the southeastern part of the country. She was and remains very close with her family, which she said helped to teach her about hard work and the importance of an education.

She continued that education all the way to a college degree, which was part of her original plan to pursue a career – one outside of fighting, at least.

She was athletic from the start, including a skill at swimming and an early interest in martial arts. She also was a soccer player, but also had her share of Barbie dolls as a typical female child.

One of her first inspirations for moving toward MMA was Wanderlei Silva, whom she watched along with her brother in PRIDE bouts.

“I was proud to be Brazilian,” she said.

She didn’t move toward training herself until she was 19 years old, but she had a natural ability in the sport bred by her experience in other types of athletics. An older brother encouraged her to grow her involvement, which she still didn’t expect to turn into a career for her.

But it did, and she allowed her faith to help her make those decisions.

“I’m a person that is very close to my family and I’m a very loyal person to my team and I’m very close to God and live by His laws,” she said. “My faith is my biggest ally.”

A larger audience

In her first few months of MMA training, Lima did enough to impress the instructors at her gym. One, who became her main coach, helped her find competitions in Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to sharpen her skills for what most believed was a coming move to MMA.

By the time they believed she was ready for MMA, her coach didn’t see a need for amateur fights. She became a professional immediately with her November 2010 debut, which she won by decision.

That started her string of five straight victories, including three by unanimous decision. She has fought four times in the Brasil Fights promotion, most recently this past September when she moved her record to 5-0.

Then Invicta came calling. The promotion is nearing a year old, and officials believe this is the best card in its history. Penne, the atomweight champion, will defend her title against Waterson in the main event before the co-main event features Invicta’s first flyweight championship bout between Porto and Honchak.

Lima will be facing another fighter in Kankaanpaa who also is making her Invicta debut. She hopes she can continue fulfilling the promise of her decision to leave her other career to pursue MMA.

It will be a new experience for the Brazilian 115-pounder, and the reward is a larger audience to watch her fight.

“The benefits of MMA are that my mind body and soul are always in tune with each other,” she wrote. “MMA has given me some great friends and has let me experience things and places that I never would got gotten the chance to do without MMA.”

For more on Invicta FC 5, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.

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