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When jiu-jitsu champion Talita Nogueira enters the Bellator cage tonight, almost four years will have elapsed since her most recent MMA fight.

Yes, it’s been a long layoff. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Since being signed to join Bellator’s women’s 145-pound roster back in 2014, Nogueira faced a number of hardships – physical and mental – before being able to finally make her promotional debut.

Just 10 days before traveling to the U.S. for a scheduled Bellator 133 meeting with Julia Budd in 2015, Nogueira suffered ACL and meniscus tears. She managed to compete in jiu-jitsu in the meantime, but with her knee continuing to go out of place, she went under the knife six months later.

“The recovery itself was close to one year,” Nogueira told MMAjunkie. “My thigh muscle had atrophied.”

After attempted bookings for June and July of 2016 fell through, Nogueira finally got a new date. It was a big one, too: Nogueira was slated to meet veteran Marloes Coenen at Bellator 183.

Speaking to MMAjunkie at the time, Nogueira said the training was great. But while she was physically recovered, the featherweight was dealing with a personal tragedy: Her mother died of cancer just three months prior to signing the bout agreement.

“While dealing with my mother’s illness, I put on weight, way above the usual,” Nogueira said. “I accepted the fight because I truly wanted to fight in Bellator, and because I wanted to use that as a motivator. In truth, it wasn’t a good time for me.

“My weight was too high and my head wasn’t in the right place. I still suffered from the loss of my mother, who was very important in my life.”

As a result, Nogueira came in 5.6 pounds too heavy the day before the meeting with Coenen – who, in turn, made weight. The bout was scrapped. Coenen went on to headline Bellator 174, opposite Budd, and retired shortly after a fourth-round TKO loss.

Nogueira (6-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), in turn, had to wait a little before finally getting another debut date. Now, set to meet Amanda Bell (5-4 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., the Brazilian grappling expert’s head is certainly in a much better place.

“I’m feeling great,” Nogueira said. “I’m happy. I’m ready.”

Other than the physical and personal issues beyond her control, another reason why Nogueira’s only had six pro MMA bouts since her 2009 debut was merely the fact she was focused somewhere else: on jiu-jitsu.

That paid off for the black belt world champion, who’s collected titles and staved off rust by keeping an active schedule in grappling competitions. While it’s not her sole weapon, Nogueira makes no secret of how confident she is on her ground game.

“Ultimately, I’m a jiu-jitsu world champion, with and without the gi,” Nogueira said. “I don’t care if someone is bad, good, or what martial art they came from. I’ll still beat them.”

It also helps that Nogueira had the help of someone who’s come to basically simbolize what a successful grappling-to-MMA transition looks like in the cage.

“I’m training at Vila da Luta, which is (UFC welterweight contender) Demian Maia’s academy,” Nogueira said. “I’m a big fan of his. He inspires all jiu-jitsu practitioners in MMA. It’s also a great inspiration to hit the mat with him every day.

“My trainers and cornermen are the same as Demian’s. Several great fighters train here like (former UFC champ) Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. I want to be at least 50 percent as good as Demian. I’m very happy here.”

For now, Nogueira says the focus is 100 percent on coming out victorious of her long-awaited Bellator debut. But, if everything goes according to plan, this will only be the first step of yet another highly victorious career path.

“I want to be the best,” Nogueira said. “I already wrote my story in jiu-jitsu, and I want to do the same in MMA now. I’m taking it one step at a time.

“If I keep winning, that will be a consequence of my work. I’ll be ready for anyone. I trust in what I do. I trust my jiu-jitsu.”

For more on Bellator 182, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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