LAGUNA PUEBLO – Juliana Werner lives in Joinville, a city of about 550,000 people in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
Holly Holm lives in Albuquerque, a city of about 550,000 people in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico.
Werner, 32, took up martial arts about 12 years ago.
Holm, 32, took up martial arts about 13 years ago.
Werner has seven mixed-martial arts fights. Holm has six.
It’s unlikely anyone would guess that Werner, dressed in street clothes, was an MMA fighter. The same goes for Holm.
Friday, these two women who speak different languages and live about 5,700 miles apart, yet have so much in common, will face each other in the cage at Route 66 Casino Hotel.
The Legacy Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title, never before contested, will be at stake.
Werner, so far from home and from anything familiar, was the picture of calm at a Wednesday news conference. Though she has never fought MMA outside Brazil, she has fought Muay Thai and kickboxing matches elsewhere.
“This is my first time in the U.S.,” she said, “but I feel fine.”
Though Werner speaks virtually no English, she memorized and recited an introduction for herself to the media.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “I am glad to be here, and it’s a great honor to fight Legacy with Holly Holm. I don’t speak English very well, so I need to have an interpreter.”
Later, through the translator, Werner talked about the fight.
“I know (Holm, a former world champion boxer) is a good stand-up fighter,” she said, “so I trained a lot for that. I’m going to try to get her on the ground, which is my strength.
“I don’t know how (well) she does on the ground, so we’ll see.”
Werner’s record (7-3) is difficult to evaluate. She has contested most of her fights at the flyweight limit of 125 pounds, not the bantamweight limit of 135 at which Friday’s fight will be contested.
All three of her losses have come to fellow Brazilian Vanessa Porto (17-6), one by knockout (strikes) and two by submission (triangle choke), all in the first round. Werner’s seven victories – four by knockout or TKO, three by decision – came against fighters with a combined record of 24-30.
Nor, however, is Holm’s list of victims a murderer’s row: They’re a combined 23-26.
In any case, Holm and her trainer, Mike Winkeljohn, view Werner as an opponent whose background in Muay Thai fighting and jiujitsu presents a challenge the Albuquerquean hasn’t seen in those first six fights.
“Juliana didn’t come from Brazil to lose this fight, there’s no doubt about it,” Winkeljohn said. “She’s here to win the fight, to knock the future star off the map.”
Werner was born in the town of Rio Negrinho, but has lived in Joinville since she was 2. She took up Muay Thai at age 20, wrestling in 2004. She made her MMA debut in 2005, feeling the sport would allow her more longevity and more opportunities than kickboxing or Muay Thai.
“I still do Muay Thai,” she told a Brazilian website, “but MMA has many more competitions and professionally is more prominent.
“Women in MMA can sustain much more technique and aggressiveness. You can see the fights; they don’t give up. That’s what makes the fight interesting.”
According to the Brazilian website, Werner has a degree in physical education and works as a Muay Thai instructor at Sigma Gym in Joinville.
She said she believes MMA, immensely popular in Brazil, can become that nation’s No. 1 sport – surpassing even soccer.
Regarding her own future, she said, “I believe I can beat the best.”
Holm, of course, believes the same. As her name continues to be bandied about as a potential opponent for UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, the Albuquerquean knows she can’t afford to slip up against Werner.
“(Werner) has a well-rounded game,” she said. “I’m not looking past anything.”