The last time we saw Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc was on an Invicta Fighting Championships card in November 2014, where she lost a unanimous decision to Jodie Esquibel.
With a career record of 8-8 at that point, Rivera-Calanoc decided to retire from MMA, announcing via social media that she had not renewed her Invicta FC contract to continue fighting for the all-female promotion.
Fighting is not an easy thing to step away from, however, as there's always that itch that needs to be scratched. Fighters always want to know if they can be better than their last time out, and nobody wants to go out on a loss, and some just miss the camaraderie of the gym and the discipline of training for a fight.
Combate Americas surprised us all with the announcement that Rivera-Calanoc would return for a fight this Thursday (Sept. 17) at the D Casino and Hotel, broadcast live on NBC Universo.
MMAmania.com talked to Rivera-Calanoc about her upcoming fight against Katy Collins and what led her to step away from the sport in the first place.
"I just had some really crazy things happen during my last fight camp that just really left a bad taste in my mouth for MMA. I love fight camps, I mean, I love the stress of getting ready for a fight and training and all that, but it was just too much. I felt like I was done and I felt like certain people were taking advantage of me."
Rivera-Calanoc said some of the details are "too personal" to talk about, so respectfully we did not press that issue, but the question of what would lure her back to face the 2-1 Collins in a new promotion still remains.
"What changed was - I never quit going to the gym oddly enough. I still love training so, I just continued training and I could not let it go. I still had so much love for the sport. I was just like 'You know what? If I do end up getting a good opportunity, then I'll come back to fight. If not I'll just continue training and whatever.'"
"The right opportunity" turned out to be Combate Americas, and matchmakers were specifically looking for a latina female fighter not already signed to another organization, and Nicdali feels very strongly that Combate Americas can tell her story.
"I'm a Mexican immigrant. I came here when I was five, I couldn't even speak English. I was illegal (but) I'm an American citizen now. I'm like the true American story. Why wouldn't that appeal to me? I want to inspire other people like myself to follow their dreams. There's a lot of times when people will put immigrants down but isn't that what America is all about?"
Hopefully Donald Trump is listening. The good news for Rivera-Calanoc is that she's already got one of the world's best fighters in her corner as she moves up from atomweight to strawweight: top ranked bantamweight Miesha Tate.
"Miesha Tate is gonna corner for me for this fight again. She hasn't cornered me in a couple of fights, so I'm really excited about that. She's taking time out of her busy schedule to support me and my dream. I'm excited. She's a great person. We've known each other since Bodog HOOKnSHOOT and that was in 2007, and her and I have been really good friends since 2010 - well, my best friend."
Strikeforce put Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate in the spotlight, UFC put them on PPV, and Invicta FC was the home of future champions, but Jeff Osborne and HOOKnSHOOT first helped put women's MMA on the map in North America.
"They were the pioneer! They did women's MMA before anybody else did. I mean Shelby (Walker), Tara LaRosa, Kelly Kobold, one of my all time favorites and person I look up to and friend - Shayna Baszler. I mean she did the twister before the Korean Zombie did, and no one knows that! Are you kidding me? She's way more awesome."
With a career that spans almost a decade, Rivera-Calanoc can be called a pioneer herself. She's fought the world's best along the way, such as No. 4 ranked strawweight Jessica Penne, and No. 6 ranked atomweight Jodie Esquibel.
"(Esquibel) just fought six weeks before so she was fresh and I wasn't. There's a lot of things that go into losses that people don't realize. I thought I did great! I thought I won that fight. It was up to the judges - so whatever. My fault for letting it go to the judges. That last ten seconds I had her in a choke and I was doing everything I could to make her tap. She even said in her interview after that in a few more seconds she would have been out."
Rivera-Calanoc is putting all of that aside and focusing on one thing: fighting Katy Collins.
"One thing about (Katy) that I like is that she's always professional, she always shows up to fight, she always makes weight. I like that. There's people that don't do that. (But) I don't really give a f--- who I'm standing across from, I just want to f---ing fight, and I just want to win. Excuse my language!"
Nobody needs to excuse her language - they just need an excuse to tune in to Combate Americas on NBC Universo - and Nicdali provides plenty.
"I just feel like I'm a different person now, and a different fighter because of the things that I went through. I'm more confident in myself and my abilities and who I am as a person."
Tune in this Thursday to see if she wins her (f---ing) fight against Katy Collins. The complete audio of our interview is below and complete fight coverage always resides right here at MMAmania.com.
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