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Love at First Fight


Ilara Joanne developed her identity early in the process.

The Brazilian started her formal martial arts training in capoeira at the age of 10, moved to muay thai and jiu-jitsu at 14 and gravitated to MMA as soon at was available to her. Joanne made her professional debut two months after her 19th birthday and, interestingly enough, started her career 0-2 with back-to-back losses to Viviane Pereira and Priscila de Souza. Adversity mattered not.

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“One thing led to another,” Joanne told Sherdog.com. “After I had my first fight, I decided this was what I wanted for the rest of my life.”

Flash forward some 11 years later, and the well-traveled flyweight has dropped anchor in the Professional Fighters League. Joanne, now 20 bouts deep into her journey, will collide with Shanna Young in a featured PFL 4 prelim this Thursday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Neither woman has banked a point in the 2024 regular-season standings, as Joanne submitted to a rear-naked choke from Taila Santos and Young dropped a unanimous decision to Kana Watanabe in the respective April 4 promotional debuts.

“She is a very experienced fighter, just like me,” Joanne said. “I believe that it will be a very fast-paced fight, as we’re both very complete fighters.”

Joanne operates out of the highly regarded Pitbull Brothers camp in Natal, Brazil, where she trains under respected coach Valdines Silva and sharpens her skills alongside seasoned stablemates like Igor Sergio Gordo Siqueira and Kleberson Sousa.

“I’m getting all the attention from the team because this is a very important fight and it’s not an easy opponent,” she said. “I’m getting a lot of attention in all areas since this fight can unfold both on the feet and on the floor. We are very focused on getting this victory.” None of it would be possible without three-time Bellator MMA featherweight champion Patricio Freire, who manages Joanne’s career. “He’s opened many doors for me in the world of international MMA,” she said. “I’m thankful to all my team.”

Despite her loss to Santos, Joanne still holds out hope that she can qualify for the PFL playoffs and make a run at the $1 million prize awarded to the last woman standing at 125 pounds. Should that situation fail to materialize, she intends to head back to the drawing board to improve at what she relishes doing most.

“Besides winning this grand prix, my plan is to keep training with my team,” Joanne said. “It’s what I do in life; it’s what I know how to do. I’ve done a lot of things in life, but nothing enchants me as much as fighting. Since I was a child, without having any kind of guidance, I was already drawn to it. It’s like something from my unconscious mind. I’ll keep training and fighting as long as my body allows it.”
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