Mixed martial arts is an individual sport, and with it comes individual goals. When a fighter’s head hits the pillow at night, their dreams are filled with visions of gold belts and championship victories. There may be blood spilled in these dreams, but it is not the blood of nightmares. Rather, it’s the blood of triumph.

Vanessa Porto is no stranger to these dreams. As a mixed martial artist, she has sought to overcome any challenge put in front of her. She longs to stand in the middle of the cage with gold hoisted over her head. She longs to be a champion. And she’ll get her chance at Invicta FC 5.

“I waited my whole life for this,” Porto told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I have won different championships in Brazil, but this is a world championship in Invicta!

“I feel like they gave me this title shot because they know what I have done in my career, and they are also rewarding me because I took the fight against Tara [LaRosa]. It is not easy finding
opponents for Tara, but I don’t care. I fight anybody.”

Porto (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

For a long time, “anybody” included the ladies of the 135-pound division, and sometimes even larger opponents. Porto has gone the distance with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in a loss, and she had suffered defeats at the hands of Carina Damm, Amanda Nunes and Roxanne Modafferi. Every fighter would love a rematch when they lose, but if Porto had to pick just one, who would she fight again?

“I would say Modafferi because I felt like I could win that fight, but everything went wrong before that fight,” she said. “My husband/trainer didn’t get his visa and couldn’t come to the fight with me. Injuries and a bad camp made it a bad fight for me. I know I can do a lot better. The other losses were to a lot bigger girls.”

In fact, size would be an issue even in Porto’s Invicta debut, which came at 135 pounds against Sarah D’Alelio. She lost that fight, and that experience made it clear to Porto that she was competing in the wrong weight class.

“At that Invicta where I fought Sarah, I was able to meet a lot of other 135-pound fighters, and I was the smallest one of them all,” Porto said. “In Brazil, I fought at 132 pounds, so 125 is not that hard. I felt a lot stronger and faster [against LaRosa] at that weight.”

LaRosa, entering the fight with a 21-2 record and a three-fight winning streak, was seen as an extremely difficult opponent for the Brazilian. The longtime veteran and pioneer of women’s MMA was making her highly anticipated Invicta debut, and many saw her as a favorite to eventually capture the promotion’s 125-pound flyweight championship. However, those people underestimated Porto.

The former bantamweight thwarted LaRosa’s takedown attempts, while outstriking LaRosa and landing leg kicks that severely hampered the grappler’s mobility. It was an eye-opening performance for those who were not familiar with the 29-year-old contender.

“Tara is a very tough opponent and one of the best women fighters in the history of WMMA, but her strength has always been the ground. Our game plan was to keep it standing and pick her apart with my speed advantage,” Porto explained. “I think it was the game plan that worked so well that made it a mismatch fight.

Porto (R) lands a right hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I feel like I should have finished her. I hurt her a couple times, but I didn’t push for the finish. I was very focused on the game plan, and I was under a lot of pressure because I was coming off that loss and I had to win that fight. In the future, I will work for the finish like I did my whole career.”

The end result for Porto was a unanimous decision victory. But the bigger reward was a spot in the fight to determine Invicta’s inaugural flyweight champion.

The only person that now stands in the way of Porto and that gold belt is Barb Honchak.

“Barb is a very talented fighter,” Porto said. “There is a reason she is fighting for the belt. She is very well-rounded and will be a very tough opponent. She looks like she has good takedowns and control on the ground. She throws good knees as well.”

Honchak, too, had to earn her title berth with wins under the Invicta banner. The 33-year-old fighter did so by scoring a TKO of Bethany Marshall at Invicta FC 2 and taking a unanimous verdict over Aisling Daly at Invicta FC 3. Decisions happen to be a big part of the “Little Warrior’s” record. In nine fights, seven of which were victories, Honchak has seen the judges six times, resulting in four wins and two losses.

“I am training for five rounds,” Porto admitted. “Of course I will try and finish it sooner, but I expect a very tough fight.”

Porto (R) connects with a kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Of the three occasions on which Honchak did manage a stoppage, two were via submission. But Porto’s own record features 10 submissions in 15 total victories.

“I think I will be stronger than her on the ground,” said Porto. “I think if I can get on top of her, I can take advantage of that and wear her out. I also have a very dangerous guard and have armbarred a lot of fighters.”

Invicta has a reputation for bringing together the best female fighters from around the world under a single promotional banner. Porto, Honchak and LaRosa are all prime examples of this trend. The promotion’s April 5 card, which features Porto’s fight as the co-headliner, will mark the Invicta debut of former Bellator champion Zoila Gurgel. And there will be more top-tier talent to follow at future Invicta events. That also means potential challengers for the winner of the flyweight title, be it Porto or Honchak.

“I would expect Zoila to get a shot at the belt with a good win over [Jennifer] Maia,” Porto said. “If Jennifer beats Zoila, then that’s a huge win and she might get a shot. [Or] maybe they go get Rosi Sexton.”

However, before Porto can think about the rest of the division, she must focus on her current opponent. She still has almost two weeks until she sets foot inside the cage opposite Honchak. That time will certainly be filled with more dreams of title glory for the Brazilian. But when April 5 arrives, Porto has a chance to turn that dream into reality.

Vanessa would like to thank her husband Pedro, manager Chris Vender, Xicao Joly, Dr. Joe Taverni, Dr. Haley, Combative Fight Gear and Tussle Fight Gear.

Top Photo: Vanessa Porto (L) delivers a kick against Tara LaRosa (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)