The life of a fighter isn’t easy. There are all of the long days spent at the gym. There are the aches, pains and injuries. The constant struggle to win and get noticed. Sometimes, even the bare necessities aren’t a given.

“I had tough times trying to live as a fighter in Brazil,” Invicta strawweight title challenger Claudia Gadelha revealed in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Sometimes I didn’t even have anything to eat, but I kept working to realize my dreams, and here I am. So I will leave my heart inside the cage.”

No. 4 Gadelha locked up a title shot with a win over No. 6 Hamasaki (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Gadelha (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

The 24-year-old’s hard work and sacrifice has paid off over the years. She became the youngest black belt in the history of the Nova União fight camp and has amassed an undefeated record through 11 pro MMA bouts. Along the way, she has defeated the likes of Kalindra Faria, Hérica Tibúrcio and Ayaka Hamasaki. The Hamasaki bout, Gadelha’s most recent fight and only appearance under the Invicta banner thus far, was a title eliminator which Gadelha won via a third-round TKO.

“I think it was a good fight for me, but I am always looking to do better,” Gadelha admitted. “I had tough fights back in Brazil and Canada fighting in different weight classes and [against] big girls, so fighting here now makes everything more professional and easier.”

This isn’t the first time Gadelha has been in line for a shot at the strawweight belt. Earlier this year, she was slated to fight for the inaugural Invicta strawweight championship. However, she suffered a broken nose in training that delayed her Invicta debut and chance to compete for the title.

“Injuries don’t discourage me; they are part of the sport,” Gadelha said. “I am always motivated to improve and become champion.”

With her impressive win over Hamasaki, the young Brazilian is close to achieving that goal. She is set to meet strawweight champion Carla Esparza on Dec. 7 at Invicta FC 7.

“I am ready to realize the dream of my life,” she proclaimed. “I have been working for that for 10 years, far away from my family and friends back home, because I live in another city to train with Nova União.”

The Nova União camp has played a vital role in Gadelha’s success. Not only has it given her the skills of a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but it has also provided her with the opportunity to train alongside a group of talented fighters that includes UFC champions José Aldo and Renan Barão.

“They are great persons and great teammates,” Gadelha said. “They are always helping me and putting in my mind that I have to be a champion like them. Also, I get to see UFC high-level fights every day in the gym. I learn so much seeing these guys training and teaching me.”

Now, it’s Gadelha’s turn to go after a belt. That won’t be an easy task, though. Esparza is a two-time college All-American wrestler and trains out of Team Oyama. Her introduction to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came under the instruction of Rener, Ryron and Ralek Gracie. The 26-year-old champ controlled Bec Hyatt, Gadelha’s replacement in the January bout, over the course of five rounds to capture the inaugural strawweight crown.

“She has wrestling, but I think my BJJ will counter that,” Gadelha said. “Her cardio and [on her] back on the ground are her flaws.”

Claudia Gadelha vs. Ayaka Hamasaki

Gadelha battles Hamasaki (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

The one edge Esparza may hold over Gadelha is the experience of going a full five rounds. Unlike Esparza, who has seen the second or third round in the majority of her fights, Gadelha has only been out of the first round on four occasions. That makes her preparation for a grueling, extended battle all the more important. But again, that’s where Nova União and teammates Aldo and Barão factor in.

“I did the same kinda camp that José Aldo and Renan Barão does,” she revealed. “More sparring rounds, more conditioning and more trainings as I did before to fight Esparza when I broke my nose.”

That broken nose. The days where she had nothing to eat. Yes, Gadelha is familiar with how difficult a fighter’s life really can be. But there’s a reason that she, like so many others, goes to the gym each day and puts herself through these struggles and sacrifices. It’s the payoff that comes in the end. It’s about the satisfaction of capturing that gold belt.

Caludia would first like to thank God. Also, her team, Nova União, and coaches, her manager Alessandro Gelke, her fiancé Christopher Murphy and her family. Follow Gadelha on Twitter: @ClaudiaGadelha_

Top Photo: Gadelha celebrates her victory over Hamasaki (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)