When Jim McKay uttered the line, “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat,” in the opening of ABC’s long-running Wide World of Sports television series, he was speaking of a universal phenomenon. If there’s one thing that goes hand in hand with any sport, it’s the roller coaster of emotions that an athlete will experience over the course of his or her career.

There may be no greater moment for an athlete than the moment when all their hard work pays off and they realize they’ve made it to the pinnacle of their sport. Whether it be an Olympic athlete reaching the podium or a college football player seeing his name on the NFL draft board, that moment will be accompanied by an overwhelming flood of emotions.

Sometimes that moment can come in a much less formal manner. It certainly did for strawweight fighter and The Ultimate Fighter 20 cast member Juliana Lima when she found out that she was joining the UFC.

Lima (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Lima (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

“The UFC sent a message from Twitter saying I’m was in the UFC,” Lima told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I didn’t know if I [should] laugh or cry with happiness. I stayed three days without sleep.”

One can only imagine the thoughts running through Lima’s mind in those sleepless nights. The 31-year-old, who goes by the nickname “Ju Thai,” had spent 10 years training and five years competing in the discipline of Muay Thai before transitioning to mixed martial arts, a sport in which she made her pro debut in 2010. She won her first five fights in her native Brazil, then traveled to the United States in 2013 to face Katja Kankaanpaa under the Invicta FC banner. The Gracie Barra BH product dropped a unanimous decision to Kankaanpaa, but rebounded with a first-round TKO stoppage of Liliani Trolezi in October. Then came the news in early December: Lima, along with 10 other Invicta strawweights, were all headed to the UFC to compete on The Ultimate Fighter.

“I can be a UFC champion,” she said. “I’m going to show who is ‘Ju Thai,’ and my only thoughts are I wanna be the champion. Every day I have a visualization with the belt.”

In order to get to that belt, Lima has to endure the stresses of the TUF house and fight her way through a field of competitors that includes Invicta strawweight champion Carla Esparza and top contenders such as Joanne Calderwood, Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres. The roster for the show is still short five women, yet it already reads as a who’s who of the women’s 115-pound weight class.

“I believe it is very rewarding for me and for the other girls, too,” Lima said. “Each one has a history and know what this achievement is. To me, [it] is the beginning of a great harvest.

“UFC selected the best. Each has a distinct quality. All are dangerous.”

Between the psychological toll that the house can have on a fighter and the number of fights that a fighter has to win to make the finals, the reality series can be a grueling competition. Even the biggest of favorites has fallen unexpectedly. It takes a strong person to survive the gauntlet, but Lima feels that she knows what’s necessary to succeed in the competition.

“Be trained, focused and be smart,” she said. “Whoever wins has to be very intelligent. Who has a good technique and, more, who has the biggest heart. I’m working hard with the first questions, but the last, I was born with the biggest heart.”

In all, 16 women will live under the same roof as they train and vie for the UFC championship that awaits the season’s winner. One of the biggest struggles for many fighters on the reality series comes in the form of the cramped living accommodations. Friendships are born, but intense rivalries and heightened tensions are also a large part of the experience.

Lima (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Lima (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

“I’m working all these psychological issues beyond training,” Lima revealed. “I focus on me and my dream. I will meditate and train hard. Nothing will hinder me.

“I know who are all members [of the cast], but I have no friendship nor enemy with none. My focus is [to] train and fight. I am a person of easy living. I have not even thought about the coexistence yet.”

Every season, fans wonder what to expect from the TUF cast. Who will be the troublemakers? Who will be the quiet and withdrawn fighters? If they want to know what to expect from Lima, they need look no further for an answer.

“Juliana is one person. She is a good person,” Lima said. “I am a person of strong personality, but at the same time I’m laid back. It’s hard to talk like I’m going to behave in the house, but one thing I can say: my fights will be exciting.”

As Lima would lay there, sleep eluding her, she may have even thought back to how it all began. She may have recalled a moment in time when she made a choice that helped to shape her as both a fighter and a person.

“It was when I decided I was going to be a full-time fighter,” she said. “I quit my job where I was making good money and went back to scratch with no money, a lot of difficulties, a lot of people talking. I learned that life is better when we do what we love, and we must have our feet on the ground and humility to learn to face the ups and downs of life.”

Lima has faced those ups and downs, and the biggest highs are still to come. Sleep may come easier to her these days, now that she’s had a chance to process it all. With sleep comes dreams, and Lima’s are certainly filled with gold.

Juliana would like to thanks her sponsors: Banco BMG and Choke Kimonos. She would also like to thank her coaches: Joel Lage, Marcelo Uirapuru, Luiz Otávio, Rubens Dorea; physiotherapist Rafael Freire, fitness coach Bruno Victor, doctor Breno Faria, nutritionist Karine Paratela, psychologist Dante, coach Vinicius Magalhaes and manager Chris Vender. Follow Lima on Twitter: @julianalimabh

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