Rising MMA Star Claudia Gadelha Takes Us Inside Rio’s Most Elite Fighting Gym

When Claudia Gadelha was 15 years old, she already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: a professional fighter.

And though to this day she still considers herself “just a little girl,” she has fought her way into one of the most hardened boys clubs in Rio de Janeiro. Nova Uniao is the city’s elite mixed martial arts academy. Fighters from all over Brazil have come here to train in what recently has been Brazil’s most successful MMA gym at producing champions in the world’s top fighting league.

Jose Aldo, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s reigning featherweight title holder trains here, as does Renan Barao, who was the bantamweight champion until he lost the belt in May 2014.

Several other Nova Uniao fighters have their eyes set on UFC championship bouts, among them Gadelha. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist, she holds an 11-0 record and will begin her quest for the UFC Strawweight championship on July 16.