Juggling a career as a professional mixed martial artist with being a single mother is no easy feat, but Julie Mezabarba sees her athletic career as the ticket to a secure future for her child.
The 28-year-old Brazilian is no stranger to hardships, and she plans to channel the strength she’s gained from them into her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix semifinal battle against Stamp Fairtex at ONE: NEXTGEN on Friday, 29 October.
“Signing with [ONE Championship] and giving my son a better life motivated me to chase my dream,” she says. “Now, I know I’m on the right path.”
Mezabarba grew up in Jardim America, a poor community in Rio de Janeiro. Her father died when she was just 2 years old, and she was raised by her mother, who ran a pizza place in the local neighborhood.
Those times weren’t easy, but the family got by. Mezabarba’s mother cooked the pizza, and the youngster delivered them.
Fortunately, things began to change when the teenager took up martial arts. As soon as Mezabarba got a taste of combat sports, she was instantly hooked.
“I thought I was too sedentary, and I started lifting weights, but I didn’t like it. Then I looked for a [martial art] to practice and realized that’s what I wanted,” she recalls.
“I began fighting at 18. My first martial art was kickboxing – today I’m a black belt. Then my coach introduced me to master Renato Dominguez, who showed me MMA.”
With a new interest in mixed martial arts, Mezabarba committed herself to train at RD Champions, where she met her ex-husband and became pregnant with her son, Lorenzo, at the age of 23.
Despite her new obligations, the talented athlete continued on her journey. She was fully determined to pursue her sporting goals, although it led to a breakdown of her relationship.
“When I started winning fights, I felt that bothered him. A lot of times he tried to take my focus,” Mezabarba says of her ex-husband.
“I felt I could build my path in MMA, but since he didn’t [agree], he got in my way. Being a single mother is not easy, but thanks to God and my family, my son has never had any trouble.”
There was also pressure from others to give up her ambition, but the rising star never caved.
“I have abdicated a lot of things to believe in my dream,” she says.
“I gave up college, and I gave up taking on my mother’s pizza restaurant – which would give me a good life financially – because she said she would only put me in charge of it if I quit fighting.”
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Mezabarba took a huge step toward solidifying her future when she signed with ONE Championship earlier this year. She then announced herself to the global fan base by defeating former ONE World Title challenger Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi in a ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix alternate bout at ONE: EMPOWER.
That victory has paid major dividends. Following the withdrawal of Ham Seo Hee from the tournament, the Brazilian is getting the chance of a lifetime – a place in the Grand Prix semifinals against a superstar in Stamp Fairtex.
Their matchup at ONE: NEXTGEN could be another leap forward for the burgeoning Brazilian, who notes that opportunities like this have always come around exactly when she’s needed to keep her eyes on the prize.
“Sometimes in my career, I felt unmotivated and I thought about quitting, I confess,” she says.
“But a good reason has always appeared to keep going forward. The last time I was thinking about quitting, the ONE Championship news came to me.”
“A win [against Stamp] would change my life. I would be able to focus on my training even more, and my family could benefit from that.”
After overcoming hurdles and silencing doubters, Mezabarba is finally competing at the elite level on the global stage.
This gives her the chance to provide for her son as she makes a strong charge toward the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix Championship Final and perhaps a World Title challenge in the future.
It would have been easy to quit, but the Rio de Janeiro native never gave in to the outside forces. That alone is an incredible story – and one that future generations of female martial artists can take encouragement from.
“I hope my life’s history can inspire a lot of girls and that my career shows them that, through MMA or any other sport, you can rise to the top,” Mezabarba says.
“All you need to do is persist and never give up on your dreams.”