Two-time Muay Thai World Champion Istela Nunes was born in Pau dos Ferros, a small industrial and agricultural town in Brazil’s northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. When she was just 5 years old, Nunes began training in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, but switched to Muay Thai at the age of 10.
Nunes moved around Brazil extensively for her combat sports career, making tremendous sacrifices such as sleeping in the gym on mats and skipping meals. She eventually settled in Rio de Janeiro, and after a professional Muay Thai career that saw her go 52-4 with two world championships in Thailand, she walked away from the ring because of the lack of opportunities to compete.
She then took a normal job in Brazil and tried to adjust to civilian life, but lasted just five months before she was back in the gym, this time picking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu in pursuit of a new challenge – mixed martial arts. After going a perfect 5-0 upon her debut, Nunes earned a shot at Angela Lee’s ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship with a split decision win over Mei Yamaguchi in 2016. Although she fell short in her first ONE World Title challenge, she proved that she is indeed one of the best female martial artists in the world, and remains determined in her quest for glory.