This Friday, December 7, 115-pound women's champion Zoila Gurgel will take on Jessica Eye in a non-title bout at Bellator 83. The fight will be the first time in nearly two years that Gurgel is featured on a Bellator main card.
It's been a long road for Gurgel. In October 2011, Gurgel was preparing for her fight against Carina Damm when she tore the ACL in her right knee. The injury sidelined Gurgel until she made her return a year later against Casey Noland at Bellator 78. While she earned a hard-fought decision victory over Noland on the evening's undercard, it wasn't her best performance.
"It was so weird going back in there," Gurgel said after the fight. "That time off, I didn't think it was going to faze me at all. I felt amazing throughout my entire camp. My ground [game] I felt improved tremendously. I felt amazing on the ground. Stand up -- same thing, I thought it was where it needed to be. But getting in there, it was foreign to me. I didn't know what was going on. I was happy to get back in there because I learned from it, and I moved forward. But that first round, second round, I really wasn't able to flip that switch until the third round."
Unhappy with her performance against Noland, Gurgel went back to work immediately. She switched up her camp and went back to the same coaches that worked with her during her Bellator tournament run in 2010. Gurgel has already seen a change in her conditioning. More importantly, she's grown much more confident in her knee's recovery.
"In that last fight, I sparred maybe once, and a lot of that had to do with me not wanting to test my knee too hard," Gurgel said. "Now my knee is recovered 100 percent. I'm able to do everything that I could before - even yoga. It took a while for me to get back to 100 percent. I could do everything that I could do before. Even all the crazy moves that I used to do with my knee, I can do them. My knee is fine. It's like a miracle."
Gurgel has been able to step up her training with her knee healthy again. In fact, Gurgel has pushed herself harder than she ever has in the past.
"For this fight, I've pulled out all the stops, I've been sparring every other day," Gurgel said. "I've been working everything as much as I can, to the point where just to recover, as soon I'm done training, I have to lie down because I need that much recovery time. My body just takes so much, so I've been doing a lot more for this fight than I've done for pretty much any other fight."
Coming back and training hard after a devastating knee injury is difficult to do. For Gurgel, there was never any doubt about whether or not she would make it back to the cage, and she credits her husband for his help in her recovery. His support as both her husband and her coach have played an important role both in her recovery and in her current training.
"Jorge has had three surgeries on his knees, so he knows the ups and the downs," Gurgel said. "He knows everything that has to do with what it takes to recover the right way. So to have him by my side was a blessing to me. He knew everything I needed to do and everything I needed to know, so he made it that much easier to come back."
Gurgel also points toward her faith as something that has sustained her, not only during her recovery, but throughout her entire career. She devotes all of her free time to her family and to God. She credits Him for her success both in the sport of MMA and in her private life as well.
"It's everything," Gurgel said. "I'm here because of Him. God is an amazing priority in my life, and I believe that everything that I have and everything I'm about is because of Him. Religion and God is the biggest part of my life. God, family, and love. Life wouldn't be good for me right now if I didn't have any of those."
All of these factors have brought Gurgel to this point. Her fight against Eye is just a few days away, and with Bellator's flyweight tournament on the horizon, both athletes are positioning themselves for the future. Eye is regarded as one of the rising stars in the flyweight division, and a victory over her would be a huge feather in the cap for the current women's champion. Gurgel believes that she has the advantage heading into the fight.
"She's a tough girl, you know she's up there in the rankings, and you don't get up there for no reason at all," Gurgel said. "But I think that I should be better than her in every aspect of the fight - in striking, and on the ground, and wrestling. I've faced a lot more higher caliber opponents than she has, and the only one that she did face, she ended up losing to. So when it comes to experience in the cage, when it comes to the work that I've done outside of the cage, I believe that I'm a lot better fighter than she is."
Gurgel is confident, and she has good reason to be. Her knee is 100 percent, she's training hard, and her faith and family are with her every step of the way. In short, Zoila Gurgel is living the good life once again.
Derek Ciapala is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor for MMA. He has been published on GatewayMMA.com, UltimateApocalypse.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.
Source: Personal Interview, Bellator 78 Press Conference