Michelle Nicolini took some time away from the ONE Championship Circle, but after losing her father earlier this year, the Brazilian flipped the switch and is ready for a big return.
The 13-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion will challenge “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan for the latter’s ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title in the headliner of ONE’s historic all-female event, ONE: EMPOWER, on Friday, 28 May.
“After my dad passed away, the World Title fight brought me back. Instead of staying home and crying because he was not with us anymore, I just focused on the fight and got super motivated after that,” Nicolini said.
And with that, she dedicated herself to a training camp that she believes has lifted her mental and physical skills to a whole new level.
“This is my best moment. I’ve been training super hard – not only for this fight, but since my last one,” the Brazilian added.
“Me and my team have worked together to do what I had to do, so I think I’m in my best shape and my best mindset.”
Nicolini will need those tools to dethrone a woman who’s held down the top position at strawweight since winning the gold in 2018.
However, Nicolini believes she will present a set of skills that Xiong hasn’t dealt with in her past defenses.
“She has defended her title so many times, so I have a lot of respect for her,” the challenger said.
“What makes the difference this time is that she will face an eight-time [IBJJF World Champion]. She has had some really good fights, but she has never faced someone like me.
“I think maybe she has a good ground game, but I’ve been training [BJJ for 20 years]. I don’t think she is going to be able to handle my game. She will try her best and I’ll try my best — but I’m totally confident that my best is better than hers.”
With that said, Nicolini has another motivating force – her father.
Although he’s no longer with her to watch and cheer, Nicolini believes he’ll still be there for the World Title fight – if only in spirit. And if she gets her hand raised against Xiong, the Brazilian knows exactly where the victory will be dedicated.
“I lost my dad around two months ago, and I think wherever he is, he will be watching,” Nicolini said.
“So, for sure, this belt will be for him first of all.”
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