Brazil’s Samara “Marituba” Santos has been thrown in at the deep end.
The 25-year-old ONE Championship debutant won’t get any tune-up bouts ahead of her first big test on the global stage, as she will challenge for the ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title in her very first outing.
Santos will face reigning champion Xiong Jing Nan in the main event of ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON in Shanghai, China on Saturday, 8 September.
Santos grew up with her father, mother, and three brothers in the small Brazilian town of Aurora do Pará. Her parents worked in the farming industry and the long hours meant the children didn’t get to spend much time with them.
“My parents were present at home,” she remembers.
“But back then, they would work in the fields since we lived in the country, and they would only come back at night.”
Eventually, the family took the decision to move from town to town to find a better life for them all.
“We had a hard time. So we moved to Concórdia, which was a slightly larger town. It did not work out well there, so we moved again to Tailândia, and I grew up there until I was 15.
“When we moved, my parents would spend more time with us,” she says. “I prefer to live in the city — there are more things to do, and more people to know.”
They then moved to Marituba – the city that gave Santos her nickname – and took in their nieces, as the family unit expanded. It was hard work, but the family stayed close and made things work.
It was in Marituba that Santos discovered mixed martial arts through movies, and was inspired to take up training.
“I used to watch a lot of martial arts movies, and I liked them,” Santos says.
“We did not have a TV, so I used to watch them at a neighbour’s house. I wanted to be like them, but I did not even know that being a fighter could be a profession.”
The opportunity came in 2013 when she joined up with some friends to try martial arts training as part of a social project.
“I went, and I enjoyed it, and I have been here ever since,” she says.
She started out learning Muay Thai, then added Brazilian jiu-jitsu to her training when she joined Formiga Top Team.
That soon led to the opportunity to compete inside the cage, and she started her full mixed martial arts training in preparation for that prospect. Eventually, suitably impressed by her skills in training, her coach offered her the chance to make her pro debut.
In April 2015 she stepped into the cage for the first time and claimed a third-round TKO victory. Santos’ professional career was underway, and she has not looked back since.
Santos reeled off five consecutive wins in 2015 to get her career off to a flying start, but her commitment to learning her craft meant she had to take risks to get home from her gym each night.
“I ride to training by bike every day. It belongs to my father, so when he takes it, I have to walk,” the Brazilian explains.
“Sometimes I have to leave class early because, at night, it is dangerous to go where I live. But sometimes, Coach Formiga will pay for a taxi for me so I do not have to go alone.”
Santos’ commitment to training is absolute. Come rain or shine, she does everything she can to be on the mats, even if it means wading through flooded streets to get there.
“There is electricity, but no basic sanitation [in town],” she explains.
“Sometimes, when it rains, it floods the whole street, so we have a hard time walking.”
Her commitment has already taken her to a Salvaterra Marajo Fight Championship, and now she has her sights set on ONE Championship gold.
“I want to make money to get them out of here — where we live — and give them a better life,” she explains, saying that she competes to help her family.
“My parents are already ageing, and they still work to support me, so I want to reciprocate what they have done for me throughout their lives.”
She has made a significant first step by signing with ONE Championship. And now, with a colossal opportunity in her first bout with the organisation, Santos has the chance to make an instant name for herself on the biggest stage in the sport.
“I know if I win the fight, and get many victories, then I will make the money I need to support my family.”