After conquering the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Michelle Nicolini has now set her sights on the mixed martial arts (MMA) realm.
The eight-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu black-belt world champion moved to Singapore from Brazil last year to concentrate on her MMA career. She is signed on with One Championship, a Singapore-based MMA promoter and Asia's largest MMA organisation.
The petite yet formidable fighter is also an instructor at Evolve MMA, a martial arts organisation headquartered at Far East Square.
Speaking to The Straits Times last month, Nicolini, 35, says she got into MMA because she wanted a new challenge. "Even though it is my passion, I got a little bored. I got everything I wanted from jiu-jitsu. I've won all the good competitions. I wanted to challenge myself."
The third-degree black-belt holder says MMA allows her to once again push herself and feel that adrenaline rush.
"I found that I wasn't getting excited anymore, even in the finals of the biggest competitions. I think I lost a little of that sense of anticipation and I wanted to feel that rush again."
Nicolini, who competes in the strawweight division (for fighters who weigh 48 to 52kg), took part in her first One Championship fight last November, which she won despite her inexperience. The promoter had offered her a fight after she gave a seminar here at Evolve MMA.
She then decided to stay in Singapore to focus and train for her MMA fights.
She trains for about four hours a day, seven days a week, while also teaching classes. But for the middle of three sisters, the most difficult thing about being here is not the physical training, but that she is away from her family.
"My parents and sisters are in Brazil and it is not easy being away from them," she says.
But the reserved athlete becomes visibly more enthused when talking about jiu-jitsu and it is easy to see her dedication to the sport.
"As soon as you take up jiu-jitsu, your life changes. It gives you so much self-confidence. It is like chess. There is strategy involved in thinking about different positions and locks. It is not just physical, but also mental," she says.
"Whenever I feel sad or depressed, I come to the mat and I forget everything because I have to focus."
The bachelorette started learning jiu-jitsu when she was 17.
"Before that, I was doing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, but my coach moved to another city. A friend suggested I try jiu-jitsu."
She says she has always been into sports as "that is the culture in Brazil".
"I would try everything in school, even basketball and football. I loved sports so much that if I didn't do well in school, my mum would punish me by not allowing me to play sports."
But she says jiu-jitsu is her real passion. "From the first class, I enjoyed it. It made me so mad that everyone was better than I was and kept smashing me on the mat.
"But that was the challenge for me, to learn and memorise the techniques till I could beat others."
And beat them she did.
On her bag
Once I get a bag that I like, I usually stick to it. This is from Tatami Fightwear and I prefer a backpack because it is easier to carry as I ride a scooter.
Not only has she won the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship eight times, she has also clinched multiple titles at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship and other global competitions.
This year, she hopes to be chosen to fight for a belt in her weight class for One Championship. Her last MMA fight was her inaugural one in November last year and she hopes that her next will be in April.
One Championship has an MMA event at least once a month and each fight night sees about nine fights across various weight classes.
Nicolini says: "Jiu-jitsu is my life's passion. But after trying MMA, I really like it. It combines jiu-jitsu with muay thai and wrestling. I hope to fight well enough so that I'll be chosen to challenge for the belt."
Things in her bag
I rest in between training sessions and this helps block out the light when I take a nap.
I have hard-boiled eggs and steamed sweet potato with me every day. I eat them as an afternoon snack. It is part of the diet my nutritionist gave me. Sometimes, I have fruit as well.
BOTTLE FOR SHAKES
This is for my protein shakes or supplements before and after training. The shakes help my body recover in between training. Pink is my favourite colour.
CONCEALER FROM CLINIQUE
This makes me look more awake and covers my dark circles. I have sensitive skin and this works because it is light. I don't usually wear a lot of make-up when I train.
MORINGA EAU DE TOILETTE
This is from Body Shop and I love its scent. I have a lotion of the same smell. I've been wearing this for more than four years and I like its sweet flowery aroma.
I like to keep my teeth clean and I brush them after every meal or snack - maybe more than three times a day.