Tatiana Suarez: Her Own Worst Critic
When Tatiana Suarez dominated and defeated Carla Esparza at UFC228, the MMA world unanimously stood up and took notice. Having already defeated fellow prospect Alexa Grasso inside a round, Suarez took on a former Champion that had pushed perennial contender Claudia Gadelha to the brink and arguably should have got the nod only 3 months prior.
It was the sheer manner of the victory that made the statement so decisive – this was Tatiana’s biggest test to date and she passed it with flying colours. This may have been a shock to some, but when Suarez was asked if she expected to be quite so dominant, she responded with complete confidence ‘I definitely did’ before explaining why, ‘Carla’s main threat is her wrestling, her stand-up has improved a lot and that’s great for her, but I felt that firstly I have a really long reach, long legs and so I can keep people away, and when they come in then I can shoot under their punches for a takedown. People train their defence for it, but then I’m training to get even better at doing it. I just thought it would turn out that way, everyone that knows me just knew it would go that way’.
Confidence is something that the 27-year-old is certainly not short on, but why would she be? She is a two-time bronze medallist in the world championships of freestyle wrestling, a former TUF winner and has an undefeated career in MMA. She began her transition from wrestling to martial arts when she was invited to a gym where she took a jiu-jitsu class – she fell in love with it and from there it just seemed common sense to pursue a career in combat sports, doing something that she loved.
We often hear just how hard the life of a wrestler is, but it seems to run on a parallel to MMA in terms of the sometimes gruelling training regimen, weight cutting and required dedication to the craft. When asked if she felt that her time wrestling prepared her well for a life as a martial artist, Suarez said ‘I’d been wrestling for a long time and it taught me discipline, hard work obviously and gave me a great work ethic which you all really need to succeed in anything in life. Whether its sports or a regular job, I applied it to MMA and I don’t really feel like I have to do it, I love it, I get excited to learn and get better’.
Heading into MMA with the credentials she already possessed, it was possible that Suarez would already have a target on her back of sorts, but if there was, she insists she wasn’t aware of it - ‘I didn’t feel any pressure at all. I also don’t think these girls really care about my wrestling credentials and I don’t really care if they care. I’m not here to prove anything I’m just here to go out and do what I love to do. If you watch my walkouts you’ll always see that I’m really happy, I’m enjoying it, I’m hitting the fences and just loving the fact that these people are here to support me and to see me succeed’ she said.
Tatiana explained that she doesn’t feel pressure anymore as she’s simply just got used to it; ‘Maybe there was pressure and I just wasn’t aware of it, but I was in a male-dominated sport from the age of 3 and I’ve just been used to it. People were telling me that I didn’t belong there or that I should do swimming, or I should play tennis etc and I knew I belonged and that’s where I stayed. I think I just deal well with that type of thing’ she said.
We’ve seen top tier wrestlers before that have turned over to the world of MMA and their abilities just haven’t transferred to success in the octagon. Clearly, this isn’t the case for Suarez, who has been plastered with the title of ‘the female Khabib’ more than once during her contests. When asked what she thought set apart her wrestling from others and made her more effective, she said ‘I think in terms of my style, someone would describe me as ‘a brute’. I went out and gave everything but wasn’t the most beautiful technician, but I was very physical and just really wanted to win with everything that I had. I think in MMA you really need that heart and I bring that with me every single time I enter the octagon. It’s all just another day in the office’.
Some fans are quick to criticise a wrestling-heavy style but it seems to be less so with Tatiana due to her aggressive nature – in fact, she has finished 3 of her 4 fights under the UFC banner. To those that do criticise though, she won’t be paying much attention; she explained ‘People see me as one dimensional as I don’t stand that often, but I don’t care what they think. People are always gonna make excuses, its either I’m big for the class, my opponent sucked, so nobody will ever be happy. Some people are ready to get on the bandwagon but either way, I’m doing what I love to do and not many people can say that. I’m living something that I truly love and getting paid for it’.
There is no bigger critic for Tatiana than the one inside her own head. She explained this, saying ‘I’ve always strived for perfection despite knowing it’s unattainable. In my eyes, I can always improve, even after dominant performances, I know there are things I should have done. People think I’m being arrogant, but I just expect a lot of myself and I know what I’m capable of. I know what I do every day in the gym and so when I don’t meet my own expectations I get discouraged despite other people seeing a dominant performance. If I was satisfied then I wouldn’t be hungry – I think it’s a good trait to have’.
As for what’s next, she’s not sure; Tatiana is fairly confident that Andrade will be getting the next title shot, whenever Rose is ready to fight again, ‘she deserves it’ she said. Until she gets her shot, she’s prepared to just continue beating whoever stands in her way – ‘I don’t even want to think about it, I don’t even care anymore. They’ll email me and I’ll say yes. I’ve never turned anyone down, I don’t need a warm-up, I’m here to prove it and I work hard every day. I never stop training, after my last fight, I was training on Monday. Right now I’m just focusing on getting better and preparing for who’s next’.