Michelle Nicolini:  Up Close & Personal

Michelle Nicolini: Up Close & Personal

BJJL: First, I want to get started with your crazy weight classes. You have been super-feather, light-feather, medium-heavy, feather-feather, medium-heavy, feather, light-feather. I have a list from 2007 of all the weight classes you’ve done. Why do you jump around? Are you dodging somebody?

Michelle: No. I used to be always light-feather for a long time.

BJJL: Light-feather is under . . .

Michelle: 118.

BJJL: . . . 118.

BJJL: That’s too small.

Michelle: Yeah, but I’m small. I’ll always be . . . I used to fight light-feather, and then in 2010, I don’t know. I think I started to get old, and it was hard. I tried to go up after this. I changed.

BJJL: But all the way to medium-heavy?

Michelle: No.

BJJL: You must have been huge. That’s 165.

Michelle: Yeah. Usually my weight is like 56kilos.


Michelle: Yeah.


Michelle: Yeah, yeah, yeah, 56. Then six months at 57, something like that. In 2010, I had Luisa Montero, my friend. We came to America to compete in awards, and she was really sad because she wouldn’t make the weight. She was supposed to fight light, I think. It was her first year as a black belt. So I said, “Oh, okay. No problem. We go up. I’ll go with you.” So we decided to go together. We talked about close division, but on fitness she lost in the semifinal. Then I made the final.

I like to fight in this weight class. I like it, and I can try again in 2012 because one of my friends, Marina Montero, she was fighting as a featherweight for the first time as well, and black belt. She was always feather. So I said, “Okay. We can stay.” So I go up again, and I won. Then this year, probably I’m gonna move again because I have Carlie. She’s a new black belt, and I want her to feel comfortable in the weight class.

BJJL: You registered light-feather for this one.

Michelle: Yeah, for Pan-Ams. Yes.

BJJL: Oh, but for world’s. I see what you’re saying.

Michelle: For world’s. Yeah.

BJJL: You’re crazy. How much . . . If you walk around at 156, which is ridiculous . . . I can’t imagine.

Michelle: No, 56 kilos is like . . .

BJJL: Oh, okay. That makes way more sense. I was thinking about 156 pounds.

Michelle: No, 56 kilos. What is . . .

BJJL: 146, maybe.

Michelle: No, it is 130.

BJJL: Oh. Okay. That makes way, way, way, way more sense. I thought you were up around 160. Okay. So in order for you to make light-feather on Saturday, that’s . . .That’s real skinny.

Michelle: It’s small.

BJJL: That’s real small.

Michelle: When I fought the [inaudible:00:03:37] I never had the weight. I never weighed more than 60 kilos, what is 130.

BJJL: Well, you’re fine then for this weekend, because the maximum is 129.

Michelle: Yeah, I don’t know if I will fight this one because I decide . . . Like I said, my weight is like 56, something like that. I decided to go in the light-feather in the last week. So let’s see. I’m still . . .

BJJL: Oh, you got to make 118.

Michelle: Yeah.

BJJL: Where are you at now? You know what you weighed this morning.

Michelle: My scale is really scary. 

BJJL: Jiu-Jitsu people weigh themselves three times a day. We’re always on the scale.

Michelle: Just last night, she asked me to stay away from my scale. I think I had to lose still like four pounds or something like that.

BJJL: Today is Thursday. Is that a problem?

Michelle: Yeah, a little bit. I’m tired.

BJJL: Yeah, and you did a seminar last night. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know if it would be appropriate. You taught a three-hour seminar. I’m sure all your black belts were hungry. I’m sure. I’m sure. Hungry, tired, cranky.

Michelle: Yeah, but I’m very used to work with these things. Now to lose the weight, now I’m gonna be up . . . It was supposed to not be a problem, but let’s see. I’m still focused on my diet, and I hope I can make the weight.

BJJL: All right. As a Brazilian, when you cut weight, what do you eat? Just chicken and bananas?

Michelle: A lot of chicken, fish, salad, nuts.

BJJL: Yeah.

Michelle: Drink a lot.

BJJL: Is anything super bad? Are peanuts super bad? Coconut oil, super bad? Anything that you can’t touch because it’s your kryptonite? Chocolate cake? Ice cream?

Michelle: Acai. Acai.

BJJL: Really?

Michelle: Acai is very bad. Yeah, acai or whatever is super bad for diets. So we have avoid in the diet.

BJJL: Yeah, you do. It’s got way too many calories.

Michelle: But usually it’s chicken. There’s no secret. Chicken or fish and salad. That’s it. I drink a lot of coffee, but it’s not so good too.

BJJL: I drink a lot of coffee. It makes you dehydrated. Alcohol. Are you allowed to drink alcohol?

Michelle: No, no. Usually we don’t drink alcohol. Sometimes after a party, yeah.

BJJL: But generally no. Now training. You’re a world champion. Seven times? Or eight times?

Michelle: Black belt, eight times. All the belts, 10 times.

BJJL: That means you win, and you win a lot. When you train, what are you doing?

Michelle: Luck.

BJJL: No, I don’t think so. It’s where preparation meets perspiration. You’re prepared, and you’ve already put in the work. What are you doing? All right. It’s Monday. How many times are you gonna train?

Michelle: I used to train more. I usually train. When we shared apartment in Santos, back in the day in Brazil, all the doors get . . . I got mad with them because they didn’t want to train as much as I want. I used to train four or five times a day, jiu-jitsu-wise. They want to train one time and rest and then train again later, maybe. I want to do one after other. You know? But now, I think it’s more about my conditioning.

BJJL: Oh, yeah?

Michelle: Yeah, so I train. I do one hard training a day, usually two hours training in the morning or lunchtime. Then I have a break. I go home, eat, rest, and another class at night, but usually it’s a little bit lighter than the morning one, with more technique. I always find something. You know? In the morning, I do conditioning or do a kind of cross-fit.

BJJL: Before your jiu-jitsu.

Michelle: Yeah, I do pilates at night and then do something or Muay Thai or boxing, always trying to do something because this is my job. So I feel like . . .

BJJL: It is a job.

Michelle: If you work eight hours, I need to train six, eight hours a day. You know? I feel lazy if I don’t. But it’s different to the day. Because if I feel tired . . . For example, on Wednesday, I’m tired. So I can skip one training with no problem. I don’t feel bad because I follow my ball.

BJJL: That’s good. That’s a lot, a lot, a lot of training. Your home life. Do you live at your parents’? Are you married? Do you have kids? I don’t know anything about you.

Michelle: No. Oh. I don’t live with my parents. We live about two hours away. I moved to another . . . I started training in their city when they visit too. It’s a small town close to Sao Paulo. I lived there until 2007 or ’08. Then I moved to America.

BJJL: You live here now?

Michelle: No. I lived before in 2008 and ’09. Then I went back to Brazil. When I went back to Brazil, I moved to Santos, the city where I live now. I live by myself. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. I don’t have a boyfriend.

BJJL: After this interview, you’ll get a boyfriend. So you do the laundry. You buy the groceries. You have to pay the electric bill. You have to pay. Doesn’t that cut into your training?

Michelle: No. I manage everything.  I clean my house.

BJJL: If you make weight, to light-feather, I see your biggest competition is Gazerie.

Michelle: Gazerie and [inaudible:00:09:41], the girl that beat me last year in the world pro.  Yeah, she’s coming to fight. So I’m sure we’re gonna face again. If not now, for the world’s for sure or [inaudible:00:09:55].

BJJL: Yes.

Michelle: I have three opportunities. [inaudible:00:09:58].

BJJL: You’ve been training how many years?

Michelle: Fifteen.

BJJL: You’ve been training longer, but you gave her the black belt.

Michelle: She started first. She went to university. She studied. She worked before. Then when we met, I was already a black belt. She was purple because she had more things to learn.

BJJL: You gave her the black belt.

Michelle: Yeah, and then we start . . . We know each other since blue belt, white belt, I think. Then when I come back to train at purple belt, I started training her.

BJJL: How many black belts do you have?

Michelle: I have Priscilla. I have [inaudible:00:10:44]. I have Junior in Brazil. That’s it, three.

BJJL: How many females? Only Priscilla?

Michelle: Only Priscilla.

BJJL: Now Priscilla, I’m gonna tell you something that somebody told me, that really shocked me. I thought I was the only woman to have received a black belt from a woman. It’s very rare. Now you’re in my club. You got a black belt from a woman. That’s a lot.

Michelle: I am proud of it.

BJJL: Yeah, I am too. Let’s see. Good job. We need more women. We need more women taught by women, but those Abu Dabi kids are coming up. Right?

Michelle: Some.

BJJL: Let’s talk about your teams real quick. When you started, you were Brasa. Then you were Drysdale, and now you’re Check-Mat. How come so many teams?

Michelle: I was training for Robert Drysdale. He is my coach since when I started training. He was responsible to introduce and talk about Jiu-Jitsu with me. I didn’t know what is it before.

BJJL: You’re Brazilian.

Michelle: Yeah, but back in the day, Jiu-Jitsu was not that popular.

BJJL: You were in Sao Paulo. I think if you were in Rio . . .

Michelle: Maybe. If you don’t follow the magazines, you would never know about Jiu-Jitsu. Yeah, it’s like this.

BJJL: What? Now how did you meet Drysdale? Because he’s in Las Vegas.

Michelle: Yeah, he’s from America, but he’s half-American, half-Brazilian. His mother lives and owns an English school in Brazil, in my city, and he too. Then I was studying there, and I knew him because she always talked about her son. Then one day, he went for holidays in Brazil because he usually will visit. Then he went to Brazil, and then we met. We were like teenagers, 17 years old. Then we started to talk more on the Internet and everything.

I used to do [inaudible:00:12:50] for four years. Then my coach moved to another city, and I didn’t find a place to train. Then I talked to him and said, “I’m looking for something to do. I think I’m gonna do judo.” He said, “No, you should try Jiu-Jitsu. It’s fun. You know? You also can work with takedowns.” I said, “What is it?”

Then I went and took a look, and I liked it since the first day. I took a friend, a girl friend, with me. She started training. We started training together. It was fun. I was with Drysdale. He gave me all the belts until 2009.

BJJL: In 2009, you broke up, because you guys were boyfriend and girlfriend.

Michelle: Yeah.

BJJL: When I Googled your name, everything said, “Michelle Nicolini, Robert Drysdale, black belt, Robert Drysdale, black belt.” That must drive you crazy to have your ex-boyfriend’s name attached to your black belt.

Michelle: Yeah. That’s why if you go . . . If you notice . . . Before, when you’re together, I never had [inaudible:00:13:55] nothing. Everything came from him. You know? I felt like I was a shadow. You know? Of course, he was famous at the moment.

BJJL: He was.

Michelle: He won the ACC awards, everything, and I was just starting. When we broke up, that was the more important thing that happened for me, to go back to Brazil and start doing my own things. Then I started to build my own name without Drysdale. He helped me until that. Then after, I had to do my own things.

BJJL: You’re doing well.

Michelle: Yeah.

BJJL: Eight world champions.

Michelle: So that’s why we move a lot of teams, because he always was looking for better teammates or a place to train. So we worked with Brasa, and then we moved to Check-Mat. Then we didn’t move to Check-Mat. I just followed Drysdale. We moved to Brasa, and then Brasa in 2008. Then I stayed with him. Then when I moved back to Brazil, I didn’t want to be with him because we broke up. We got, not divorced . . .

BJJL: It’s a breakup.

Michelle: Yeah. Then I started to train with [inaudible:00:15:18].

BJJL: Yeah. [inaudible:00:15:20] is Jiu-Jitsu.

Michelle: Yeah.

BJJL: Beautiful.

Michelle: [inaudible:00:15:25] was the best guy I know, I can have ever met. He’s amazing on the mat, outside. He’s wonderful. [inaudible:00:15:35] used to teach in Sao Paulo, and I was living in Santos. So that’s why I started training with Gavaka [SP], because he has a school there. 2013, Gavaka left the team, and then I keep training at Check-Mat with some other black belts [inaudible:00:15:51]. We are all together.

BJJL: Now a lot of women . . . I heard them complain at the seminar, and I wanted to strangle them. I only have guys. I only have guys. I only have guys. There’s no women in my academy. We grew up with only guys. What if you walk into an academy, and all you see are white belts? Do you not train that day?

Michelle: I do train. Yeah, I do.

BJJL: Can you learn from a white belt?

Michelle: I think so. You know? You’re always learning from everybody. It’s not like everybody is the same. They have talent. You cannot close your eyes to this. Just be more conservative to not get hurt, because they are more excited when they go with a girl. You know? Even with this kind of grip, you have to manage how to not hurt yourself. I think you always have something.

BJJL: What if you walked into the academy, and everybody was heavyweight?

Michelle: I would train. I like it.

BJJL: What if you got to choose two doors? This door had all heavyweights, and this door had all white belts. Which door would you go to?

Michelle: Heavyweights.

BJJL: Let’s talk about who you chase and who chases you.

Michelle: I think who chases me now is [inaudible:00:17:29]. Yeah?  I’m waiting my moment with . . . Let’s see.

BJJL: Have you fought Leticia?

Michelle: I fought Leticia in 2009. She won by advantage, but that was the . . . Yeah.

BJJL: Yeah, that was.

Michelle: The year that I was kind of . . .

BJJL: In transition.

Michelle: . . . in transition.

BJJL: In transition.

Michelle: Yeah, but it was a good fight. I fought Leticia. I think . . . I want to get my revenge with Riadane.

BJJL: I don’t know her.

Michelle: That’s because . . .

BJJL: Oh, that’s the one that’s coming up this weekend.

Michelle: Yeah. What else? Yeah.

BJJL: Okay. That’s super fun.

Michelle: Yeah, I think I have [inaudible:00:18:19].

BJJL: We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about MMA and your pro fights that you’ve been doing. Not only have you been doing pro MMA, but you’ve also done Metamoris and Polaris, where they pay you. How does it feel different when you know you’re getting paid for a fight? And how different does it feel in a cage when the cage door locks? Is it just like tournament, the worlds, where you have same pressure? Or you know you’re gonna get hit, so it’s worse pressure?

Michelle: Yeah. For MMA, when they close the door in the cage, it’s not the worst. The worst is when you are in the back, waiting for them to call you.

BJJL: Oh, really?

Michelle: You see, because usually you have other people with you. So you see they’re going to fight, and they come back, or they’re getting ready. They warm up. The coaches are there with you to help you to warm up. Then you have . . . I have a great experience because all the time when I fought, I had someone from my family, or my ex-boyfriend was there with me. They are so calm. You know? I knew they didn’t know about MMA, but they were trying to support me. So I could feel they were nervous. To not show them that I was afraid, I had to keep calm. 

BJJL: Do you have monitors when you’re waiting? Can you watch the fights while you’re waiting? Or is that a bad idea?

Michelle: Yeah, you can, but no, usually I didn’t watch any fights. But I think for Polaris, we did. But for MMA, no. Yeah, I think for MMA, you need to control yourself before. You know? Calm down before it. When they lock the door, there’s nothing to do. You go and try to hit.

BJJL: Just go.

Michelle: Strong.

BJJL: When I Googled you, I was really surprised to find out that you had movie credits, and you’re listed as an actor. Apparently you’re on the DVD, “Made for the Cage 13: Nemesis.”

Michelle: This is a very big surprise. I didn’t know. I’m still waiting for the fight the guy said he would send to me.

BJJL: I think you need to buy the DVD.

Michelle: Probably gonna ask him now. That’s why he never sent to me.

BJJL: Let’s see. If you have eight world championships, that means that you just passed Hannett and Leticia, because they’re stuck at seven. Right?

Michelle: I did last year.

BJJL: Congratulations.

Michelle: We went to the Hall of Fame dinner.

BJJL: Hall of Fame.

Michelle: Yeah. [inaudible:00:21:08] there. It was like some days before the wars, and then they both lost their fights. So now I’m eight times. Laticia, she loves to compare.

BJJL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Michelle: She always, “But do you count your [inaudible:00:21:29]” Eight times is just [inaudible:00:21:31]. Oh, no.

BJJL: You are 32?

Michelle: Thirty-three.

BJJL: Thirty-three. You just turned in January. Happy birthday.

Michelle: Thank you.

BJJL: How many more years do you have? How many more years does your body have? Your mind will go the whole way, but your body?

Michelle: I think my body is still . . . I don’t have any serious injury, never have. You know? I think that’s a really important thing. So I feel like going . . . I don’t know. [inaudible:00:22:01] just asked me the other day. My mom always asks me. For me, I feel like training. You know? I was talking with the guys and said, “You will have more than you ever think. When are you gonna retire?” Not in a rush to retire. You know?

I have a lot of fun training. I have a lot of fun preparing for a competition, even when I had to do the cross-fit, weighing, everything. It’s not fun to cut weight. I’ll be honest. But if I can find a comfortable, I will keep fighting. You know?

BJJL: You’re gonna be like megaton.

Michelle: No, not that. I still want to do two more years of high level, for sure, two more MMA fights, two more years fighting MMA.

BJJL: Oh, you just signed a contract with Legacy. Yeah?

Michelle: Legacy. Yeah.

BJJL: How long is your contract? Is it two years?

Michelle: It’s one and a half. I have a couple more months.

BJJL: Then how often do you fight?

Michelle: I’m waiting to find an opening for me. I want to do another one.

BJJL: What weight do you fight MMA?

Michelle: 115.

BJJL: How tall are you?

Michelle: I just know in centimeters.

BJJL: Jesus.

Michelle: I’m one six . . .

BJJL: 167 centimeters?

Michelle: Yeah. So high level MMA, I think I’ll fight for two more years then.

BJJL: Is the money there? Is there money to be made?

Michelle: No.


Michelle: For example, if I want to come train here in America for like a month, for sure then I’ll pay to fight. But if I don’t come, I stay training in Brazil. In my place, in my gym, they will have Muay Thai. They have jiu-jitsu, but we don’t have a connection between one another. So the guys try to help me, but it’s not like a specific MMA place.

BJJL: Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle: So for my next fight, I’m probably gonna be in America. There is no one. It is just because the challenge, the feeling to do something new for me, what I like very much. That’s why I’m looking for it.

BJJL: I don’t know, and I apologize, any of the female MMA fighters, especially not a straw-weight. Who out there do you look to for inspiration? Are there champions of the straw-weight women’s? Or is it just too new?

Michelle: They are too new. Yeah. I think it’s different, MMA and jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu, I used to look for some guys, big names, for example, to watch the fights, to follow a style, for example. But for MMA, it’s like try to watch . . . Everything is new for me. So whatever they tell me to watch, I’ll watch this girl or watch this one. I’ll take a look, but usually the coach comes with everything ready. You know? You have your logistics. They say what I need to do.

BJJL: That’s good. All right. Who do you need to thank? You need to thank your sponsors. Do you need to thank . . .

Michelle: Yeah, I would love to thank my sponsor [inaudible:00:25:19]. They give me a lot of support. It’s really, really good to be with them. Of course, my team, Check-Mat, they are amazing family. My parents in Brazil and my gym in Brazil, the House Fight Company. All the girls that come and always send me messages. I love to get a message. Sometimes I do a seminar, and they contact me, “Oh, I really work this week that it should really work. It’s really good.”

They send . . . I was in San Jose, I think, two weeks ago. I was teaching a seminar for adults, and there were some kids there. They had belt promotion last week, when we were having the seminar here. One of the girls, the mother, she sent me a link on YouTube, “Watch my son.” I type and watch. The little kid was doing some sweeps and passing that I showed at the seminar. He was so happy.

BJJL: That’s awesome. That’s very, very cool. Thank you very, very much for your time. I really appreciated it. Thanks, guys.

Michelle: Thank you. I think you just send us a message, and then . . .

Interviewer: I will.

Deneatra Terry

Mother, Blogger, Soldier -- Poet

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