Athlete To Watch: Sabrina De Sousa [2021 IMMAF Worlds]

London: Bahrain’s featherweight sensation Sabrina Laurentina De Sousa cemented her reputation as one of IMMAF’s rising stars with a flawless gold medal campaign at the 2021 European Open Championship held last August in Kazan, Russia.

The reigning IMMAF world featherweight women’s champion powered past her rivals to secure three straight unanimous decision victories and capture her second amateur title, putting the division on notice that her 2019 World Championship triumph was no fluke.

“After getting gold in the 2019 Worlds, I knew everyone wanted to see me fight again, and finally, I could show more of my style during the European Championship,” De Sousa says. “I was very happy with the feedback from IMMAF and to be able to fight again, feel that adrenaline coming in before stepping into the cage.”

The 21-year-old De Sousa is still not even close to reaching her full potential as an athlete, and her hunger to succeed sees the native Brazilian spend hours analysing footage as she works to ensure that she remains one step ahead of the chasing pack.

“I like to rewatch my fights a million times. I try to be a very tough critic of myself, trying to see where I could improve, what I could do better. And not only that, but I also picture me fighting against myself, which I think helps me to evolve and find new things to improve on,” she says. “I also see what I do well, my qualities, and how to build upon that. The idea is to always be evolving.”

The start of a new year brings with it fresh challenges, and De Sousa’s focus now lies squarely on defending her featherweight crown at the 2021 IMMAF World Championships, scheduled to run from 24-29 January in Abu Dhabi.

“Preparation is very intense. I’ve started my camp in Brazil, but now I will continue in Bahrain with my KHK team. I’m not pressured. I’m very excited to be fighting again as a reigning champion and ready to showcase my best version,” she explains. “I’ve been trying to improve my game, and I’m sure I’ll be able to show new things that people have yet to see from me. I’m looking forward to the event, for sure.”

The IMMAF women’s featherweight division is rich with talent. De Sousa’s path to gold in Russia saw her defeat reigning world lightweight champion Michelle Montague — who made the switch to featherweight— in the semi-final and the determined Pole Sara Jóźwiak in what turned out to be a memorable final.

However, she knows the stakes will be higher at the world championships and expects the level of competition from the likes of Montague and Jóźwiak to be even fiercer in Abu Dhabi.

“The featherweight division has a lot of tough and strong girls. It’s funny because you have to grow with each fight, come back stronger and better,” she says. “The girls are always improving, and the level keeps getting higher as you progress in the bracket, so in the finals, it’s always a war. I expect the best out of all the girls in my bracket, and my preparation is built upon that notion. I never expect easy fights.”

In her corner in Abu Dhabi will be her Bahraini teammates. The Rio de Janeiro native has found a second home for herself at KHK MMA, where the team trains and thrives both in and out of the gym.

 “That feeling of always looking to do your best is the best thing about Bahraini culture. I’m always evolving as a person, and I learn a lot from everyone in my KHK team, not only as a fighter but as a human being as well,” she says.

After being introduced to Team Bahrain by her then kickboxing trainer Rafael Vinicius, De Sousa made the life-altering decision to move her life to the other side of the world in her quest to become the best fighter she could be. It is a decision that she has never regretted, and her results speak for themselves.

“In 2022, I want to remain as the best, and I know that it will take a lot of hard work, which I’m ready to do. I want to add new weapons to my game, and I want to surprise my opponents each time I go out there, and I’m looking forward to having new opportunities in the new year.”

Team Bahrain’s head coach Eldar Eldarov has seen more than his fair share of talent during his time in MMA. In his eyes, De Sousa has all the tools needed to not only continue her reign as the No.1 pound-for-pound IMMAF women’s fighter but to also successfully cross over to the professional ranks when the time is right.

“Sabrina is the real example of the new MMA generation. She is good everywhere—striking, grappling; we are working on improving her wrestling skills. I see the brightest future for her. I think Sabrina will become the number one pound-for-pound fighter as a professional as well.”

De Sousa’s immediate family won’t be cage-side in Abu Dhabi, but despite the distance, she carries their support with her each time she steps foot inside the cage.

“My family is always excited to see me in action; they’re very nervous too. After each fight, I call them and get that energy from them to lead me into the next day of battle. “

Watch the 2021 IMMAF World Championships streamed live from Abu Dhabi at immaf.tv from 24 to 29 January 2022.

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