Life’s journey is full of twists and turns. What lies ahead is not always expected.
Less than three years ago, Mexico’s Irene Aldana had never stepped into a cage as a professional mixed martial artist. Although she always had a passion for sports, the 26-year-old appeared destined for a career in photography and her own studio.
“I love photography,” declared Aldana. “I would love to continue with that plan in the future. If I’m good at something and if I really love it, I should do something with it.
“I set it aside to focus on fighting. Sometimes I take some shoots just for joy or I use my photography and design knowledge on gym work.”
Shooting photos and punching people in the face may seem like a contrast on the surface, but a deeper look at Aldana’s youth reveals someone destined for competition.
“I was very athletic since I was a little girl,” explained Aldana. “I always loved sports. I used to roller skate along Mazatlan’s Malecon for hours. I did gymnastics, ballet, karate, tennis, basketball, cheerleading. [I’d] spend hours in the gym.”
After moving to Guadalajara, Aldana discovered MMA and fell in love with the sport.
“The mix of all martial arts in one sport, I found fascinating; how distinct disciplines could be combined and how they complemented each other,” said the bantamweight. “Also the way you are able to connect your mind and body and go beyond your limits.
“After hours and hours of training, I started to feel well skilled for this sport. I competed for the first time in a national BJJ tournament and won first place. After that, I started to take it very seriously and was ready to try MMA.”
Her debut came in 2012 and lasted just 15 seconds. A year later, her second bout was over in 20 seconds and her third fight — which took place the same night as the second — ended with a violent wheel kick in just 43 seconds. Aldana’s career path was suddenly very clear.
Although she faced a setback in Brazil prior to signing with Invicta FC in 2014, Aldana and her Lobo Gym teammate, Alexa Grasso, have quickly become the faces of women’s MMA in their native Mexico. Now they’re out to set an example for their fans.
“[It is] very important and very satisfying,” proclaimed Aldana of representing her country. “It’s amazing that with such a short career, but so much work, we are now where we are. We love to share it with all Mexicans in or out of the sport. We’ve received messages from people asking our advice and sending us congratulations for our work. It’s great to motivate people to get up and work hard for what they want. The sport is relatively new in Mexico, but it’s getting bigger. Now is the perfect moment for Mexicans to accomplish their goals.”
With her country behind her, Aldana made her first appearance in the Invicta cage in September at Invicta FC 8, where she was pitted against UFC veteran Peggy Morgan. After rocking Morgan in the opening moments of the fight, Aldana coerced a tap via rear-naked choke in under three minutes. It’s a night that Aldana won’t forget anytime soon.
“I was really, really nervous,” admitted the fighter. “I tried to focus the best I could and channel that into my objectives.
“I knew Peggy is really strong and she is well known as a fighter almost impossible to knock out. I knew she always goes forward and resists damage. I was prepared for that and I didn’t get scared because she recovered. I knew that could happen.
“It was amazing. That was my first win by submission in MMA, and I was coming back after a defeat in Brazil. Professionally and personally, it was a big accomplishment.”
Aiding Aldana’s performance in Kansas City was the benefit of watching teammate Grasso earn a decision win just before Aldana stepped into the cage.
“I was prepared for whatever Alexa’s result would be,” said Aldana. “I went to do my job, but when I saw her winning, I felt so happy and full of good energy. Of course it motivated me. Then I thought, okay, one is done, it’s my turn so we get two victories.”
With four first-round finishes in her four career wins, Aldana was set to continue her early career momentum at Invicta FC 10 in December. However, a case of bronchitis forced her off the card at the last minute. Now, she’s slated to take on veteran Colleen Schneider at Invicta FC 11 on Feb. 27 in Los Angeles.
“I’m very excited. We always have something to improve. In every camp we get better than before, and being in the cage is the moment when we put in evidence all we have learned,” said Aldana. “It’s exciting to be growing up in the sport. After I needed to cancel my previous fight, I’m even more excited to return.”
Following her dominant promotional debut against Morgan, it would be easy to understand if Aldana felt obligated to repeat her performance when she goes up against Schneider, but she insists that’s not the case.
“[There’s] no pressure. I’m just going to do my job,” said the Lobo Gym product. “If the fight lasts a minute or three rounds, I’m prepared for anywhere the fight goes. I just hope it’s a great fight. None of my fights were planned to end in the first round, it just happened.”
Should Aldana get around Schneider in Los Angeles, the Mexican would be a prime candidate for a shot at the vacant 135-pound Invicta bantamweight championship. She’s confident she’d be ready if called upon and is anxious to share a title with her fans.
“I feel ready! I know I have a short career, but I always train like it’s for a title shot,” Aldana exclaimed.
“It would be a big deal! The honor to represent Mexico as Invicta champion would be great for Mexican MMA. I know Mexican fans are with me in my wins or losses. I’m really grateful for their love and support. I assure them I will always give my best and leave all my heart in the cage.”
If Aldana’s career to date is any indication, her aspirations of Invicta gold are likely right around the corner. It all starts on Friday, Feb. 27, in Los Angeles.
[Ed. Note: This interview first appeared on InvictaFC.com]