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Pearl Gonzalez fighting to honor her late father — and earn a title shot — at Invicta FC 31

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Pearl Gonzalez opened up about how her UFC failure was really a blessing and how her father’s recent passing is inspiring her to become Invicta champ.

Dave Mandel, Invicta FC

Since leaving the UFC in 2017, Pearl Gonzalez has won two straight fights (both in Invicta FC) boosting her pro record to 8-3. Last time out, fighting at 125 lbs for the first time in her career, Gonzalez bested Barbara Acioly; finishing the Brazilian with a first-round armbar. This Saturday at Invicta FC 31 Gonzalez takes on Daiane Firmino (10-2) in the co-main event.

“I think that my last fight, overall, it was a pretty good performance,” said Gonzalez when speaking with Bloody Elbow. “My striking was OK, it was better than it has been, but it still wasn’t as good as it can be. My grappling was good, but obviously there’s always room for improvement.”

Gonzalez revealed that she suffered a ‘pretty bad’ injury leading up to the Acioly fight, which affected her mobility. She said that during the fight, after enjoying some success on the feet, her lower body injury forced her to focus on grappling.

“I really wanted a knockout in that fight, but considering the injury that I had and my inability to move as well as I wanted to, I had to go in there and just get the job done.”

Despite getting her first tap out since 2016 (and the fifth submission win of her career) Gonzalez claimed that what she’s most happy about — in regards to that fight — is her weight cut.

“Fighting at 125 felt really good for me,” enthused the former strawweight. “I had been so used to cutting weight, and getting smaller and being small, that it was kind of a challenge to eat to be stronger and to eat to be healthy.”

Gonzalez revealed that during brutal cuts to make 115 lbs she would subsist on just 1,000 calories a day. It’s recommended that ‘active’ women consume between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day for healthy weight maintenance (per SFGate). Female athletes, in sports that don’t require weight cutting, can consume an average of 3,229 calories per day.

“I just wasn’t as strong as I could be,” sighed Gonzalez when thinking back to her strawweight career; especially her two bouts in the UFC (losses to Cynthia Calvillo and Poliana Botelho).

“They were just horrible. I think at the last fight there I was just so mentally and physically drained that I didn’t have much left and that’s really hard to recover from in 30 hours. That’s not a lot of time. My body might recover. I might re-hydrate, but that doesn’t recover the damage that’s been done to my organs. And I feel that usually the next day in the fight.”

Against Acioly in May, Gonzalez said she felt ‘sharp’ and wasn’t suffering her usual ‘wear and tear’ from weight-cutting.

“I felt faster and more elusive than I typically do,” added Gonzalez. “Overall, I think that it’s definitely a completely different mindset for me fighting at 125; where I’m training to be strong and more athletic, not to cut myself down.”

Gonzalez’s second flyweight bout will come against a woman who has made that weight nearly a dozen times (as well as bantamweight on two occasions). Firmino will be making her Invicta debut on Saturday.

Despite Firmino not making much of a splash outside of Brazil, Gonzalez is wary of the threat posed by 5’10” Sao Paulo native.

“I look at her as my toughest opponent yet,” she said. “She’s got a great record. She’s got a lot of experience ... She’s a bigger girl. She’s listed at 5’10”, but I don’t think that’s accurate. She’s probably 5’8” or 5’9”. She looks strong, so I am prepared for a stronger girl. She likes pressure, but I’m ready.”

Even though Gonzalez respects the challenge posed by Firmino, the 10th Planet San Diego member said she isn’t concerned about who will be opposite her in the cage come fight night.

“I’m at a place in my career, and in my life, where I’m just so mentally and physically focused on this. This is my life. This is number one. I live and breathe this career. These are my last few years of competing and I’m really giving my all. So I don’t care about the opponent. They’re just a stepping stone for me to my ultimate goal.”

Gonzalez’s ‘ultimate goal’ is the Invicta FC flyweight title. She said she’s been informed that a win over Firmino will give her a title shot. According to Gonzalez, earning that belt is her “primary focus and goal right now”, but after that she hopes to make amends for her short UFC run.

“I failed in the UFC and I’m not one to accept failure,” said Gonzalez. “I will work hard until I accomplish whatever is in front of me. So later on, absolutely I plan on going back to the UFC, but that’s neither here nor there. Right now I’m just focused on being Invicta champ.”

Gonzalez admitted that her two UFC fights were disappointing affairs. However, she maintained that being cut from the promotion was her, “greatest blessing in the sport.”

“I don’t think I saw that when it first happened,” she revealed. “It had always been a dream of mine to get into the UFC and then I think I got there and I didn’t change my mindset. I was still unsure and not confident in my abilities, so after I failed with the UFC it forced me to reevaluate myself and what I was doing with my career; was I really giving it my all? Was I really giving myself the best opportunity to succeed in this?

“So after some painful days I just had to go back and re-train my mindset in a sense. I moved back to California, where I was alone, and fighting really became my sole goal. When I’m not in fight camp, I’m out traveling, I’m going to seminars, I’m putting myself in places that I’ve never been with other athletes that I’ve never been around. This was uncomfortable, but it forced me to grow and I think it’s really helped.”

After getting a quick hook from the sport’s top promotion, Gonzalez proved she was up to the challenge of rebuilding her MMA career. However, after two impressive victories in her new promotion, she was rocked with a new, and far more painful, turn of events.

“I lost my dad a couple of weeks after my last fight,” shared Gonzalez. “And my father is the one who put me into MMA as a kid and so I think the hardest challenge of my life has been living on without him.

“I live to honour him through my sport and I promised him on his last breath that I would use the pain to become a world champion,” continued Gonzalez. “I’m just a different person now. I changed the day my father left me. I’m going to honour him [at Invicta FC 31] and as a result I’m going to be more focused, more composed, and more relentless than I have ever been in my career. And I look forward to showing that I’m deadly in every area of this fight.”

You can watch Gonzalez honour her father’s memory this Saturday night. Her fight versus Firmino, which has a potential title shot on the line, airs exclusively live on UFC Fight Pass. Invicta FC 31: Jandiroba vs. Morandin begins at 8PM ET.