Kayla Harrison will not be the only female Olympic judo champ that decided to move to MMA.
Brazilian Rafaela Silva, the 2013 world judo champion and former 2016 Olympic gold medalist below 57 kgs (125 pounds), has officially started her MMA training. Joining the new MMA academy led by Professional Fighters League lightweight fighter Joilton Lutterbach, she has already begun picking up striking fundamentals. According to Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Claudio Silva, who held mitts for her for the first time, the judoka's future looks bright.
“An Olympic champion is a different animal,” "Hannibal" said confidently. “Rafaela is world and Olympic [champion]. In less than one hour holding mitts [for] her, it was easy to recognize her focus and power. I bet in a few more months, we are going to have another prospect in [the] flyweight division.”
According to “Peregrino,” Silva made a deal to be part of the team, training every day with the professionals. She will also make her debut in an MMA event inside the gym.
Lutterbach explained, “We are planning to promote small events here in the academy area, and she liked the idea to make [her professional] debut here.”
Rafaela failed a drug test in her last competition, after winning the gold medal in 2019 Pan American games in Peru. In addition to losing the title, Rafaela was handed down a ban of two years for any official judo events. This suspension was a motivator to transition into MMA, as she would not be allowed to participate in the Tokyo Olympic games – should they actually take place at all.
Silva, an athlete who had passed all of her previous drug tests beforehand, was considered a first offender by the adjudicators that handed down her ban. In addition to this, she proved to the anti-doping officials that this result from fenoterol – a bronchodilator that treats conditions like asthma – was not intentional. As a result, Silva received a two-year ban instead of one lasting four years or longer. Sherdog reached out to Silva, but as the appeal process is still pending, she elected not to provide an official statement at the time.
Before considering MMA, Silva was already training at the Instituto Reacao, a facility that has worked with the UFC in the past. Rousey donated $30,000 to the organization before facing Bethe Correia in Rio de Janeiro, for example. This training center is located near the Cidade de Deus neighborhood, which is where Silva was born. Silva plans to make her pro debut in 2021, and she will join an elite group of Olympic gold medalists that migrated to MMA including Harrison, Henry Cejudo, Kevin Jackson, Kenny Monday, Satoshi Ishii, Mark Schultz, Karam Ibrahim, Ray Mercer, Rulon Gardner, Pawel Nastula, Istvan Majoros, Makoto Takimoto, David Khakhaleishvili and Hidehiko Yoshida.