Amanda Ribas returns to Brazilian soil for the first time in years for a UFC clash with Randa Markos. | MMA Fighting

BRASILIA — Amanda Ribas always carries a smile, even when the UFC calls with bad news.

Two months ago, the promotion informed her she would no longer face Paige VanZant at UFC Brasilia. Beating the UFC starlet would have been a nice notch on her belt. But her only concern was getting another opponent.

Riba got one in Randa Markos, whom he meets on the ESPN+ preliminary card of Saturday’s closed-door event.

Ribas’ rise in the UFC has been an impressive one. An IMMAF world champion as an amateur in 2014, Ribas quickly racked up a 6-1 professional record before signing with the UFC.

When a doping suspension forced Ribas out of the game for nearly two years, ending when USADA terminated her sanction just prior to its expiration, Ribas wasted no time in her return with wins over Emily Whitmire and Mackenzie Dern.

Ribas herself admits she “didn’t expect” to climb the strawweight rankings so fast over the last eight months, but she sees it as a positive sign.

“If the UFC puts me against popular fighters, that means they see that potential in me as well, so that makes me very happy,” Ribas told MMA Fighting. “I’m thrilled to be among the best. I cried when I became a top-15 (fighter) because that showed me I really can get wherever I want if I work hard for it. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting close.”

Ribas is no longer facing a much popular VanZant on Saturday, but still wants that matchup. In fact, according to members of her team, the UFC isn’t ruling out re-booking of that fight if Ribas gets past Markos in Brasilia.

“She’s popular, so ... I’m 100 percent focused on fighting Randa, but I’m very interested in fighting Paige next,” Ribas said. “I see myself as someone prepared for it, I see myself going after a top-five (opponent) after this fight. If the win comes, of course. I have to focus on this fight now.

“But I think that, the way they see me, I want to face a top-five opponent. I see myself fighting three times this year, and maybe I already have the belt next year. We have to think big, right?”

“I was a bit upset (when VanZant withdrew), of course, because she brings attention and everything, but I just wanted to fight. I wanted to know who I was going to fight. I think it only took two days for them to come back with Randa Markos. I was afraid they would scrap the fight.”

VanZant had multiple arm surgeries and hasn’t fought since a submission victory over Rachael Ostovich in January 2019. Markos, who edged Ashley Yoder via split decision last October, is flying to Brazil for the first time since a majority draw against Marina Rodriguez in 2018.

The strategy is “almost the same,” Ribas said with a laugh. “It only changes the color of the hair.”

“Randa Markos is more strategic, so I have to be careful and not let her do her thing,” she added. “I have to impose my game. She’s a very complicated opponent. I really want a knockout, because my first (UFC) fight was a submission, and the second one was a decision, so I hope there’s a knockout coming. And maybe a bonus, too. I’m training for this, to give my best.”

Fighting in Brazilian soil for the first time since joining Dana White’s company, Ribas gets nostalgic looking back at her pre-UFC days.

“Everything changed since that last fight, because that’s when I met (Antonio) ‘Minotauro’ (Nogueira),” Ribas said of a pivotal knockout win of Jennifer Gonzalez Araneda at Max Fight 18 in her hometown of Varginha.

“I moved overseas after that and started training at American Top Team and signed with the UFC. But then (I) had that heartbreaking doping situation and was sidelined for almost two years before I was cleared. It was so crazy. My life was like a rollercoaster these past four years. I’ve been through so much adrenaline and emotion that I think I get so calm and relaxed when I have to compete, and I love it.”

https://www.mmafighting.com/2020/3/13/21174588/amanda-ribas-top-5-ufc-brasilia-interested-paige-vanzant-randa-markos