Criszaida Adames took an unusual path to become an undefeated MMA fighter.
She didn’t start fighting at a young age or grow up around the sport.
Adames was born in Puerto Rico but raised in the Dominican Republic. She came to America at 18 years old and didn’t start MMA until she was 24.
Now 28, Adames (4-0) is competing in an eight-woman tournament Friday for Combate Global, one of the top MMA franchises in the world. The eight women will compete for the No. 1 contender spot in the 115-pound strawweight division. Action begins at 11 p.m. in Miami, Fla., and will be televised on Univision and the Paramount+ streaming service. The winner and runner-up will have fought three times in one night when they reach the title match.
“It’s something as a fighter that you want to be apart of, but it’s really hard,” Adames said. “You got to be mentally ready. Other than that, it’s just fighting.”
Fighting in MMA wasn’t the original plan. Adames was enamored with boxing, but her father shut it down. She also considered becoming a veterinarian and her father wanted her to pursue being an architect.
It figures that Adames navigated toward such tough sports. She emerged from a difficult life in the Dominican Republican, growing up with her father and cousins after losing her mother to a car accident at 8 years old. Adames even recalls her cousin being shot.
“My neighborhood was really bad,” Adames said. “There were drugs everywhere. It was all kind of stuff.”
Leaving the Dominican Republic was about creating a better life. Adames came to America with no family at 18. She lived in New York before moving to Atlantic City and working two kitchen jobs.
Adames then got a job opportunity in Philadelphia. Before leaving Atlantic City, trainers at her gym suggested Will Martinez’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym in the Mayfair neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia. Adames then met Martinez, one of Philly’s most accomplished MMA products, and told him she wanted to fight.
“He looked at me from toe to head, because I’m so little,” Adames said. “It was funny because I started backward. I should’ve did Jiu-Jitsu first competing on the safe side, but we just started doing MMA right away.”
Martinez showed Adames no mercy at the gym. Martinez, now 40, was around 145 pounds during his Bellator MMA career. He wanted to test Adames to see how much she could take. Martinez “put it on her,” he said, but Adames didn’t back down.
“She comes from a background where she had to fight for everything, so I knew she had the dog in her,” Martinez said. “She showed me that day that she’s going to be something special.”
Adames went 4-0 in amateurs and remains undefeated as a pro. Tapology rates her as the No. 3 pound-for-pound MMA fighter in Pennsylvania.
Combate Global’s tournament is an MMA event unlike anything Martinez has ever seen.
The quarterfinals and semifinals will be one five-minute round, then the finale will be a three-round contest spanning five minutes each. Four additional fighters will participate in two reserve bouts. If one of the eight women win and can’t advance because of injury, winners of the reserve bouts will take their place.
Normally when prepping for a fight, coaches can break down an opponent. Not this time. That would mean preparing for the potential of facing seven different women.
“I think the biggest trouble for me was trying to figure out how to manage her time between fights,” Martinez said. “I just flat out told her there is no opponents game plan. The game plan is the same for everyone.”
Adames is among the favorites. She’ll fight Yajaira “La Pantera Negra” Cunningham (3-2). Yasmine Jauregui (5-0) is the only other undefeated fighter. Adames could meet her in the semifinals.
“I would place Adames as the favorite,” said Max Bretos, who serves as play-by-play commentator for Combate Global. “The quarterfinals, those fights are going to be bonkers and anything can happen. You’re going to see these girls shot out of a cannon because they know they have to get a win to move on.”