With a record of 12-2, a championship belt and victories over some of the best fighters in the world, Zoila Gurgel is certainly amongst the elite in MMA. Gaining notoriety for her run through the Bellator tournament, Zoila’s career has definitely had it’s ups and downs. A series of split-decisions and an appeal for money angered some fans. In addition, Bellator’s inability to market Zoila properly put her at odds with the promotion.
Opening up her career, Zoila went an impressive 5-0. In her 6th fight she got the opportunity to fight in the big leagues. She was to fight Miesha Tate in Strikeforce.. She had never faced a wrestler of Tate’s caliber and later admitted to having barely trained her wrestling. Zoila felt that her solid stand up and toughness would lead her to victory. She fell short in the fight, losing by armbar in the 2nd. While she may have lost the fight, she did take something away. She needed to improve her wrestling and grappling.
After her loss to Tate, Zoila started training her wrestling and got back on track with a victory over Michelle Ould. Following the victory she was brought in to fight Rosi Sexton at Bellator. The fight was viewed by many as a warm-up fight for Sexton, as she was preparing to enter the Bellator 115 pound women’s tournament. That night, Zoila delivered a powerful message. As Sexton went in for a takedown, the Warrior Princess brutally knocked her out with a knee and followed it up with some vicious ground and pound. It was clear that Sexton was not going to be able to fight in the tournament and a replacement would need to be found.
Being an obvious choice for Sexton’s replacement, Zoila made the drop to 115 pounds and was entered into the tournament. Her first fight in the tournament would be against now Invicta FC champion, Jessica Penne. Zoila won a convincing decision, using her size and strength advantage. She was able to keep the fight standing throughout 3 rounds and controlled the fight with her striking. Zoila was now 8-1, but she was still not seen as a favorite to win the tournament.
In her next fight, Zoila faced off against Jessica Aguilar, one of the favorites to win. Going into the fight, she went through one of the worst weight-cuts of her career. She had to cut from 145 to 115. In a fight that ended up resulting in a controversial split-decision, many felt that Aguilar had been the aggressor in the fight and that she had landed more punches. However, as the saying goes, “Don’t leave it in the hand of the judges” The first two rounds had been close after all and two judges gave the fight to her. Zoila was going to the finals to face off against then undefeated Megumi Fujii who was considered by many to be the greatest female fighter in the world.
Going into the fight, many thought that the undefeated Megumi Fujii would find a way to defeat her larger and stronger opponent. Surprising to some, the fight was contested mainly on the feet. The two fought an incredibly close and tough fight. Fujii tagged Zoila with fast punches and combinations while Zoila tagged Fujii with more powerful shots, landing strong punches and kicks throughout the fight. Going to the judge’s decision many felt that Fujii had done enough to win the fight. However, with more than one of the rounds being too close to call, 2 of the 3 judges saw the fight for the Warrior Princess. Zoila was now not only the Bellator Champion, she had fought in a tournament that allowed her to face some of the best in the world.
Following the victory, in what should have been a happy occasion, Zoila was bombarded with criticism and negativety from a fan-base that felt she had not won her fights against Aguilar or Fujii. When asked about it she stated:
“I got a lot of negative feedback from that fight and from the Megumi Fujii [tournament final], but people just had no clue what it took for me to get there or what I’d been through,” Gurgel notes. “Not only that, but who these girls were. My opponents were all finishers. Megumi had finished everyone but two or three. Not only did she not finish me, but I made it the entire five rounds.
“I also scored a lot of good points,” she adds. “I even rocked her a few times. Who else has done that? People don’t see that. They just hear what the commentators say or read what others write, and a lot of bad light has been shone on me. A lot of people just hate me. I have so many people who don’t like me for no particular reason.” (From MMARISING)
Following the tournament, she won a fight against Karina Hallinan. However, she broke her hand in the fight. After recovering from the injury, she was scheduled to face off against Aguilar in a rematch, but Aguilar had to withdraw due to an injury. So a fight was set for a later date against Brazilian Carina Damm. Unfortunately, she tore her ACL in training and would be sidelined for more than a year. The injury not only forced her to withdraw from the fight, it also brought upon financial difficulties. A lapse in her medical insurance mixed with previous bills were a big problem. This prompted her to reach out and ask the MMA community for help:
“By the time I was able to pay that insurance, they canceled on me,” Zoila Gurgel today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I was trying to find more health insurance and applying, but these places were denying me because of my [existing] bills.”… “We don’t know if [my current insurance] is going to be able to cover it or not,” Gurgel said. “[Bellator] is going to pay for the bills, but the thing is, I wasn’t able to get medical insurance right then and there when I needed it during my training camp (and) before my training camp because of the outstanding bills that we’ve had before.”
“Paying out of pocket to go to the hospital to get an MRI (or) to have surgery is ridiculous, and right now, we’re not at a point where we’re actually able to pay for that out of pocket.” Gurgel admitted that the amount she’s seeking to raise is not likely to cover all of her medical bills but would help pay for the initial phase of treatment. “This surgery can cost anywhere from 35 to 40 grand, so it’s very little compared to what we’re going to need if this health insurance doesn’t go through,” she said.
Asking for money, made some members of the MMA community upset. They felt that Zoila had won a lot of money in the tournament. That she must have spent her money stupidly. It seems that no matter what Zoila did at this point, people were going to get upset.
In October of 2012, Gurgel made her long delayed return to MMA. In the first two rounds she showed her solid striking and showcased her improving grappling skills, setting up several submissions. In the 3rd round, Zoila took over, rocking her opponent with strikes and opening up a cut on her forehead. She had successfully returned to competition and had looked impressive in doing it. However, the victory was bittersweet. As a champion, one would expect her to fight in the main event or at least on the main card. Zoila’s fight was not even on the televised part of the broadcast. Many members in the WMMA community, including former opponent Miesha Tate, felt that it was insulting.
Following her successful return, Gurgel faced off against Jessica Eye. This time on television. Eye rocked Gurgel quickly in the 1st and locked on a standing arm-triangle choke to win the fight. It was an unfortunate showing for the champion. However, things would begin to look better soon. Following her defeat, it has now been announced that the Warrior Princess has found a new home, Invicta FC. Having signed a multi-fight contract with the organization, the Bellator Champion is already lined up to enter the cage against Jennifer Maia in April. Upon joining Invicta FC, the home of her sister, Zoila commented:
“I am excited to join Invicta FC, where the best women fighters in the world are competing. Invicta FC has become more than just a promotion — it’s evolved into an entire movement for women’s MMA, and I’m proud to represent that movement while continuing to fight and beat the best opponents out there.”
Having gone through injuries, criticism, negative fans and other hardships, the signing to Invicta FC will hopefully do wonders for her career.
Be sure to watch her fight on Invicta FC 5 on April 5th.