UFC Orlando Fighter to Watch: Amanda Ribas

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 07: Amanda Ribas of Brazil poses on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on May 07, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Talented Brazilian makes second consecutive start at flyweight, looking to halt the rise of Tracy Cortez while showing she’s a burgeoning contender in the 125-pound weight class heading into 2023

Name: Amanda Ribas
Record: 11-3 overall, 5-2 UFC
Division: Flyweight
Team: American Top Team
Opponent: Tracy Cortez (10-1 overall, 4-0 UFC)

How We Got Here

Ribas is a former IMMAF winner who went 6-1 with five finishes and her lone setback coming against future (and current) UFC competitor Polyana Vianna. She was signed by the promotion at some point in 2017 and was scheduled to make her debut that summer, but was flagged for an anti-doping violation, removed from the bout, and suspended for two years. That sentence was commuted towards the end of that two-year ban, and Ribas made her UFC debut in June 2019.

Over her first four fights, the effervescent Brazilian proved to be worth the wait and as good as advertised, as she opened with a second-round submission win over Emily Whitmire, followed it with decision victories over Mackenzie Dern and Randa Markos, and closed it out with a first-round submission win over Paige VanZant in a flyweight engagement at UFC 251.

Now, some will look at her last three fights, see two losses, and think, “Ah well, she smashed on overmatched and over-valued competition, but struggles when the rubber hits the road,” but that is far too simplistic and basic of a take.

Yes, Ribas has lost two of her last three, sandwiching a good win over Virna Jandiroba between losses to Marina Rodriguez and Katlyn Chookagian, but losing to Rodriguez and Chookagian shouldn’t be a reason for dismissal or disdain. Very few people beat those women, who are Top 5 stalwarts in their respective divisions.

Each of those fights came after six months on the sidelines and following a re-shuffling of the decks that present real Sliding Doors moments.

The fight with Rodriguez only came together after a UFC 256 bout with Carla Esparza fell apart, and a date with Michelle Waterson at UFC 257 went by the boards. Those are two very different fighters, stylistically, compared to Rodriguez, and while she had six weeks to prepare, that’s still not ideal.

And the Chookagian fight happened because Waterson was forced out twice more — first at the end of March, and then at UFC 274 in early May, leaving Ribas eager to get into the Octagon and face someone, anyone. That ended up being Chookagian, up a division, in a fight she lost by split decision.

Context matters, and the reality is that Ribas lost a couple hastily put together fights to very tough opponents, which has diminished her stock in the eyes of some heading into this one, though that feels like a bit of an overreaction to me.

What There Is To Like

At the root of it, Ribas is a 29-year-old talent who has already established a Top 15 floor in the UFC, and that’s really goddamn good and tremendously exciting.

She’s stumbled against elite contenders in two weight classes, but gave the latter of the two a tough fight while basically moonlighting in the division. While I didn’t see it as nearly as close a fight as the judges, it’s still a good result against a game, experienced contender that provides reasons to be hopeful for what the future may hold.

In terms of her skills, Ribas is at her best when she gets inside and gets things to the ground. She’s a skilled grappler with black belts in judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and showed in the fight with Jandiroba that she’s truly high level on the canvas. Between working with her father and the team at American Top Team in South Florida, Ribas has excellent coaches that should — should — be focused on developing ways for her to get into her grappling bag quickly and efficiently, because she is likely to have an advantage in top position against most people in the division.

Her striking is fine, but it’s not strong enough to be her weapon of choice. It works well enough against opponents stationed outside of the upper echelon to allow her to get to where she’d prefer to be, but as the fights with Rodriguez and Chookagian showed, it’s not quite good enough to be a primary weapon against the best in her division. She’ll need to keep sharpening those skills to become a true contender, but the foundation is there to build upon.

The fact that she does her camps at ATT is another positive because working with a room full of experienced, skilled, established competitors and coaches that have had success at the highest levels should, in theory, help you level up. Not everyone needs to take that approach and it doesn’t work for everyone that does, it’s a boon for many fighters, and I think it could be a continued positive for Ribas going forward.

Relocating to flyweight permanently — or at least doing so for an extended period of time — is another positive, as it should mean she has the opportunity to add functional muscle and strength while establishing herself in this division. When you’re trying to fight between two weight classes, you leave yourself a little lacking in one at the expense of being able to return to the other.

With this being her second straight flyweight assignment, it leads me to believe she’s sticking around the 125-pound ranks for the next couple fights, which should allow for a proper shift up in weight and a chance to get a real complete look at how she fits in the division.

Lastly, Ribas is just a joy to watch — she’s full of energy, likes to scrap, and still has some untapped upside even though she’s a little older than the rising pack of young contenders ascending the divisional ranks.

At the very least, there should be a host of entertaining matchups in her future, beginning this weekend.

Remaining Questions

As with every fighter profiled in this space — and every fighter period, quite frankly — there are still questions for Ribas to answer inside the cage:

  • Can she find ways to get into her grappling more effectively?
  • Can she improve her striking to where it’s a real asset?
  • How does she handle being on bottom?
  • Have we already seen the ceiling and I’m just blind to it?

The first two have already been mentioned here, so no real need to delve into them in too much greater detail. As is always the case with competitors facing this dilemma, the ideal is Demian Maia once he stopped trying to just be a boxer, because that dude was a nightmare, and more people should try to fight that same way.

We haven’t seen much of Ribas with her shoulders or back on the canvas, and it’s always an interesting position for skilled grapplers because they all react differently. My assumption is that she’ll be fairly active, looking to get feet on hips, a knee shield, and generally work quickly to create space or get her back to the fence, but seeing it is the only way to know for sure.

Additionally, maybe she just plays a super-active guard and is launching up armbar attempts, looking for sweeps, and banging home slicing elbows from bottom?

The last point is one I do worry about a little because I like Ribas’ approach and think she’s better than she showed in those two setbacks, but maybe there isn’t. Maybe she is more of a Neil Magny-type than an elite contender, and I just haven’t come to accept that as of yet because I don’t want my assessment of her upside to have been wrong.

As always, there is nothing wrong with topping out at the 7-10 range in a division and being the “Gatekeeper to the Stars” as it were, but my sense is that Ribas has slightly higher upside than that, and I would like to see her compete a few more times before settling on a position.

Why This Fight Is Important

Saturday’s clash with Cortez is critical because we could get some important answers about Ribas’ development since the loss to Chookagian, how she handles being on bottom, and how things could shake out for her at flyweight going forward.

While she too has limited striking, Cortez is a strong wrestler who does well to get where she needs to go and force opponents to play her game, fight her fight. Her top control is solid and she showed against Melissa Gatto last time out that she’s capable of dealing with pesky, frisky grapplers with some hands.

Additionally, Cortez has always competed at the higher end of the scale, having fought at bantamweight a few times, and while there isn’t a tremendous size discrepancy between the two, we’ll see if there is a physicality edge in favor of the Arizona native this weekend.

Furthermore, the Dana White’s Contender Series grad is unbeaten in the UFC, 10-1 overall, and riding a 10-fight winning streak. As much as I’ve not been the biggest Cortez advocate or believer, she’s consistently handled her business each time out, and continues to improve.

The Chookagian fight felt like too big of an ask for Ribas at the time, and she acquitted herself well, but this feels like a more reasonable pairing that should help illustrate where she fits in this division at the moment.

If Ribas is to have a future in the Top 10, this is a fight she needs to win.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.