She Thought She Might Die from a Crack Addiction, Now She's Making Her UFC Debut

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterFebruary 1, 2018

NITEROI, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 29: Brazilian UFC flyweight fighter Priscila 'Pedrita' Cachoeira prepares to train at School of Lutas Niteroi on December 29, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The trajectory of the carioca in the sport life began early. At age of 10 she started playing volleyball, stayed for six years until leaving the sport because of a great disappointment. Priscilla's father was absent and addicted to drugs and her mother having to work to support the house, was on the street that Priscilla found what she considered to be her comfort. An ex-boyfriend took her to the funk dances on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Shortly thereafter, drug use, marijuana, cocaine and even the crack that was part of Priscila's life from 19 to 23 began. Drug user Priscila went to a kind of crackland in Bangu, a neighbourhood in the eastern zone of Rio de Janeiro. Three days without the strength to return home. Her salvation was a contact with a Church pastor who helped the chemists in the area and took her mother to m
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Priscila Cachoeira remembers the day her mother rescued her from the Cracklands.

It was a winter morning near the end of 2014 and Priscila had finally reached rock bottom after a four-year addiction to crack cocaine.

A three-day bender left her sprawled on the floor of a drug house in Rio de Janeiro's notorious Cracolandia—"the Cracklands" neighborhood—where those addicted to drugs populate the trash-cluttered streets and abandoned buildings. She teetered on the edge of consciousness, unable to move or even speak. She desperately wanted to get up and drag herself back to her mother's house, but her brain and her body wouldn't connect.

She didn't have the energy to lift her head, let alone stand, and she feared she might have overdosed.

"I thought I was going to die," Priscila tells Bleacher Report, the native Portuguese speaker communicating through a translator provided by UFC Brazil. "I didn't have any strength to leave that place. I wanted help, but I couldn't even say anything."

There is just a hint of emotion in her voice as she says it. Mostly, when Priscila talks about her former life, it is with the hard-earned clarity of a person who has already bested her darkest personal demons. 

Priscila Cachoeira works out at PVRT Gym in Rio de Janeiro.
Priscila Cachoeira works out at PVRT Gym in Rio de Janeiro.Buda Mendes/Getty Images

That she is alive to tell this story at all is the first in a series of minor miracles. That she can tell it mostly without flinching is a testament to how far she has come. The memories are still fresh, but her life today feels a world away from the strife of just a few years ago.

Now 29, drug-free and the mother of a five-year-old son, Priscila is training to make her UFC debut on Feb. 3, when the Octagon comes to Belem, Brazil, for Fight Night 125.

She has been remade as a hard-hitting women's flyweight. After making her professional MMA debut just over 18 months ago, the Brazilian has amassed a record of 8-0.

Her first bout in the Octagon won't be an easy one. She'll take on Valentina Shevchenko, a former challenger for the women's bantamweight title in her debut at 125 pounds.

Shevchenko is well-known to MMA fans, and Priscila will no doubt be a significant underdog in their fight. One thing she can say with certainty, though, is that she's already faced tougher battles and overcome mightier foes—all with a little bit of help from her mother.

That day at the drug house, Priscila couldn't have known that her mother, Rosimeri Cachoeira, was coming to save her life.

Rosimeri Cachoeira
Rosimeri CachoeiraFacebook

For three nights, Rosimeri had sat up praying that her daughter would safely return home. She was under no illusion of what Priscila was doing. Rosimeri knew her daughter spent most days getting high in the Cracklands.

Rosimeri wanted to help her daughter leave her addiction behind, but says she felt powerless from Priscila's ongoing downward spiral.

"I almost lost my mind," Rosimeri says, also speaking through a translator. "During the time when Priscila was doing drugs, I tried everything to get her clean. I tried psychologists for her, psychologists for myself, I read books, I tried to take her to meetings. I was trying to understand how I could fix her, how I could help her."

Yet, as low as Priscila got, she always came home from the Cracklands at the end of the day. 

This time, however, was different.

Rosimeri hadn't seen Priscila in close to 72 hours, and she knew she could no longer sit and wait. She located a local pastor who made weekly food deliveries into the Cracklands and begged him to take her into the neighborhood to find her daughter.

NITEROI, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 29: Brazilian UFC flyweight fighter Priscila 'Pedrita' Cachoeira trains at gym on December 29, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The trajectory of the carioca in the sport life began early. At age of 10 she started playing volleyb
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Together they walked the dangerous streets until they located the house where Priscila was staying. When Rosimeri entered the house, the other occupants dispersed, but she saw Priscila lying there in the gloom of the house.

"When my mother came in, my head was down, I barely could see," Priscila says, "but I saw a really bright light. Then I saw my mother's dress."

Priscila says she was scared at first. She worried Rosimeri had come to scold her, maybe even to beat her for being addicted and bringing shame on their family. But Rosimeri only smiled, stooping down to take Priscila in her arms.

"My daughter," Rosimeri whispered, "let's go home."

As the two left the drug house, the people of the Cracklands crowded around them. Instead of being angry, Priscila says they offered her words of encouragement, telling her to go make something of herself, to build a good and healthy life.

"They started saying, 'Hey, I wish I had a mother like yours,'" Priscila says. "My mother turned to them and said, 'I wish I was all your mothers.' She called everybody together, and we all prayed and the others said, 'Priscila, don't you ever come back here.'"

That day, Priscila vowed she would take their advice.

NITEROI, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 20: Brazilian UFC flyweight fighter Priscila 'Pedrita' Cachoeira poses for photographer during a UFC Photo Session at School of Lutas Niteroi on December 20, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The trajectory of the carioca in the s
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

To beat her crack addiction, Priscila used muay thai kickboxing the way some people use a 12-step program.

The day her mother brought her home from the Cracklands—after she'd showered and eaten—she was sitting on the front stoop when a couple of friends stopped to chat. They told Priscila that a new muay thai gym was opening nearby and was offering free introductory classes for people in the neighborhood.

Priscila attended one of those classes and immediately fell in love with the striking sport that utilized kicks, punches, elbows and knees. She started going to the gym as much as she could and used the newfound sport to wean herself off crack.

"I spent one month having an almost everyday crisis," Priscila says. "I felt pain, I screamed, but any time I [started going through withdrawals] my mother would take me to the training center. That made me relax. Afterward, I wouldn't feel the need to use anymore. That was how I moved on from drugs."

There were setbacks and a few relapses, but Priscila remained focused on muay thai and getting sober, until finally the cravings began to cease.

That's something she's gotten used to in her life: persisting.

The youngest of Rosimeri's three children, she was physically and emotionally abused by her father growing up. On top of that, Priscila says she was sexually assaulted by the boyfriend of her older sister when she was 11 years old.

She found an early outlet in sports, taking up volleyball at 10 and later earning a spot on a Rio-area club team called Fluminense. At 16, however, Priscila had a falling-out with the team and quit the sport.

Afterward, she felt unmoored and listless. She started going to parties, experimenting with marijuana, crack and a mixture of chloroform and ether called "lolo," she told MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz. By the age of 19, she realized she was addicted and was reduced to begging on the streets of the Cracklands, just trying to stay high.

"I didn't have a life anymore," she says. "I was always just hopeless."

All that changed when she discovered muay thai. It immediately became the primary focus of her life, tapping into the athletic spirit she'd lost when she walked away from volleyball.

Priscila competed in her first kickboxing fight just 19 days after starting training—and while still going through withdrawals. She won, defeating a much more experienced and well-regarded opponent.

"Right after that, I started to do a lot of fights," she says. "I wanted every muay thai fight I could get."

She might have carried on for good with the striking-only sport, but a few years later her older brother gave her an interesting idea.

Priscila was so naturally gifted at muay thai, he said, that maybe she'd be good at MMA as well.

Priscila's first professional MMA fight did not start as planned.

She fought in a small organization at a local gymnasium in Rio against an opponent with eight fights under her belt. During the first round, Cleudilene Costa got the better of Priscila, dishing out so much punishment to her less-experienced opponent that Priscila says she thought about quitting.

Then she heard a voice calling out in the gym: "Priscila, my daughter, don't give up!"

It was Rosimeri, sitting ringside to cheer on Priscila.

Priscila couldn't let her mother down, so she dug deep and went on the offensive. She landed one hard punch on Costa after another. The tide of the fight turned, and Priscila emerged as the unanimous-decision winner.

Afterward, her MMA career took off. She racked up four stoppages during her next seven wins, catching the eye of UFC matchmakers after a second-round TKO over Rosy Duarte in Sept. 2017.

Her quick rise from obscurity to the biggest MMA promotion in the world isn't typical for a young fighter, but so far Priscila says everything is going according to plan.

"I lost that focus a little bit in the middle of my life and some of the trust I had in myself," she says, "but this is my rebirth."

These days her son, Juan Marcelo, is with her all the time. Born during the late stages of Priscila's drug addiction, she cites him as one of the driving forces behind her straightening out her life.

As she speaks with Bleacher Report, Priscila is at the PVRT gym, where she trains alongside top UFC strawweight contender Jessica Andrade. During the conversation, Juan Marcelo is out on the mats, sharpening his own skills. Priscila says he has already decided he wants to be a fighter, just like his mom, and she'll do everything in her power to make sure that dream comes true.

Priscila with her five-year-old son, Juan Marcelo.
Priscila with her five-year-old son, Juan Marcelo.Facebook

Priscila's mother is still also in her corner, of course.

"My mother is my life," Priscila says. "If she had given up on me, I wouldn't be here today. Everybody told my mother that I wasn't worth it, that I was a crack addict and I wasn't coming back. My mother said, 'No, my daughter is going to get out of this. She's going to make it,' and I did. So my mother is everything to me."

Rosimeri works as a nurse at a local hospital but says she and Priscila find time to be together every day. Often Priscila visits her mother's house during her training camps to get a little help with her physical therapy.

Rosimeri has attended all of Priscila's MMA fights so far, but doesn't think she'll have the money to make the 2,000-mile trek north to Belem for her UFC debut. It will be difficult not to be there, Rosimeri says, but she knows she'll be with Priscila in spirit.

The two of them have already been through tougher fights together.

"No mother likes to see her daughter getting beat up, but the emotions of seeing Priscila doing what she loves and becoming a professional at it are indescribable," Rosimeri says. "There was a time that I thought I was going to lose my daughter. Now, she's here, about to fight in the top organization in the world. Sometimes I feel like pinching myself.

"Is this real? I'm just really happy. It's a really good feeling."


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