Mara “Maravilha” Borella was raised in Italy, but her mother’s home country of Honduras holds a special place in her heart, even though she only lived there for two years as a child .
“I have more of a Honduran heart. I grew up more with my mother and she showed me all of the love of Honduras,” Borella told WMMA Rankings in Spanish. “The desire to smile, the desire to be happy, the desire to be Honduran. That’s why I support Honduras and the Honduran flag is always with me.”
“Some can say ‘I’m from Honduras,’ but when you say you’re Catracha, it becomes a positive expression. We don’t have many Hondurans in MMA, that’s why it’s an honor representing the flag.”
“It’s a small country but it has one of the world’s strongest people. Soccer catches the nation’s attention, and I want to carry that weight into the octagon.”
Borella takes pride in others calling her Catracha (Honduran woman). A slang noun that identifies her personality, it means a person with a Honduran heart, she added.
At age four, Borella moved back to Italy after living in Honduras. She felt like a foreigner even though she was born in Ponte Dell’Olio.
The Italian-Honduran dealt with prejudice, other children at school would look at her differently, and talk to her as if she were a stranger or a foreigner.
“Now I see the nationality a bit mixed, but when I was five years old it was strange being a person from another country,” Borella said. “I remember in school they would hide you, they would leave you by yourself because of your skin color. They tried to intimidate me since I was different.”
She attended a private school since her father thought it would be easier for her to make friends, and learn the Italian language. But that wasn’t the case. So, Borella decided to go to a public school since there was a mixture of different races.
Martial arts brought Borella comfort and felt there was equality within the dojo. No one judged someone else because of the color of their skin, or because of the language they spoke.
Borella’s father introduced her to judo and helped her set goals, which she eventually earned a black belt. Although, she didn’t have a close relationship with her father throughout adolescence.
“I grew up with my mother because my father was always working,” she said. “He wasn’t spending time with the family as often, and when he was, there was always tension.”
At age 18, Borella moved out and escape from her father’s restrictions. She got to the point where she wanted to live a better life. She sought to leave her father’s house as the only solution, as she began working as a waitress.
Work hours were hectic at times for Borella, working at 5 a.m. until 2 p.m., or picking up another shift at night while stringing out her training sessions.
Life became mundane between the work shifts and living in the small town of Piacenza. At age 25, those days were far passed her when allegedly faced charges back in 2012.
“Dark times … that was a horrific period for about a year and a half. When I found Sasha [Vukelic] he spoke to me,” Borella said. “I returned to compete in sports and there was joy again.”
A year later Borella reconnected with an old friend in Vukelic, who ran Wolf Team in Piacenza. He asked if she wanted to train MMA. Eventually, she wanted to take it to another level.
They made the hour drive through the providence of Brescia. Vukelic introduced Borella to MMA Pro Team’s head coach Gianluigi Tedoldi.
The future flyweight had a whole team of coaches, polishing her skills in all different facets. Ludus Magnum and Omar Vergallo were her kickboxing coaches, and Stefan Meneghel from Bear Dojo worked on her jiu-jitsu.
“Pro Team gave me the opportunity to come to America including my family, paying for the flight, room, and food for a month and a half to get acquainted with American Top Team,” Borella said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been here. I wouldn’t have been able to fight in the UFC.”
Borella embraced the nickname Kunoichi, a character in Samurai Warriors when she joined the UFC.
“It meant a woman that wanted to fight, a warrior that wouldn’t back down for nothing. I decided to change my nickname,” she said. “I’m a warrior woman, but my face brightens with joy, so Maravilha was a perfect name for me.”
Brazilian master Fabricio Nascimento held belt trails at Bear Dojo. He called another student named Mara, and then called Borella:
“You’re Mara and she’s Mara. You’re not Mara, you’re Mara Maravilha!”
Mara Maravilha is a Brazilian gospel singer and a public figure engraved in Brazil’s pop culture. She’s a celebrity known for having an upbeat aura.
When “Maravilha” Borella first got to American Top Team, she didn’t talk too much. One day she was walking around the gym and one of the coaches said:
“Hey, Mara Maravilha?”
Borella thought, “How can they know they called me that in Italy?”
ATT’s coaches reminded her of the nickname that resembles the positive attitude of having no worries, tapping into the persona her mother instilled in her.
“Maravilha” visits her family back in Italy after fights, but during training camp, she has the sole support of her aunt and uncle.
“I have my aunt Vilma here in Pompano Beach. Even though I’m training all day, she calls me and asks me all the time if I’m alright, and how’s the training. She’s like a mother figure to me.”
“Maravilha” mirrors the influences from her corner of Brazilian coaches. Although her nickname drives from Brazil’s pop culture, the joyful persona “Maravilha” comes from her mother’s home country of Honduras.