Valerie Loureda is athletic, fierce, tough, and beautiful, but for this Taekwondo Master and former model, it’s her mind, spirit and inner beauty which sets her apart from the rest.
Loureda, a Miami original, will make her professional MMA debut in the Flyweight Division (125 pounds) on Saturday at Bellator 216. On the main card from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, “Master” Valerie Loureda will battle Oklahoma’s Colby “Dream Catcher” Fletcher.
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An inspiring young woman, it has already been a trying journey for the 20-year-old Loureda.
She relinquished her Olympic taekwondo dreams as a teenager to help her family when her mother, Milagros (Mily), waged a bigger fight, battling cancer.
“I was about 16 years old. I was at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy [a Catholic school in Miami]. I believe I was a sophomore,” said Loureda, a very accomplished competitor who was training for the Olympic qualifier. “My mom and my dad, they were never really sick. My mom was never sick, so we never thought anything. We just started seeing that she was very tired all the time. She would get home and just want to sleep.”
With each passing day, concerns grew, but still business as usual.
Loureda continued: “She would walk from here to the corner, and she would be out of breath, and we’re like, ‘Mom, what’s wrong with you.’ She didn’t want to go to the doctor, and we just thought she was not taking care of herself or eating unhealthy, etc., until one day, she said, ‘Valerie, take me to the hospital.’ I didn’t even know how to drive but had to learn how to drive on the moment. Her heart rate was out of this world. She was extremely anemic, and the doctors freaked out and were running.”
Doctors diagnosed her with acute myeloid leukemia, which already developed up to 90 percent in her bone marrow.
“No one knew. No one knew,” Louredo noted. “My mom, we started this huge journey., which was the biggest fight my family has ever had to go through. Imagine. So many fights all our lives — nationals, competitions — and then all of a sudden my mom has acute myeloid leukemia.”
Of course, it was not easy for this taekwondo family of five.
“So it was really the biggest challenge we had to go through together,” Loureda added. “My mom did go through her chemotherapy, her first round, and she was successful that first round, but unfortunately two months later she relapsed, and she had to go into her second round. In the second round, the platelets [blood cells] weren’t sticking. Her blood count was not going up. It was not getting any better, and her transfusions weren’t working anymore. They told me mom she needed a bone marrow transplant.”
Family time replaced training time.
Loureda discusses high school accomplishments, college, family, Miami, taekwondo, modeling, pro MMA debut, Bellator and more.
“When my mom got sick, really everything paused in all of our lives,” Loureda said, “and it was all about my mom for the first time in our lives. It was always about taekwondo in our family, and for the first time it was just about my mom.”
Loureda became a surrogate mother to her two younger siblings, helping them any way possible. Her sisters also trained and competed in taekwondo. Natalie is a fourth-degree black belt and Francesca a black belt. Taking care of them helped her parents greatly as her father maintained his work status to provide for their modest domestic needs.
“We all saw a shift and a change in our lives for that,” she said. “My sisters [Natalie now 18 and Francesca now 11] were a lot younger than I was, and I had to step up and be kind of the glue for the family, be there for my sisters, drive them to school every day, pick them up from school, take them to their activities... It was a tough time. Nobody knows. My mom even had to watch my sister’s Communion from the hospital bed... I believe that has made us all stronger.”
Faith and their religious beliefs also played a vital role in their family ties.
“You’re kind of in shock,” Loureda said. “You see my dad just go down, because my dad is nothing without my mom, and my mom is nothing without my dad. They go together. Just seeing how she had the transfusions here [pointing] by her heart, and he would have to sleep on the floor next to her bed, so if she falls over, she doesn’t get MRSA or something from the infections. It’s very hard to see that and to see, for example, my little sister, 6-7 years-old, having to touch [pointing to the top of her head] my mom’s bald head, but my family is so strong and so driven and so persistent that we were able to get through this.”
In 2017, Loureda said a blessing occurred. A donor with a bone marrow match 9 of 10 gave her mom new life. With a clean bill of health for her cancer-surviving mother, an older Loureda — inspired by mom — decided MMA would be her next challenge.
That brings her to Bellator 216.
Her parents will be there for her pro MMA debut, traveling from Westchester. Both sisters, too.
Loureda fights for her family (including grandfather Luis Escobedo) and for the taekwondo community, representing them and that discipline in a positive way. She is a shining light with a fighting spirit for all to see on Saturday during Bellator 216.
About Valerie’s family
Her father, Francisco, owns and operates Master Frank’s Taekwondo Academy at 13911 SW 42nd St. in Miami.
Born in Valencia, Venezuela in 1962 to Cuban parents, he is a grandmaster, who earned an eighth-degree black belt in taekwondo. He began learning taekwondo at 5, moved to the United States at 15 and began teaching taekwondo at the W.R. Thomas Middle School after-school program in Miami, something he proudly did for 15 years.
Grandmaster Frank opened his own taekwondo school in 1992 in Kendall. His school is considered one of the top martial arts schools in the Miami area for more than 20 years. Through those he trained and the lives he shaped, he made quite a name for himself in Miami, which is where he also met his wife, Mily.
Valerie, a fourth-degree black belt, learned quite a bit form her passionate grandmaster father, ranging from conditioning and discipline to competition, respect and moral values. She will wear her dad’s school logo on her gear for the fight, and it will be prominent on her fight banner. Born in Cuba, her mom tested as a black belt, too.
Actually, Valerie tested for black belt — sort of — before being born. When her mom tested for black belt, she was pregnant with Valerie. Her mom is also a special ed teacher at Banyan Elementary School.
Valerie said: “I’m really just focused on being the best female fighter right now, establishing myself as not a pretty face. I am a fighter.”
And on Saturday, she fights, debuting on the main card.
International streaming service DAZN (pronounced Da Zone) will be showing the main card, beginning at 10 p.m. To be on the main card for your debut is quite unusual, but Bellator officials believe in Loureda.
“Naturally, I am nervous,” she said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’m not nervous, but at the same time, I’m just very excited, because I’m the top of person and performer — since I was a baby — who has always shined under the light and in front of the camera. So, if God permits this time, it will be the same, and I will just be myself, and the world will fall in love with me.”
Valerie discusses her fighting nickname, being a role model, Bellator, her pro MMA debut on the main card, MMA career, American Top Team and more.
Saturday, Feb. 16
Prelims: 7 p.m. via MMJunkie.
Main Card: 10 p.m. via DAZN (and Sky Sports in the UK).
“Master” Valerie Loureda (0-0) of Miami against Colby “Dream Catcher” Fletcher (1-2) of Tahlequah, Okla.
The main event, undefeated Michael Vernon Page “MVP” (12-0) battles Paul Daley (40-16-2).
That should be a good one, but more eyes will be on the debuting Loureda, who will enter the arena to a song from “Rocky IV.” A fan, she has seen all the Rocky movies, even “Rocky V.”
Loureda discusses pro MMA debut, Bellator, Rocky IV, Ronda Rousey, WWE, representing taekwondo and more.
From the mat to the cage
Training in taekwondo as a toddler, by age 15, Loureda already earned “Master” status, a title given to only the most elite Olympic-caliber taekwondo fighters in that discipline.
Her interview skills pretty good for a teenager, too.
She is now taking her aptitude and that fighting spirit into the cage.
Loureda was 2-1 as an amateur in MMA with that lone loss by split decision. A role model, she has a certain star quality, resonating from her inner and outer strength, her sex appeal and her caring nature.
With her mother living life much better, Valerie is two years into a full-fledged MMA career, a move she made after leaving Florida International University to finish her degree online which allows her more time for training/fighting. Majoring in broadcast journalism, she already earned a minor in Spanish while pursuing this MMA path.
Since the college switch, Loureda went all in, joining American Top Team, one of the best MMA fight camps in the world. That main location, a top notch facility, is in Coconut Creek in South Florida, and she is in excellent company there with Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Jessica Aguilar, Valerie Letournea, Nina Ansaroff and Tecia Torres to name a few.
During this training session, she is working out with Ana Munhoz.
Her ATT coach is Steve Bruno, who specializes in striking. He is a UFC veteran and former Spirit MC Middleweight Champ.
Loureda brings a positive vibe to ATT. Coachable, she works hard to attain her goals.
“This is the most professional facility that any athlete can be in,” she said. “I sacrificed a lot in order to get here and make a living for myself over here. I did it, and it got me this contract with Bellator, because of all the hard work I put in everyday at this beautiful camp with these amazing coaches. This is a dream come true for any athlete, and it has made me a well-rounded fighter.”
Bellator officials realized this, and they found the 20-year-old Loureda to be such a promising prospect that she will be making her debut on the main card via the international streaming service DAZN (pronounced Da Zone).
“I never in my life thought for one second this is eventually what I would do,” she said. “I always had the vision of the Olympic dream [in taekwondo] in my mind, but at some point, 2 1/2 years ago, that changed, and I saw MMA on TV. I saw the way it was blowing up, and people were falling in love with it.
“I said, ‘Wow, I can do that. I could fight like that. I could beat those girls, and I could change the world one day with that platform and all their viewers.’ So I was very excited about MMA, and that’s when it was born for me.”
The main card -- including Loureda vs. Fletcher -- for Bellator 216 begins 10 p.m. EST on DAZN (and Sky Sports in the UK).
Prelims start at 7 p.m. via MMAjunkie.
Meet Master Valerie Loureda
Present: Bellator MMA flyweight
History: Olympic style Taekwondo fighter
Future: Actress, Broadcaster
As a high school student at Lourdes in Miami, Loureda learned from broadcast journalist Ellie Rodriguez, formerly of WSVN Ch.7’s entertainment program Deco Drive in South Florida. She participated in the school’s first broadcast journalism class, and she interviewed singing sensation Gloria Estefan, another from Miami. Speaking of performers, her father landed a role in a movie. Broadcasting and possibly acting are in Valerie’s future, but her 110-percent focus, in the present, is MMA.
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Jim Varsallone: 305-376-3621, @jimmyv3