ADCC and multiple-time IBJJF World Champion Michelle Nicolini was kind enough to take time out of her busy training and coaching schedule at Evolve MMA in Singapore to answer a few questions we had for her. Nicolini has traveled the world to teach, train, and compete in BJJ and MMA. After winning every major title in grappling, she is planning to focus on MMA in 2016, where she has a professional record of 2-1. Find out what why she chose Evolve MMA, how she applies her BJJ to MMA, and what her future plans are in both BJJ and MMA. Special thanks to Darren Tan and Evolve MMA for coordinating this interview for us.
JJT: You could have trained at any gym or camp in the world. How did you choose Evolve MMA in Singapore?
Michelle Nicolini: That is absolutely true; I could have trained at any gym or camp in the world. However, I have always heard amazing things about Evolve MMA and how they are the #1 in Asia. At this point of my life, I knew that this was the place I wanted to visit and train at. I wanted to experience training alongside the Evolve Fight Team and Evolve Instructor Team to understand how they manage to reach such a World Championship level.
JJT: How long will you be training out at Evolve and will it be your home gym for MMA moving forward?
Michelle Nicolini: This time I came to train here for only a week. It was a super productive experience for me and I am really looking forward to moving to Singapore and working on my striking and MMA game with all the high-leveled fighters and instructors.
JJT: Evolve is known for having the best roster of Muay Thai coaches in the world, but they also have Heath Sims who is one of the best MMA and wrestling coaches in mixed martial arts. What will be your primary development goals while you are training in Singapore?
Michelle Nicolini: I had the honor and privilege to train with Heath Sims during my visit to Singapore several times and he was really patient with me. I am confident that I will learn a lot more when I am back in Singapore and this will undoubtedly help me reach my goals. I feel really good here and I fully trust in the abilities here. They are all World Champions and their goal is to help produce more World Champions.
JJT: You are known for having one of the best guards and shin-to-shin techniques in the world. Are there any adjustments you have to make to you sports BJJ for MMA?
Michelle Nicolini: The game from BJJ to MMA definitely requires changes. I have had big success with my Guard in BJJ but for MMA I don’t want to play it the same. I definitely intend to work more submissions from the top.
JJT: I noticed you are not registered for Pans on March 16th in Irvine, CA. Are you going to be taking a step back from active BJJ competitions to focus on MMA?
Michelle Nicolini: I am still going to sign up for the Pans on 16th March. I am still going to sign up for the Pans on 16th March.I will compete more in a Gi until the 2016 World Championships after which I will most likely move into MMA.
JJT: Many of the top BJJ athletes who had success in MMA, transition to solely focusing on training and competing in MMA. For your first three professional MMA matches, you were still actively competing in BJJ. What were the challenges of training for both MMA and BJJ competitions at the same time?
Michelle Nicolini: It’s hard to compete in both MMA and BJJ at the same time. I did it because I was new to MMA and I felt that I could do both together. However, to be more in-tune with MMA, I need to be more focused on training for MMA and that is why I chose to come to Evolve MMA and work on improving my skills. I believe that everyone will be able to see the difference once I focus my training on MMA here.
JJT: You last fought Norma Rueda Center at LFC 36 in November 2014, where you lost a 3- round decision. What were the biggest learning lessons from that experience and how did you grow from it?
Michelle Nicolini: Every fight I have is a chance for me to learn from, always improving and working on all areas of my skills. Win or lose we have to watch our fights to understand the mistakes we made and how we can improve to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again. The secret for me is always looking to improve a little bit during each training session; I believe that is the way to get better.
JJT: When should we expect to see you again in a MMA fight? Also, which promotions are you considering for your return to MMA?
Michelle Nicolini: At this point in time, I am aiming to return to MMA right after the BJJ World Champions. I will definitely be returning to Evolve MMA to train and hopefully I can fight some time in September.
JJT: You have basically won every major event in BJJ. What are your future martial arts goals?
Michelle Nicolini: I feel that I have achieved all that I have set my sights on in the world of BJJ. I love the sport and it will always be in my heart. My next goal is to win the Worlds again this year and then aim to be a MMA World Champion!
JJT: Mackenzie Dern has been your one of your primary rival over the years. What are your thoughts on facing her in MMA?
Michelle Nicolini: Hahaha, that would be great, it is definitely an interesting option for us to play with. Who knows, we’ll see.