On the heels of back-to-back losses against Alan Belcher and Hector Lombard, the jiu-jitsu ace decided to part ways with Brazilian Top Team for Team Nogueira, while trying his hand at 170 pounds to redirect the course of his career. Mike Pierce is a tough first challenge as a welterweight, but Palharaes' first big challenge will occur before they trade punches. First, he'll have to make the weight.
"I've suffered a lot," Palhares told MMAFighting.com. "But the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward. That’s how I think."
"Toquinho" was always short for a middleweight, but he had to completely change his diet to drop from his usual walkaround weight of 215 pounds to the neighborhood of 189, making it easier to cut down to 170.
"I feel better than I expected at 170," he said. "I did a 20-minute fight in the gym one day after I cut down to 170 and did great. I’ve changed everything in my diet. I can eat everything but carbohydrates and sugar. It was tough, man. I loved to eat meat, french fries, chocolate and ice cream, but that’s okay."
Palhares went 7-4 in the UFC as a middleweight, and for a little while his name was hovering around contender status, but he tested positive for elevated testosterone levels following his loss to Lombard last December. That all belongs to his previous chapters, he says.
"Those things are in the past," he said. "I just look to the future now. It feels great to be back. This is a whole new start for my career, and I feel ready."
Palhares, who hails from Minas Gerais, guarantees the weight cut won’t be a problem, and neither will his frame of mind be. His former coach Murilo Bustamante has said many times in the past he wanted Palhares to talk to a psychologist for some past issues, but the UFC fighter believes it's not necessary.
"We needed that because we had some problems at Brazilian Top Team, which I won’t mention here, and we spoke with a psychologist -- but I believe that we are our own psychologists," he said. "Psychology is training. We need to focus on this all day long. I don’t need to think about other things besides fighting. My psychologist is God."
Palhares says he's thankful for everything Brazilian Top Team has done for him in the past, but felt it was time to move on because he "wasn’t evolving anymore." Team Nogueira felt like a natural fit since he has trained in the past with the Nogueira brothers at BTT. Now he works with them in rolling out the new "Toquinho" at UFN 29.
"I’m working a lot on my striking game," he said. "I’m a different fighter now. I’m training with Erivan Conceicao, one of the best boxing coaches in the world, and he’s working a lot on my striking game. I’m very confident."
Seven of Palhares' 14 victories have come via leg locks or heel hooks, but, as his game evolves, he says that doesn't mean he's a one-trick pony.
"Anything can happen," he said. "I have many other submissions, I just haven't had the opportunity to show them yet. I haven’t showed many things from my arsenal. You can’t think that I only have the heel hook, but I’m really good at it and people worry more about that. If my opponent doesn’t want to go to the ground because he doesn’t want me to attack his foot, he will train that a lot and maybe he doesn’t pay attention to other things."
Mike Pierce is quietly 9-3 in the UFC, and he'll bring a four-fight winning streak with him to Brazil when he steps in against Palhares. But, having done his homework on Pierce, Palhares says he knows what to expect against the wrestler.
"He likes to work on the clinch, closer to the fence, and sometimes he goes for a takedown," Palhares said. "Many people believe he won’t try to take me down, but I’m training for everything. I’m working on things that have to be worked on. I’m letting my sparring partners work on the fence so I have to defend myself. I like to work this way so I’m forced to evolve."