Thiago "Pitbull" Alves was last seen inside the Octagon on March 2012, and he doesn’t expect to fight anytime soon.
Following surgeries that forced him to pull off from fights against Siyar Bahadurzada and Matt Brown, the Brazilian welterweight, who turns 30 in October, focus on his recovery to avoid the knife in the future.
"I’m slowly returning to trainings seven weeks after my last surgery," Alves told MMAFighting.com. "It will take some time for me to return, I’m thinking about maybe February or March next year. I’ll take this year to recover and get better."
Alves’ last win, a submission victory over Papy Abedi at UFC 138, will be two years ago this November, and it’s frustrating to stay away from the cage for so long -- especially for a guy that was used to compete at least twice a year.
"It’s really frustrating, man," he said. "I never heard of anyone with four consecutive surgeries in this sport. But I try to take something positive from every negative situation, and this time off made me know myself better and understand the sport, what I need to do to be successful. Sometimes, no matter how hard you train things won’t go the way you want. I’ve learned a lot."
"Pitbull" was defeating Martin Kampmann on most of the scorecards during his last fight, but one mistake made him tap to a guillotine 48 seconds before the end of the final round. Forced to wait until he’s completely injury-free, Alves has used the time off to learn.
"I’ve been studying a lot in these last couple years that I’m not fighting," he said. "My division is open, ready for someone to get there and dominate it and I’m sure I’ll be this guy. I just need to heal my body and take one fight at a time to get to the top.
"The welterweight division has changed a lot, but at the same time it’s basically the same guys at the top. The only thing that I see now is that it’s more open, anyone to get to the top with a couple wins. There’s no one dominating it. It’s the perfect time for me to get there. This is going to be the best year of my career. My best years are in the future, and I’m super excited with what I’m seeing in this division."
Matt Brown, who was expected to face Alves at UFC Fight Night 26, is now on a six-fight winning streak with five finishes, but the Brazilian doesn’t want to focus on one opponent only.
"I was set to fight Matt Brown, the perfect fight for me," he said. "I’d be among the tops again with a win over him, but God had other plans for me. I’ll wait. I’m not thinking about the future, I’ll focus no staying healthy and in shape to fight in February or March."
Fighting once in 21 months could seriously make you break financially, but "Pitbull", 11-6 inside the Octagon, was smart enough to save most of the money he made during his UFC career, including a couple bonuses.
"It’s always frustrating to not make money, only take money from your savings after all these years of fighting," said Alves. "I always had good managers who told me the right things to do. I don’t fight for almost two years, but I’m ok. American Top Team, my managers and sponsors keep supporting me. They all know me, they believe I’ll be back to the tops when I return."
UFC plans seven events in Brazil next year, and Alves wants to part of at least one of those cards.
"I want to fight in Brazil, there’s been 10 years since I last fought there," he said. "I left Brazil 10 years ago because there was no support for the MMA fighters there at that time, but it has changed dramatically since. It would be a dream to fight in Brazil after all these years."