Alessio Sakara could use a break.
Consider Sakara's last two years: he pulled out of his UFC 116 fight against Nate Marquardt after his mentor and coach, who he considered his father, passed away. He pulled out of a UFC 118 fight due to an injury. He was taken off UFC 122 on the morning of his fight against Jorge Rivera after suffering from flu-like symptoms. When he was ready to fight again last March, he was forced to fight little-known Chris Weidman on a couple weeks notice after his original opponent Rafael Natal pulled out of the fight. Weidman dominated Sakara on the ground en route to a unanimous decision. And then prior to UFC 133 last August, the Italian fighter tore his ACL, forcing him to be sidelined for several months.
So just like that, the 30-year-old Sakara hasn't won a fight in over two years and hasn't fought multiple times a year since 2008.
On Saturday afternoon in Sweden, he will try to get back on track against Brian Stann at UFC on FUEL TV 2. MMAFighting.com recently spoke to "Legionarius" about his recent troubles, fighting Brian Stann and his dream of fighting on a UFC card in his home country.
Ariel Helwani: You had to pull out of your UFC 133 fight against Jorge Rivera due to a knee injury. What exactly happened and how are you currently feeling?
Alessio Sakara: When I was sparring at American Top Team, I tore my ACL while attempting a single-leg. It was a very bad situation because I was supposed to fight Rivera three times. I came back to Italy and recovered with the best medical team in Italy and now my knee is 100 percent. I am very happy. Everything is good in my leg.
How frustrating have the last couple years been for you?
Every time I'm preparing for a fight, I have an injury or a bad situation in my home. My father died and every time I have bad luck. But I'm coming back 100 percent and I'll give the best fight for the UFC, my fans, my family.
How did you deal with your father's death?
Now, it's passed, but before it was a very bad situation because he was my trainer and father too. When I was young, I stayed in a home with this coach that was with me my whole career, so it was a very bad situation. But now he passed, it's life. Everything is good now.
How did he die?
He died because he was very old.
Do you feel like you must win this fight in order to remain in the UFC?
I never think about if the UFC lets me go because my job is to fight. I want to think only in the present. My present now is April 14. I don't want to see the future or the past. Sometimes a fighter loses, but if he gives 100 percent and people like his style, maybe the UFC doesn't let you go.
Why do you think your fight against Chris Weidman last year was so one-sided?
The opponent changed two weeks before the fight and I had a different strategy. He is a very good wrestler, an All-American, and I needed to train more in takedown defense. But it's no excuse. He won because he had a great strategy and I lost because my defense wasn't very good.
What did you think Stann's performance in his last fight against Chael Sonnen?
I watched every one of Brian's fights. Chael Sonnen had a very good strategy and Stann had an awful performance. Maybe because he's not very good at jiu-jitsu or wrestling, but every fight is different. I don't want to think on April 14 about the Stann that fought Sonnen. I want to think about my job and I want to strike with Brian Stann. If it goes to the floor, I'm very happy because I know I'm better than him in jiu-jitsu. I train a lot in jiu-jitsu. I never use my jiu-jitsu in the UFC because I like striking. I train jiu-jitsu a lot at American Top Team. I'm a black belt and I have trained for six years in Brazil and two years at American Top Team only with black belts.
Stann said recently that he expects to face a more elusive version of yourself on April 14. What do you make of that?
I want to strike with Brian Stann, but every fight is different. Maybe he wants to go to the floor or maybe I want to use my jiu-jitsu. But my style is striking, and I want to strike with Brian Stann.
Do you have a lot of friends and family attending the fight since your home country of Italy is so close to Sweden?
Only my uncle and my best friend. My wife and mom don't watch me live, only television.
Why not live?
(Laughs) Because I'm my mom's son and she's afraid. It's normal. Italian mothers are very protective. If you have a little injury or sick, she thinks you died. It's crazy.
Do you think you will suffer from cage rust on Saturday considering you haven't fought in over a year?
I haven't been very lucky over the years, so I am used to this. Every time I have a fight, there's always something happening, like the loss of my father or my knee injury, so I'm used to this.
Would you ever consider going back to boxing?
I'm done with boxing. I train boxing a lot because I love to box because it was my first sport, but I only focus on MMA training.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta told us recently that they are hoping to put on an event in Italy in the near future. How popular is the sport there right now?
The UFC is very, very popular now in Italy. Every time I walk on the street, people recognize me and talk about the next fight. I would be very happy if the UFC came to Italy. It would be very exciting.
Do you look at a situation like Alexander Gustafsson headlining this card in Sweden and think that if you go on a winning streak you could maybe headline an event in Italy?
Yes, that's my dream. It's possible; it depends on me. If I do a good job now for the UFC, I could maybe be in the main event.