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Chris Wilson, Keith Wisniewski Looking for Return to UFC Spotlight

Chris Wilson has been out of action for more than 18 months, ever since the UFC cut him after a rough 1-3 stretch. The welterweight returns to the cage Saturday – 5,000 miles from his home in Brazil.

Wilson (14-5) fights Keith Wisniewski (26-12-1) in the main event of a show for the Indiana-based Hoosier Fight Club, a regional promotion putting on just its seventh card – an event that also features UFC veterans Forrest Petz and John Kolosci.

But don't think for a second Wilson got his UFC pink slip and sat on the couch for a year and a half in a funk. He's been plenty busy.

After the UFC let him go, he took a couple of gigs teaching English in Brazil – which he said made training difficult. And even though he still wanted to fight, he had four fights fall through.

"There aren't really too many people calling me up in Brazil to fight in regional shows in the U.S.," Wilson told MMA Fighting. "Several times, I considered taking a fight here in Brazil – but the risk of injury, loss of work pay, lack of international exposure and bad pay all made me prefer opportunities in the U.S. every time they came up. The problem is, they all fell through."

But Wilson still found time to hone his game the last 18 months – and "hone" might be an understatement. He spent time in Rio de Janeiro training with some of the world's best fighters.

"In Rio, I trained with Rodrigo and Rogerio Nogueira, Junior dos Santos, Rafael Cavalcante and any guests that came through – like Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, and several others," Wilson said.

Once back in his Brazilian "hometown" of Ribeirao Preto, he went to work almost exclusively on his ground game, training with Nova Uniao black belts under Robson Moura.

"I train with Andre Ushirobira and Jean Rotondaro on a regular basis, and their skill level is off the charts," Wilson said. "(With) Robson, ... it's exciting to get tied in knots by a seven-time world champion 125-pounder. You know a guy has great technique when everyone in the class outweighs the instructors by 15-30 pounds and they still handle everyone. That's what those guys do every day. It's really impressive and it makes me feel fortunate to train under them."

Wilson is hoping a strong showing against Wisniewski will put him back on the map so he can make MMA a career again – even if it's not with the UFC.

Calling his four-fight stint in the UFC "an embarrassment" and "a terrible run," Wilson knows MMA is very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport.

"I have no issue with which promotion I fight under," Wilson said. "I do, however, wish that my pay didn't drop so drastically. After all, UFC vets have often done more in the sport than a loss indicates. But as we all know, you're only as good as your last fight in this sport. My last fight was terrible."

And until he can prove himself again, he knows his fighting career will have to be balanced with his day jobs in Brazil.

"Unfortunately, I no longer only fight for a living," Wilson said. "Until I can get back to that, I have to couple training and working. Soon I hope to travel and train and help with people's fight camps and do all the things I was doing before. Right now though, I just need to focus on breaking a very tough Keith Wisniewski."

Wisniewski's MMA career arc has some similarities to Wilson's in that he's had some tastes of the big time and wants it again. His lone fight with the UFC came at UFC 56, a decision loss to Nick Thompson.

After that loss, he had four more in a row in a tough stretch that Wisniewski believes could have just as easily been 4-0 as 0-4. Current Strikeforce standout Jorge Masvidal beat him in a decision that Wisniewski believes he won. UFC vet Rory Markham beat him by TKO when their IFL semifinal fight was a draw and would have gone to overtime – had Wisniewski been able to continue. And he had split decision setbacks to Erik Oganov in Bodog Fight and an Art of War loss to Carlo Prater – whom he holds two wins over.

If those four fights went the other way, Wisniewski would be staring down the barrel of a potential 10-fight winning streak when he steps in the cage in his own backyard against Wilson, not six. A win over Wilson would be a nice feather in Wisniewski's cap, a cap that has some decent wins, including Jorge Santiago and, last year, Pete Spratt.

"I don't know if I would call it the biggest win of my career – but it would certainly be up there," Wisniewski said. "I would say looking back on the guys who have had the most success, the Santiago win – most people still have him in the Top 10 at 185. So that's a nice mark on my record. I have several others, like the Matt Lee, Noble, Steve Berger, two Carlo Prater wins – those are some pretty good wins. But he's definitely on par. He's a pretty legit fight, so a victory here would be in the top five in my career."

Wisniewski, like Wilson, had to take a day job to help pay the bills and support the gym he helped start with his brother Justin, Duneland Vale Tudo, in Northwest Indiana – a just-under-the-radar hotbed of MMA talent like UFC fighters Miguel Torres, Eddie Wineland, Stephan Bonnar and Darren Elkins.

Toiling at a union job as an ironworker, Wisniewski found balancing both careers to be a difficult task.

"I had a poor training camp for a few years in a row, I think," Wisniewski said. "Not horrible, but I think my level of preparation was below what I needed it to be (when the UFC signed me). I was working out of Local 395, and when I first started my apprenticeship I tried to focus more on working and less on fighting. It became a balance of when to take a fight versus when to work."

Would a win over Wilson be his ticket back to a major promotion like the UFC, Strikeforce or Bellator? Wisniewski thinks so, even though he says he is "probably the opposite of well-connected" in terms of getting his name out there with a big-time manager.

At just 29, Wisniewski has done plenty in the sport. He's had 40 fights. He's fought in the UFC. He's helped train the likes of Wineland and Elkins. He's beaten notable names. He's even had his elbow dislocated by a Shinya Aoki throw attempt – to which he has always said, "I can't hold it against him for doing his job."

Now he just wants one more crack.

"I think I'm on that point of being on the cusp of breaking back into the mainstream."

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