Guilherme Vasconcelos was Chael Sonnen’s last pick on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3, but the scenario changed as soon as the fighters entered the house.
Vasconcelos, who submitted Markus Perez in the preliminary round of the reality show earlier this year, became one of Sonnen’s closest friends in there. Not every fighter on the cast could speak English, so "Bomba" used that as an advantage.
He failed to advance to the semifinals after losing a decision to Ricardo Abreu, but that didn’t change Sonnen’s beliefs in him.
Sonnen coached the show opposite to Wanderlei Silva, and he invited Vasconcelos to train with him in the United States after the show. The Minas Gerais native took the opportunity, and it paid off. After weeks of training with Sonnen in the Portland, he got a call from the UFC to fight Luke Zachrich at UFC 175.
"It happened naturally," Vasconcelos told MMAFighting.com. "I was one of the only fighters that could speak English on the show, so we spoke all the time."
"Sonnen invited me to live at his house and train with him for three months. He’s very important in my life and in my career," he said. "He believed in me so much he called Dana White and asked him a personal favor. There’s more at stake because of it. I want to prove he was right for believing in me."
Vasconcelos makes his UFC debut after only four professional fights, but he won’t be able to have Sonnen on his corner on Saturday night.
"I was really sad with everything that happened to him," he said of the drug test failures. "He’s the bad guy that is actually a good guy. He’s a big friend, and I’m really sad to see this happen to him.
"I spoke with him before I came to Las Vegas and asked him how he was. He said ‘you have to do one thing to make me feel good: go there and beat him up for 15 minutes. I will be watching you.’ That’s what he wants, that’s what I’m going to do.
"I’m in my best shape physically and mentally. I will do my best in there to represent Brazil. I will show that they are right in believing in me. TUF is in the past. It was a great opportunity for me, and I left there a whole new fighter, and I’m showing it in this fight. You can expect some striking, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, everything. I’m well prepared wherever the fight goes."
Zachrich lost to Caio Magalhaes in his UFC debut in April, but has more experience than Vasconcelos. However, Sonnen’s protégé doesn’t think that having more MMA fights will help Zachrich win on Saturday night.
"He has more fights than me, but that doesn’t matter. When the cage closes and we’re alone in there, getting punched in the face changes everything," he said. "I’m sure his experience won’t count. I know what he does well, but when he thinks I’m going to punch him, I will take him down. When he thinks I’m going for the takedown, I will punch him."