Diego Brandao and Brian Ortega were slated to meet in May of 2014, but the TUF 14 winner pulled out of the bout with an injury. Brandao returned to action just two months later, facing Conor McGregor on short notice in Ireland.
After that night, everything changed for the Brazilian.
Brandao, who trained at Jackson Wink for his first UFC bouts, returned to Brazil for a camp in Sao Paulo. It paid off, as he stopped Jimy Hettes and Katsunori Kikuno in the first round this year.
"I have that passion again. I lost it, had no desire to train or fight, but I got this passion again," said Brandao, who faces Ortega at UFC 195 in Las Vegas on Jan. 2. "I’m really happy with what I have accomplished in 2015. It was a great year for me. I felt comfortable fighting, and that got me more focused for my next fight. I trained as if he was the champion."
Ortega fought only once in 2015, defeating Thiago Tavares in one of the most exciting battles of the year, and Brandao is aware of the weapons he brings to the table.
"He’s a jiu-jitsu guy, so I went back to my jiu-jitsu training," Brandao said. "I’m a black belt from Manaus, that’s how I started training martial arts, and I want to prove that in this fight too. I want to put on a show. I don’t want a boring fight. I will be aggressive. That’s my fourth camp this year, and I have evolved a lot since my last fight.
"He doesn’t defend takedowns," he continued. "He challenged me to find out who has the best jiu-jitsu, so we’ll see. Nobody ever saw me using my jiu-jitsu except for the TUF finale. I was out, but still was able to get that arm. That proved my jiu-jitsu. But my goal is to beat him standing. I want to show I’m back.
"I want to win so fast he won’t be able to do anything with his jiu-jitsu. He has a good jiu-jitsu, a good game off his back, but I’m ready to counter everything he does. I will try to finish him in the first round, but I don’t know how he will react in the fight. I want to win as fast as possible."
Holding a 6-3 record inside the Octagon and ranked outside the top 15 of the featherweight division, Brandao wants to get closer to the top of the division in 2016.
"I have my goals, and I want a top 5 after this fight. I can’t pick anyone because I have Brian Ortega in front of me right now, but I want a top 5 after him," said Brandao, anxious to prove he’s a different fighter after losing to McGregor in Dublin.
"(McGregor) didn’t knock me out. Everybody knows I asked to stop the fight. I said ‘stop hitting me’. He didn’t knock me out. And that’s a fight I want for the future. Nobody knows what I went through in that camp, but I have nothing to say. I didn’t deserve the victory that night. I still have a lot to prove, but I’ll get there step by step."