Elizeu Zaleski returns to the Octagon in Portland against Keita Nakamura, and the fact that the Japanese welterweight has more fights on his record than Zaleski’s previous UFC opponents combined gives the Brazilian more confidence ahead of UFC Fight Night 96.
Nakamura enters a MMA bout for the 42nd time in more than a decade dedicated to the sport, and Zaleski explains why he performs better against veterans compared to young prospects.
"My opponent’s experience will be great for me in this fight," Zaleski told MMA Fighting. "I usually fight better and can impose my game when I’m fighting more experienced fighters. I focus better. I’m happy to be fighting in the biggest promotion in the world against such an experienced Japanese fighter."
"A veteran usually fights harder, sees the sport in a different way," he continued. "They don’t waste punches, so I have to be smarter and pay attention to the details in training so I fight better. I have everything to grow as a fighter taking fights like this one."
Zaleski signed with the UFC in 2015 as a ‘plan B’ in case Josh Koscheck couldn’t get his visa to Brazil to face Erick Silva, and had a four-fight knockout streak snapped by Nicolas Dalby when he finally made his Octagon debut.
A year later, the CM System talent finally scored his first UFC win with a "Fight of the Night" victory over Omari Akhmedov at UFC on FOX 19, and vows to be ready for anything Nakamura brings to the table at UFC Fight Night 96.
"Anything can happen. I’m a MMA fighter and I’m prepared for every situation," "Capoeira" said. "Whatever he brings to the table, it’s good for me. I’m ready for everything, and that makes the fight more interesting. We always prepare to win as quick as possible, but I hope the fights goes longer this time because I’m here to be tested. That’s the type of fight I like, so I hope he’s ready so we can put on a great fight for the promotion."
Born in Francisco Beltrao, a small town located 300 miles away from Curitiba, Brazil, the 29-year-old talent enjoys life as a UFC fighter.
"Many things have changed now that I’m in the UFC," he said. "People look me with different eyes now, they make sure to follow my steps, what I’m doing, where I’m training and all that. Aside from that, I have the opportunity to make more money and provide a better life to my family."
Competing in the Octagon was his ultimate dream since his early days in the sport, but many people didn’t think mixed martial arts would give him a good future, and that includes his parents and family members.
"It’s always hard at first," Zaleski said. "Few people really believe in you and in your work, but if you believe in yourself, that makes the difference. It’s nice to have the support of your parents and all that, but that means nothing if you don’t believe in yourself and work hard. They only truly believed I’d succeed when I moved to Curitiba to train. Before that, only my friends from capoeira believed in me.
"It went from my neighborhood to Curitiba to the world. I’m grateful to my team and coaches, who always supported me and gave me strength so I would never give up. It feels great to be able to represent my family and my country overseas. That motivates me to reach for the top of the UFC."