RIO DE JANEIRO -- July is a busy month for Nova Uniao in the UFC, one which gives the gym a chance to bounce back from a rough start in 2016.
The team that once held multiple UFC and Bellator titles has struggled inside the Octagon in the first six months of 2016, scoring only one win in eight fights. But next week, four Nova Uniao fighters will enter the UFC cage in three days, and they know that a win is important to bring the team’s name back to the top.
At July 7’s UFC Fight Night 90, Dileno Lopes faces Anthony Birchak. The next night, at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale, Fernando Bruno also attempts to score his first UFC win versus Gray Maynard, while Claudia Gadelha headlines the card versus strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. At the historic UFC 200, 24 hours later, Jose Aldo looks to become the interim featherweight champion when he rematches Frankie Edgar.
"(My win is important) not only for (Aldo), but for the entire Nova Uniao team," Gadelha said during a media day in Rio de Janeiro. "We’re going through a rough patch. We need to win again. We have this duty in our hands to bring the wins to Nova Uniao again.
"It’s a rough patch. There were times when we had three world titles while other teams had none. Today, Kings MMA has one, but (recently) had two. The sport goes through an evolution process, starting a new era. You can see how many belts changed hands. MMA is growing a lot and sometimes one team has the power, and then it changes to other team."
While Gadelha thinks that a win over Jedrzejczyk would give Aldo extra confidence while he prepares to face Edgar the night after, the former featherweight champion tries not to think about what a win at UFC 200 would do to the rest of his team.
"I wouldn’t say it’s a responsibility. Claudia and I are fighting for the belt, but I try to forget about it," Aldo said. "First of all, I focus on myself. After we win, we’ll think about how that will affect (the team). We train hard. I see how hard she’s training every day, and I know how hard I’m training, and I’m sure we will win."
Aldo doesn’t think anything is wrong with his team, but believes that the new Nova Uniao training center that head coach Andre Pederneiras is building in Rio de Janeiro will result in a positive effect in his teammate’s performances.
"I think it’s only a phase," Aldo said. "‘Dede’ is doing an excellent job and changing things. Thank God they are building a new training center that will help us maintain that. We have excellent fighters, new guys that will become champions too. Everybody works hard and dedicates because they know the risks. Everything that happened is a learning experience for everyone, not only for us."
"I can’t explain that," Dileno Lopes said of Nova Uniao’s 1-7 run in the UFC in 2016. "We train hard every day together, but anything can happen in a fight. We will bounce back and bring more wins. ‘Dede’ is investing a lot in training, so I believe in God that we will turn this around and become stronger again. New coaches are coming, new training, and we will bounce back."
Gadelha also expects the new training center to change things for the better, but says that the team has changed the way they see the sport.
"The new training center will change a lot," Gadelha said. "We needed this new space with more structure. And the coaches are working more specifically. For an example, I’m going to fight Joanna, and everybody is focused on me fighting Joanna. It’s not ‘Claudinha’ against anyone. It’s something specific for her. The same thing with Aldo and Frankie Edgar. That will give us a better results.
"Nova Uniao is ready for this new era," she continued. "We have our minds open to learn and innovate. You can’t fight the same way forever. We opened our minds for new things so we can follow the evolution of the sport."
Bruno, who faces a veteran in Maynard in the biggest fight of his career in Las Vegas, believes that the team’s run in the 2016 shows that the sport is more competitive now, and expects Nova Uniao to show "there’s no crisis" by winning two UFC belts in July.
However, "Acougueiro" believes that recent setbacks have taught Nova Uniao fighters a lesson.
"You have to learn lessons from wins and losses," Bruno said. "If you don’t learn anything from what happens to us, rights and wrongs… A punch didn’t work, so let’s train to make it right. The team has to evolve. If something happens in a fight and the athlete or the coach doesn’t see it, that’s wrong.
"Our training is more specific now," he continued. "If they are being more professional outside of Brazil, the athlete and the team have to focus on that, too. Train everything, jiu-jitsu to boxing, to grow as a team."
For Bruno, a lightweight runner-up at the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil in 2015, Nova Uniao -- and other teams, too -- lacked something in training, but coach Andre Pederneiras has already fixed it.
"Commitment. That’s it," Bruno said. "Not only here, but in the UFC as a whole. In the past, not training jiu-jitsu was a big mistake. ‘Dede’ said that we have to train everything. I think we were lacking (commitment), yes. ‘Dede’ is always fixing everything here."