Cezar Ferreira had his back against the wall in April after losing three of his last four fights, but a victory over Oluwale Bamgbose isn’t enough for the Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner to relax. "Mutante" returns to the Octagon Friday, facing Anthony Smith at TUF 23 Finale in Las Vegas, and still keeps in mind that he’s in a must-win situation.
"Pressure is always there, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose," Ferreira told MMA Fighting. "I kept working hard. I already forgot about that win. I fought a dangerous opponent, who never went three rounds before, and he gave me a tough fight. I’m in the best shape of my career now, healthy, and ready to do my best and win again. I’m going there to do my best, put on a great performance, and try to stop him from doing his strategy."
Smith, 27, enters his 37th MMA fight against "Mutante", and Ferreira knows he’s a dangerous opponent. Yet, the Brazilian plans on taking him to deep waters on Friday night.
"I think he’s a great fighter. If you’re in the UFC, you’re a great fighter," Ferreira said. "He trained hard to beat me, and he’s tough. I’m going there to control the fight and put him in an uncomfortable situation. I will take the fight where he doesn’t want to be. If he wants to stand with me, I’ll take him down. If he wants to grapple, I’ll make him strike.
"His best weapon is his striking, he’s a muay thai fighter, but I didn’t train focusing on what he wants to do. I have my strategy, but I’m free to do anything in there. I won’t wait for anything. Best defense is offense, and I will attack him in the right moment. It’s going to be an exciting fight, and I’m ready for him."
Entering his ninth UFC fight on July 8, Ferreira holds wins over some good names under the UFC banner, including Thiago Santos and Sergio Moraes, but that didn’t make him a fan favorite in Brazil. Yet, he still has to deal with criticism, especially after being part of Vitor Belfort’s team on TUF Brazil 1.
"Mutante" trained at Belfort’s gym before joining the reality show, and fans -- and some fighters, too -- wondered if he only entered the show thanks to his relationship with "The Phenom."
"I won’t please anyone even when I become champion," Ferreira said. "That’s normal in sports. A fighter is like a soccer team, there’s Team Vitor, and there’s Team Wanderlei, and sometimes they just don’t like you. But I have a dream, and I’m going after it.
"I couldn’t even throw a punch the first time I entered Vitor’s gym as a white belt," he continued. "People that don’t like him cheered against me on TUF, and I left the show as champion. They said I was in there because Vitor was the coach, and shut up all the critics by beating everybody. I left as the champion."
Ferreira beat Moraes to win the reality show, choked Santos in 47 seconds and then defeated Daniel Sarafian via decision in his first three UFC fights, but a 1-3 run in his next four fights brought criticism in Brazil.
"It did bother me at first," he said. "I love my country, but the Brazilian fans want you to fight for them and for your country, but criticize you when you lose. You saw Jose Aldo lose and everybody criticize him, and the same things happened with Anderson Silva. Why won’t they criticize me?
"History shows that the biggest winners had ups and downs. A true champion doesn’t let adversity stop you from chasing your dream. I had a complicated back surgery, it was hard for me to train. I couldn’t even sleep. I wasn’t in my best shape and kept fighting, and I’m ready to win again."