Nicolau was suspended one year by USADA after testing positive for anastrozole in an out-of-competition test prior to his UFC Sao Paulo bout with Ulka Sasaki in Nov. 2016. Now he returns to action at Saturday’s UFC 219 in Las Vegas against Louis Smolka.
Forced to stay away from the game for 12 months, the Belo Horizonte native made sure to be active in the gym and in competition before his official return to the Octagon at the T-Mobile Arena.
“I’ve done everything I could this year to stay active so that wouldn’t be an issue when I returned,” Nicolau told MMA Fighting. “This doping case was a tough experience I had to deal with, difficult times that made me stronger. I never stopped training a single day during my suspension. I hadn’t competed in jiu-jitsu since I was a blue belt, and I came back to compete for the first time as a black belt and I got good results.”
Nicolau also helped two fighters prepare for upcoming MMA bouts. He went to New Jersey to spar with Marlon Moraes ahead of his UFC 212 clash with Raphael Assuncao in June, and trained with Saul Almeida prior to his CES title fight in August.
“I stayed active, trying to evolve in every area,” he said. “I went to New Jersey to train wrestling, so this time off was good for me because I had a chance to evolve as a man and as a martial artist. I’m hungry to come back, anxious to fight.”
The Brazilian flyweight blames a tainted supplement for his positive test, and has changed a few things to prevent that from happening again.
“I never took anything other than what the doctor told me to, but after that I started working with Dr. Felipe Pereira, a specialist in sports medicine,” Nicolau said. “He understands a lot about performance, and he started to work with me right after I tested positive. Who wants to work with someone that just failed a drug test? He embraced me and worked with me, so meeting him was one of the positive effects to all this.”
Nicolau’s opponent in his return at UFC 219 is ranked in the top 15 of the flyweight division, but has his back against the wall after three straight losses to Brandon Moreno, Ray Borg and Tim Elliott.
“I was ranked after my win over Moraga, so this is the type of fight that I wanted, someone ranked,” Nicolau said of Smolka. “I came here to fight the best. The UFC believes in my potential and is once again giving me a good opportunity to show the world why I’m here.”
Smolka has fought some of the best talent in the division since joining the company in 2014, but dealing with a long losing skid can change the way you fight.
“I try not to think about that because it depends on each person’s mindset,” Nicolau said. “That can either motivate him to come back hungrier, or get him off balance. That can be either positive or negative. I’ve worked my weapons to fight him, I’ve studied his weak and strong points. I focus on what I have to do in order to win this fight.
“I believe that this win will put me back in the ranking, but that’s not my biggest concern. I’m focused on going there and defeating Smolka to show the world what I can do.”
Looking to extend his MMA record to 13-1-1, Nicolau believes he has an advantage over Smolka everywhere the fight goes.
“I see many areas where I can win this fight, on the ground and on the feet,” Nicolau said. “We’ll see which openings he will give me. I have all the weapons to defeat him.”