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Back in action at UFC Fresno, Braga Neto thought he’d never fight again

Antonio Braga Neto (GC)
Braga Neto hasn't competed in the UFC since 2014.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Antonio Braga Neto trained for a MMA fight for the first time since 2015, but doesn’t believe in ring rust.

The jiu-jitsu ace is finally scheduled to return to the Octagon at UFC Fresno, taking on undefeated Trevin Giles Saturday night. He told MMA Fighting that his body “responded well to training” after so many years away from the game.

“It definitely didn’t look like I spent so much time sidelined,” said Neto, who won a gold medal at jiu-jitsu tournament Gracie Pro back in July. "I felt no difference in my performance. It’s so natural to me. It’s like when you wake up in the morning and start walking. You don’t have to think ‘I need to walk,’ you just walk. Fighting is like that for me, it’s so natural it’s easy. It’s so easy."

Neto hasn’t fought since June 2014, when he lost a close split decision to Clint Hester. His last UFC win was a first-round submission in his Octagon debut, tapping Anthony Smith quickly in June 2013.

"I miss winning in MMA, no doubt about it,” he said. "Time goes by and you can’t believe it. I had injuries, I blinked, and years have passed. I’m 30 now and fighting is what I want the most in my life.”

Neto opened up about his years away from the sport in a lengthy interview with MMA Fighting in July, days before his return at Gracie Pro, and admits that he thought he would never come back to the UFC.

"Not only once, but many times,” he said. "My first knee injury, in 2012, was during TUF Brazil 1. I had beaten (Cezar Ferreira) ‘Mutante' and Maiquel Falcao in MMA. I tried out for TUF Brazil and wasn’t approved. I fought months later and won, but blew my knee in the fight. I was in bed, I couldn’t even walk, and I watched ‘Mutante' win the Ultimate Fighter and Maiquel Falcao win in Bellator. That’s one of the first times that I started to question if I was ever coming back. But God has a plan for everything.”

The 30-year-old grappler will face tough competition as he return to the Octagon Saturday. Giles, also known as “The Problem”, is a 10-0 middleweight prospect who stopped James Bothnovic in his first UFC appearance last July, and Neto loves the pairing.

"These match-ups prove why the UFC is the greatest promotion in the world,” he said. "They don’t think about records or experiences. We are two athletes that go for the finish the entire time, and that’s what the UFC and fans want to see. We will fight to win as quick as possible.”

Giles is undefeated in MMA, but does that mean something?

"Being undefeated doesn’t mean that much,” Neto responds. "In my opinion, both of my losses were controversial decisions. No one has ever beaten me, finished me, so being undefeated means nothing. I’ve watched some of his fights and honestly I’m not that impressed with his striking and grappling. I feel prepared to fight him anywhere."

With seven submission victories in nine MMA wins, Neto doesn’t even try to pretend he’s not looking to take the fight to the ground.

"Everyone who fights a jiu-jitsu world champion will try to keep it standing and avoid my comfort zone,” Neto said, "but we will go to the ground eventually and my jiu-jitsu will prevail. There’s no escape.

"I train jiu-jitsu since I was 4 years old, I made my MMA debut when I was 18. I won my first world title as a black belt in jiu-jitsu when I already had six MMA fights, so I always picture myself going to the ground and getting the submission. A kimura, kneebar, guillotine, armbar, that’s what I think when I’m fighting. We will stand and trade until it’s time to go to the ground and show that my jiu-jitsu is above average."

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