One of the best strikers in the world is getting ready to make his MMA debut.
Saulo Cavalari, a former GLORY light heavyweight champion who holds an impressive 60-5 record with 49 knockouts in kickboxing, told MMA Fighting this week that he has started his transition to mixed martial arts.
Cavalari moved to Curitiba, Brazil to train at the Gile Ribeiro gym, and he now is eyeing a late-2017 debut in the sport. But that doesn’t mean he’s done competing in kickboxing.
"I’m thinking about making my debut by the end of the year,” Cavalari told MMA Fighting. "Until then, I still have a contract with GLORY and I’ll fight to become champion again."
Cavalari won the GLORY light heavyweight title with a win over Zack Mwekassa at Dynamite 1, a co-promotion between Bellator and GLORY, in Sept. 2015. After losing the belt to Artem Vakhitov six months later, the Brazilian earned another shot at the gold, but lost via second-round TKO.
"I always had this dream of becoming a two-time world champion,” Cavalari said. "I lost this fight now and thought maybe it’s time to take risks in a different sport, become world champion in kickboxing and MMA. That motivated me to train MMA and compete in this new sport.”
The Brazilian striker, who will compete at 205 pounds in MMA, considered making a transition to the cages in 2013, but had to postpone his plans to take care of his family.
"I’ve competed in some jiu-jitsu tournaments here in Curitiba three years ago, won some and lost some,” Cavalari said. "I was starting this MMA project in 2013, but my mother passed away. I was coming off a loss in Japan, in kickboxing, and thought about starting in MMA, but I had to step away to take care of my mother. When I came back, GLORY was interested in signing me, so I signed with them and became champion. I lost the belt now, unfortunately, but that gave me this desire and motivation to start in a new sport.
"When I started training kickboxing, most of my friends moved to MMA, started training jiu-jitsu, but I stayed in kickboxing and became a world champion. I love kickboxing, but I always wanted more challenges. I’m a fighter and I want to challenge myself in different areas.”
It will be no surprise for Cavalari that anyone he faces in mixed martial arts will avoid trading punches and kicks with him, and that’s why he wants to be ready.
"Whoever I face, they will know I’m a striker and will go for takedowns,” Cavalari said, "so that’s why I’m working hard to be ready for this when I fight. I’m 27 years old and I’m as hungry as a kid, but mature as a grown man. I want to fight the best in MMA, but I have to be humble and know that I have to be ready for it. Step by step."
Cavalari still wants to regain the GLORY light heavyweight championship, but will do it while he prepares for his transition.
"You don’t win a belt overnight,” the Brazilian said. "I’m still training kickboxing, but I already started training to fight MMA in the near future. I always wanted to compete in MMA, but never had time to dedicate to a new sport, train jiu-jitsu. I can do that now, make this transition."
Cavalari's MMA debut is still up in the air, but his manager Stefano Sartori is already “flirting" with some promotions in Brazil. And as he prepares for his first bout, Cavalari looks up to two fellow strikers who had huge success in MMA rings and cages.
"I’m inspired by two athletes,” Cavalari said. "The first is Mirko Cro Cop, who was a great fighter, and (Alistair) Overeem. He was a great kickboxer, but stepped away from the sport to compete in MMA. I see how happy he is in MMA, and I want that for me as well. I had the opportunity to fight in the biggest promotions in kickboxing, and I want the same in MMA. I want to be like Overeem. But he didn't win the UFC belt, and I want that. I want to become the UFC champion."