Elizeu Zaleski headlines the preliminary portion of UFC on FOX 25 against Lyman Good, and that's more than he ever dreamed about before starting his mixed martial arts career.
Born in a small town called Francisco Beltrao in Parana, Brazil, Zaleski had to make important decisions early in his life. When his parents split, he went to live with his mother in the big city. Four years later, though, he decided to move to the countryside and live with his father Irineu dos Santos on his farm.
Dos Santos had corn and soybean plantations, but his specialty were pigs and milk cows. The 6-year-old kid, a future UFC welterweight, worked hard every day.
"Life is hard in the countryside,” Zaleski tells MMA Fighting. "We woke up at 6 a.m. to get milk from the cows and take them out to pasture, and then we dealt with pigs and cleaned everything. We were done by 10, and then we would do anything else that had to be done, like fixing fences or something else that was broken."
After a quick lunch, Zaleski would get a bus at noon and go to school. He was back at home six hours later, but still had work left to be done.
"There was no weekend or anything like that,” he says. "We worked from Monday to Monday, until 10 p.m.”
Back in those days, Zaleski played capoeira for fun. "It was just a hobby,” he says. It started to change a few years later.
"I only trained capoeira, but people realized my potential when I started training other martial arts,” he says. "I worked hard until the day I decided to leave Francisco Beltrao to see what the fight world had for me."
Zaleski loved watching Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua beat people up in the PRIDE ring, but he wasn't surprised when his father disapproved of his idea to leave the farm in order to train in Curitiba, where those fighters started their careers, and become a professional MMA fighter.
"He never liked (MMA), actually,” Zaleski says with a laugh. "He only started supporting me recently. He always preferred working on his farm. He didn’t support me that much. He wasn’t happy that I was leaving. Every father wants to have his sons always around him to work, do their things, but at that time it wasn’t good for me anymore. That’s not what he wanted, but that’s what I needed to do."
With his son competing in the big leagues now, dos Santos can’t help but give him some advice as well.
"He gives me opinions in everything now, like every father,” Zaleski says with a laugh. "He tells me how he used to do when he fought people back in the day, things like that. He’s amazing."
Weeks after visiting Las Vegas for the UFC Athlete Retreat, an experience Zaleski says is “impossible to describe in words, traveling to a place I only saw in movies,” the welterweight talent flew to Long Island to face former Bellator champion Lyman Good.
"I’m thrilled to finally be back,” says Zaleski, who hasn’t fought since October, when he scored his second UFC win in a row against 41-fight veteran Keita Nakamura. "Especially to be fighting in New York against a tough opponent. That excites me.”
Zaleski says Good is a tough opponent, but he had to Google his name when the UFC reached out with the offer.
"I didn’t know him before, only knew when they offered me the fight,” he admits. "I always have to be prepared for everything. I’m not ranked yet, so I have to expect tough opponents to be tested and one day fight a top 15. It’s an interesting fight, a tough opponent, a striker. The better the opponent, the better I fight."
"He’s a striker, likes to work in the clinch, close to the cage, but he’s average overall,” he adds. "There’s nothing that will surprise me because I prepared for this."