Gabriel Gonzaga will make his boxing debut in October, but he’s not in it for money or anything like that.
The one-time UFC heavyweight title contender will take on Alando Pugh in a four-round boxing match at New England’s Future 4 event in Worcester, Mass., on Oct. 28, and he explained to MMA Fighting why he decided to step into the squared circle a year after announcing his retirement from mixed martial arts in September 2016.
When “Napao” competed in MMA for the last time, he said he would only return to a cage if paid at least $100,000. Yet, he’s not making anywhere near that number in this boxing match.
“My boxing coach always wanted me to fight something, and I’m doing it for the challenge,” Gonzaga said. “Financially, it’s pretty much zero. It doesn’t even pay the medical costs, but I’m doing it because I want to. Unlike (Conor) McGregor, who said it was for the challenge, but lost and made 100 million dollars, I wanted to fight something, just like I do when I compete in jiu-jitsu and fought MMA.”
Gonzaga has yet to be granted a boxing license to compete next month, but doesn’t expect it to be an issue. With a 0-0 record in boxing and a 17-11 professional record in mixed martial arts (he was 5-5 in his second run in the UFC), Napao says he has “no plans to start a career in boxing.”
“Boxing is a high-level sport, and I’m fighting someone at my level,” he said. "I’ve never boxed in my life. I’ve trained with coach ‘Cebola’ when I lived in Sao Paulo, and now I’m training for a new challenge. I’m training with the same team, but with some boxing sparring. It’s complete different from MMA, and I wanted to do something different.”
“My obligation to win is the same that McGregor had: none,” he continued, mentioning McGregor’s recent bout with Floyd Mayweather. “It’s my first time in the sport, but the difference is that I’m going against someone at my level instead of fighting the best in the world — or I wouldn’t last one round because it’s at heavyweight. I have a good level of boxing, but not to challenge a boxing champion.”
McGregor stepped into the boxing ring for the first time against one of the best ever in August, a 49-0 veteran of the sport in Mayweather, but Gonzaga’s opponent’s record is far from “Money’s" achievements in the sport.
Pugh, who turns 35 years old in November, has a 1-10-1 professional boxing record with nine losses by KO. His only victory came in Feb. 2014, when he knocked out Nick Cyr.
“Boxing records are complicated,” Gonzaga said. “It’s completely different than the UFC. You can have 12 fights and no wins, but who did he fight, how tough were those fights? It’s different. Some people fight to build records and make money so they only fight bad fighters, but others fight because they want to, so they fight better opponents.”
In fact, eight of the 10 boxers that defeated Pugh are still undefeated in the sport.
“Numbers can’t be taken 100 percent into consideration,” the Brazilian said.
The news of Gonzaga’s boxing debut caught the MMA world by surprise, and many people criticized the heavyweight’s decision to make a transition to the squared circle.
A jiu-jitsu specialist, Napao has proved throughout his mixed martial arts career that he has finishing power, but has suffered four knockouts defeats over the past eight bouts.
“Many people say things even though they don’t know what they are talking about,” Gonzaga said of the criticism, “Like when many people said McGregor had a chance to win — and still say that he was winning the fight, that he would win. Fans are emotive and have never experienced this, so I can’t judge and say they are wrong or not.
“I don’t pay attention to what people say, especially those who don’t know what they are talking about.”