Paulo Borrachinha will take on Johny Hendricks at UFC’s return to Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4, but that wasn’t his initial plan.
The undefeated middleweight prospect was offered a fight with fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort, and quickly accepted it. “The Phenom” turned it down, though, as Anderson Silva would be the only Brazilian he would accept to fight at this moment. With Hendricks booked as his next foe at UFC 217, Borrachinha compares both match-ups.
"I like this fight,” Borrachinha told MMA Fighting. "I think Johny Hendricks is a tougher challenge. He’s a former champion… I believe it will be a great fight. I will knock him out.”
Hendricks has only won one of his last five UFC bouts, including a pair of knockout losses to Tim Boetsch and Stephen Thompson, while Belfort had his hands raised in only two of his last six, being stopped in all os his losses.
"I think that he’s physically better than Vitor now,” Borrachinha said of Hendricks, explaining why he’s tougher than the Brazilian. "He has good takedowns, has a good wrestling, so that makes him a more dangerous fighter."
In fact, his desire to face “The Phenom” wasn’t well received by the Brazilian fans. With a perfect 10-0 professional record, with only one win outside the opening round, Borrachinha was criticized for calling out a 40-year-old veteran.
"I truly don’t care about fans’ opinions, the good or bad ones,” Borrachinha responds. "Fans are too biased, sometimes they like a fighter and will defend him for the rest of their lives no matter what happens, if he’s doing well or not. I don't take people’s opinions into consideration because many of them don’t know how fights works.
"Many of them don’t even know where Vitor is in the rankings right now. I saw people saying ‘you're calling Vitor out, you should call out (Yoel) Romero or (Michael) Bisping because they are in better shape now.’ They don’t know there’s a ranking, so I don’t care what they say. I do what I think is right and that’s it."
Borrachinha, who trained with “The Phenom" in 2015 in his gym in Rio de Janeiro and at Blackzilians, cites Belfort’s title fight with his own former teammate Anderson Silva as a reason why should be no problem for him to take this fight.
"I’m not Vitor’s friend, I have no relationship with him and never actually wanted it,” he said. "When I trained with him it wasn’t for friendship or anything like that. He called me and paid me to help him. It’s not like I didn’t want to be friends, but it simply didn’t happen. It was just professional. There’s no reason for him to be upset. If he was my friend I’d think twice about it, but he’s just another fighter ranked in the division that would help me move up the ranking. It’s simple."
With Belfort out of the horizon for now, Borrachinha has moved his camp to Arizona to focus on his wrestling, training with Eric Albarracin.
"He’s amazing,” said the Brazilian middleweight, who struggled in the takedown department in the first round against Oluwale Bamgbose at UFC 212. "He’s helping me a lot. I’m evolving a lot as an athlete and a MMA fighter. I’m learning a lot of things here. It will be great for my career.”
With nine first-round knockouts under his belt, Borrachinha sees Hendricks going down the same way at UFC 217.
"I see myself knocking him out,” he predicts. "I don’t think he gets past (the first round), no. I’ll probably enter the top 15 if I win this fight, so this is the most biggest fight of my life."