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Diego Brandao opens up about chaotic fight in Dagestan

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Gallery Photo: UFC Fight Night 46 Ultimate Media & Fan Day photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Fight Nights Global 73 main event went viral, but not for a good reason.

Diego Brandao was fighting Akhmet Aliev in a three-round lightweight bout in Dagestan on Monday, but an illegal headbutt started a chaotic series of events that led to a technical knockout loss against the Brazilian for leaving the cage.

In his first interview since the fight, Brandao tells MMA Fighting what happened before, during and after his first post-UFC defeat.

"I don’t regret anything,” Brandao said. "My family and team are by my side. It’s tough to please everyone. I apologize to my fans in Brazil, United States and Dagestan, those who paid to watch the fight. I already asked for a rematch, I want to prove I’m better than him. Akhmet Aliev knows I’m better than him."

"Everything was going the way I planned,” he added. "That was my strategy. I almost pulled a Nick Diaz and lay on the ground to see what he would do. But they are throwing bottles at me? I’m out of here."

Brandao fought once before in Dagestan, when he submitted Murad Machaev in January, so he knew exactly what could happen this time. After beating Machaev, Brandao says he had to wait hours in the arena until everyone left, and then go back to the hotel protected by the police.

"Russians don’t play around,” he said. "They said they would rip my head off and things like that, and when I responded they got mad at me. I had 20 bodyguards and three armored cars protecting me all week. It was intense.”

Coming off back-to-back victories over Russian fighters under the FNG banner, Brandao’s fight with Aliev was the last in his contract with the promotion. In the second round, though, a controversial exchange of illegal blows led to the end of the contest.

"He headbutt me and the referee told him to stop, and he throws three punches at me? What if that punch knocks me out?” Brandao said. "I did a hip escape and threw an upkick at him. I wanted to catch him, but hit his neck. That was a mistake I made, but I wanted to protect myself too. And he eventually came out with the victory.”

As of the claims that Brandao bit Aliev’s ear before the headbutt, the Brazilian says it’s not true.

"That’s what (Aliev) says,” he said. "I was going for the armbar and started to talk trash at him, saying I’d catch him, and he started to yell that I was biting his ear, that I removed the mouthpiece to bit him. Bullsh*t. The mouthpiece never left my mouth. That’s his excuse for headbutting me.”

When the referee separated them, fans started to throw things inside the cage, including bottles, and Brandao realized it was not safe for him to stay there anymore.

"The fight started to get dirty and the referee had no control,” Brandao said. "Akhmet Aliev asked the crowd to stop throwing things into the cage and couldn’t control them, so I decided to get the hell out of there. They were throwing so many bottles at us. Khabib’s father, who's the man in Dagestan, said ‘Diego was right to leave the cage. He shouldn’t have jumped, I don’t agree with it, but staying there wasn’t safe.’ Khabib's father told me that."

It wasn’t safe inside the cage, but neither outside of it.

"Leaving the arena was scary,” Brandao said. "My corners were hit with bottles, and that pissed me off. I wanted to catch the guy that threw it, but they convinced me to return to the cage to restart the fight, but no one could control the crowd. They hit a judge with a bottle, too. It’s crazy over there. Imagine if I knocked Aliev out? They would kill me."

"Russians always try to play mental games with you,” he continued. "They don’t help you cut weight, they take forever to give you money to buy food, so that starts to mess you up. But that was my third time fighting there so I was adapted to this war. That’s not an excuse for leaving the cage, but there was a brawl out there, people with guns. Rasul Mirzaev was shot three times but didn’t die only because he’s an athlete. He’s a Russian and he was shot, so what are they going to do with me?

"No one wants to fight in Dagestan, but I went over there and did my job. No one knows how hard it is to fight in The Ultimate Fighter house, no one knows how it is to fight Conor McGregor in Dublin, in front of the Irish fans. I was born for big fights. I don’t feel the pressure. Akhmet Aliev is nowhere near Dennis Bermudez’s level. Akhmet Aliev is nowhere near Conor McGregor’s level. He’s not even close to Fernandinho Vieira’s level, one of the toughest guys I’ve ever fought in Manaus."

The Jackson-Wink fighter says his team doesn’t want him to ever fight in Russia again, but Brandao, who says he was offered a deal by Professional Fighters League, is interested in fighting for Fight Nights Global again.

"I’ll never make this kind of money in the UFC,” said Brandao, revealing that he makes six figures per fight in FNG. "I can’t stop now because of these people. Fight Nights only has to pick a better place for me to fight. I apologize to the fans who wanted to see a fight, but I couldn’t continue. It was crazy. It might look kind of funny in the video, me jumping the cage. Some people laugh at it, others say it’s insane, but I know what I was doing. I’m not happy with the result either.

"I want to go back to the UFC and fight the best the way I am now, healthy and strong. I just hope Fight Nights continue its works. My manager already contacted them asking what their plans are. This was the last fight of my contract and we’ll see if we will sign a new one. PFL starts in January, and they have a spot for me there, but I think I’ll continue at Fight Nights."

Brandao now plans to go back to the featherweight division after a three-fight run in Russia, but considers one last lightweight bout if Aliev is the opponent.

"Fighting in Russia is tougher, so that’s better for me because it prepares me for the day I return to the UFC,” Brandao said. "I want to fight one more time at lightweight, but only against Akhmet Aliev. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll go back to 145."