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Luigi Vendramini prepared to ‘die in the Octagon’ to be the best

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Luigi Vendramini (right) with former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt
@luigivendramini, Instagram

If you’re wondering how a little known 22-year-old with just eight pro bouts under his belt got the short-notice call to face streaking welterweight Elizeu Zaleski, don’t worry: The man himself has been caught off-guard by the whole situation.

Luigi Vendramini didn’t even realize he was on the UFC’s radar when his agent called him last Friday to tell him that the world’s largest MMA promotion wanted him at the Ginasio do Ibirapuera this Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil for a bout with Zaleski. It had been only a week since Vendramini’s last fight, a first-round knockout of Lucas Eurico at a show in Brasilia.

The matchmakers needed Vendramini to come through as a replacement for an injured Belal Muhammad and suffice to say, it was an emotional moment when Vendramini realized he was officially part of the UFC roster.

“I got the call from my agent Jason House on Friday,” Vendramini told MMA Fighting via e-mail. “I cried when I got the call, and everyone has been very emotional and supportive. Everyone is very happy for me. This has been a decade in the making.

“For 10 years I’ve sacrificed everything to reach this dream of fighting in the UFC, and everyone around me has seen me making those sacrifices. Now my dream has come true. I’m very happy, but this is just the beginning.”

A native of Brazil who also owns Italian and Swiss passports through his father and mother, respectively, Vendramini has fought exclusively in his South American home since going pro in April 2016. He’s racked up eight wins in eight fights, four by knockout and four by submission, and his prowess led to him getting opportunities to train over in the United States.

Recently, he stopped by the Team Alpha Male gym in Sacramento, Calif., where he got to work with the likes of former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt as well as one of the fighters he looks up to the most, Urijah Faber.

“Team Alpha Male is the best team in the world — the best,” Vendramini said. “I love Team Alpha Male. I decided to train there when I was preparing for a fight in America. I haven’t been there for about three months though; I’ve been in Brazil staying ready for my next fight.”

Vendramini began his martial arts training in earnest when he was 12 years old when he was, in his words, “overweight”. His father Augusto is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and he put Vendramini on the path to becoming a fighter, remaining his trainer to this day. Augusto is known as “Bola” (ball), while Vendramini is occasionally referred to as “Bolinha” (little ball), though he prefers to be called “The Italian Stallion” in honor of his father’s heritage and and his Rocky Balboa-like intensity in the gym.

Like the famous fictional boxer, Vendramini’s plan is to go all-out on Saturday in an attempt to upset Zaleski, who has won five straight fights in the UFC’s deep welterweight division. This will be Vendramini’s first fight at 170 pounds, a move that he calls “a small price to pay” if it meant a ticket to the big show.

“My fight style is aggressive. I never stop,” said Vendramini. “I’ll die in the Octagon. This isn’t just a sport to me — this has been my dream for the past decade. I want to be the best, and I’ll kill in the Octagon to reach my dreams.”