Christos Giagos had been waiting for a second shot at the UFC for a while, but it only came about in the wake of a couple of missed opportunities with another organization.
According to the 28-year-old lightweight, who will be kicking off his second run with the UFC on Saturday when he takes on Charles Oliveira in the preliminary headliner of UFC Sao Paulo, the Professional Fighters League was looking to recruit Giagos for their inaugural season. He had to decline as he was competing for Russia’s Absolut Championship Berkut promotion as recently as March, but the opportunity arose again last month when the league was searching to replace an injured fighter.
Giagos (15-6) was in consideration to fight Thiago Tavares at PFL 5, but was passed over in favor of Arthur Estrazulas, a fighter that Giagos actually beat a couple of years ago. At first it stung to not get the bout, but that same day an offer came along to fight Oliviera and Giagos knew it was time to head back to the Octagon.
“Shortly after that (my manager) called me about Charles Oliveira and at first I was a little confused, I was like, ‘Wait, Charles doesn’t fight for the PFL,’ and he said, ‘No, UFC,’” Giagos told MMA Fighting. “So it happened in the same day and I was like, ‘Oh shit, dude, I’m about to shock the world.’ I was just in awe, it was crazy.”
His first run with the UFC was uneven. Giagos faced lightweight submission specialist Gilbert Burns at UFC 179 in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 25, 2014, losing by first-round armbar, then returned to the city five months later to record his own first-round submission over Jorge de Oliveira via rear-naked choke.
Giagos went on to drop a unanimous decision to Chris Wade in his third and — at the time — last UFC appearance before being released in June 2015 alongside several other fighters. Making the cut particularly deep for Giagos was the fact that he had only recently re-upped with the promotion. He understands now that it was just business, but at the time it was a deep blow to his confidence.
His first fight back on the regional scene only served to further darken his mood as he lost via third-round TKO to future UFC featherweight contender Josh Emmett. At the time, Emmett was unheralded and Giagos began to seriously question his confidence. It got to the point where he felt depressed, but wins in four of his next five fights helped him to turn things around in his head.
“No more depression, actually. I’ve been really good lately. Been good for a while now,” said Giagos. “Just got to stay motivated, keep the mental game strong, and just believe in yourself. I just don’t think I truly believed in myself back then, and with that loss, it didn’t help, so being cut from the UFC probably had a little bit to do with it and then going out and losing and not knowing who Josh Emmett was at the time.
“It was difficult, but now I’m a lot more confident than I’ve ever been and I believe in my abilities. I train with a lot of the top athletes in the world at my gym and I know where I stand. I like this fight.”
A healthy relationship has also done wonders for Giagos. He recently became engaged to Victoria, his girlfriend of four-and-a-half years, who he met through a close friend and former mixed martial artist John Robles. Giagos describes her as being “supper supportive” and almost like a coach in the way she assists him with dieting and cutting weight.
“When I was starting to feel down, she’s like, ‘Snap out of it! Go kick some ass, go f*cking train,’” said Giagos. “She’ll be on me about it.”
Giagos knows how difficult it is to make it to the UFC, much less do so twice, and he’s expecting a tough fight against Oliveira, who is known as one of the most dynamic — and erratic — fighters at 155 pounds. He admits that he may have been “naive” during his first UFC run, having made the leap after just five years of training, and considers himself to be smarter and more patient now.
There’s also the added motivation of a wedding that he hopes will take place next year, and the need for financial security when the time comes for him to start a family.
“Marriage is coming,” said Giagos. “We’re about to start building our life together and then the whole financial thing comes out of it, and that actually makes me a lot more hungry. Before, I started fighting as a hobby, to be honest, but I became more in love with it as I’ve grown. But back when I got signed, money wasn’t really a thing that was worried about and now it’s something that drives me, it motivates me, it helps me stay on my game because he is standing in the way of me getting a huge bonus check.
“So this is for me, my future family, my future wife, and everything. It definitely pushes me to train and be a better fighter.”