RIO DE JANEIRO — Former UFC heavyweight title contender Pedro Rizzo is disappointed with the new generation of MMA fighters. Even more so when his bantamweight protégé, Raoni Barcelos, gets benched when “everyone” declines him as an opponent.
Barcelos’ team is trying to get him another fight since his win over Holobaugh in May. But they say many opponents, including Said Nurmagomedov, have turned down an offer to enter the Octagon against him.
“Raoni is ready to fight a top-5 (opponent), but you see how hard it is to get him a fight,” Rizzo told reporters after the release of his documentary on Monday night. “Everybody wants to see him fight at UFC Sao Paulo. The card isn’t good, I told (the UFC) to get Raoni there. He’s a future champion who’s coming off three finishes. What else is he supposed to do?
“He challenges everyone in the top-15, but they don’t want to because they’re scared to lose to Raoni and leave the rankings. The ones who aren’t in the top-15 are scared to lose and not enter the rankings, so Raoni never fights.”
Victorious in his past seven fights, with five finishes to his credit, Barcelos hopes to get back in the cage. He’ll fight against anyone just to stay active, but the bantamweight prospect suggests bouts with John Dodson and Thomas Almeida.
“I wish I was fighting at UFC Sao Paulo, but unfortunately that didn’t happen,” Barcelos said. “I’ll always be ready and prepared to fight. I plan on fighting in December. I hope for a top-15, top-10 or even top-5 (opponent).
“I want to test myself against the best. I need to fight a big name to test myself. I’ve proven to the UFC that I can get to the title. I’m hungry, but there are many athletes who have turned down fights against me.Like I always say after my fights, I’m there to become champion. Everything happens on the right time, but I have to fight. This is my job. If fighters aren’t accepting to fight me, that’s not my problem.”
It does become his problem, though, when he’s sidelined for months. Is Barcelos avoided because he’s too complicated of a match-up and not a big name in the UFC? He thinks so.
“I wouldn’t say ‘too good,’ because I don’t like to talk about myself like that, but I think so,” Barcelos said. “I have good wrestling, good jiu-jitsu, and I can knock people out as well, so I think athletes are afraid of that and end up turning down fights against me. With all due respect, you can put any athlete in front of me and I’ll run through them.”
For Rizzo, selecting favorable match-ups is a plague spread all over the sport today.
“We have to fight, brother,” Rizzo said. “They are professionals. If a guy gets shot and goes to the hospital, would a doctor say, ‘No, this one is too difficult. He’ll die under my shift?’ That’s his job, man.
“I was away for two years when I got a call to fight Fedor (Emelianenko), and I took it. I’ve dreamed about fighting this guy my entire life. I had no rhythm, I was sidelined for a while, but I’m a fighter. That’s my job. I wasn’t in my best shape. It was quite the opposite, actually. I was going downhill, but I knew that if my hand landed he would have gone down and I would make history. I went there and tried.
“Fighters today are all like, ‘Oh, not this one, I have something to lose.’ People will say I fought (Emelianenko) because I had nothing to lose. Every fighter has something to lose. When you’re an athlete you have something to lose. It’s absurd that guys are choosing opponents now. And you see champions choosing opponents, too. How can a guy like that look at the mirror and say he’s a champion? You’re no champion.
“The UFC should punish these guys that don’t accept fights. Give Raoni three or four fights, and he’ll be facing (bantamweight champion Henry) Cejudo. I’ve said the same about Glover Teixeira, and he won five in a row and only lost to Jon Jones. Raoni will do the same thing. He’ll get to the title. The day he fights Cejudo, that’s in the bag. But I trust the man. He’s a badass.”
Rizzo, who challenged for the UFC heavyweight championship three times, said fighters were more often “badasses” in the early days of the sport.
“One thing that separates (the) generations is that we never fought for the money they make today,” Rizzo said. “All I wanted was to become a black belt and be respected in the sport. I wanted my students to say, ‘My coach was a Vale Tudo fighter, he fought this guy and that guy.’ It’s just a business today. They are fighting to make money.
“I won a fight (against Dan Severn) and was set to fight for the UFC title against Randy Couture in February of 2001. But Randy Couture got hurt and the fight was postponed for May. They called me and said, ‘Pedro, do you want to fight Josh Barnett so you don’t wait too long?’ F*ck, a really tough opponent. I told (my coach) Marco (Ruas), ‘Damn, he’s tough, I’m already there to fight for the title,’ and Marco said something I will never forget: ‘Don’t you want to be the champion of the world? You have to beat everyone if you want to be the champion.’ And that’s it.
“I’m know for sure that no one would do that today. They prefer to stay out for a year instead of taking risks. What type of champion are you if you’re scared of other fighters, if you’re scared of losing?”