Entering the UFC cage for the first time to compete is already enough pressure for any fighter to need to overcome, but getting ready for an Octagon debut actually became a form of therapy for Brazilian flyweight Raulian Paiva ahead of UFC 234.
Paiva signed with the promotion after defeating fellow prospect Allan Nascimento on the Contender Series back in August, and felt that his life would finally change for the better. Yet, his world turned tragically upside down just a few months after his victory aired on national television in Brazil.
Paiva’s victory made him a known figure in the small town of Santana, Brazil, where he lives and trains. On Oct. 22, Paiva and his girlfriend Tieli Alves were attacked outside of a night club, being struck by a car, an incident that left Alves in coma for six days before passing away.
The UFC was planning on setting Paiva’s debut for earlier this year, but pushed back his fight after the tragic incident. Now the Brazilian flyweight will finally enter the eight-sided cage for the first time on Feb. 9, and he treated his camp for his UFC 234 clash against Kai Kara France as a way to try to bring normalcy back into his life.
“The camp and the fight were kind of a therapy for me,” Paiva told MMA Fighting. “I was very anxious to make my debut right after the Contender fight, but that [never] happened. I have a fight in front of me now, so let’s do it.”
For Paiva, who designed a special mouthguard with his late girlfriend’s name on it for UFC 234, being surrounded by friends in the gym made his hard times a little easier. Back in October, he told MMA Fighting he considered retiring from the sport after Alves’ death.
“It was very tough in the beginning, but I had to put my head back in the right place and focus in my career,” Paiva said. “That only made me more focused. My training partners helped me and I had an intense training camp, so I’m very well prepared.”
Paiva landed in Australia after a long and “a bit complicated” two-day trip that included flights from Macapa to Sao Paulo to Dubai to Melbourne, but doesn’t expect his travels to play a factor in his weight cut or in-cage performance.
“It’s a good fight, a good opponent,” Paiva said. “I feel more focused now. He just made the top 15 of the flyweight division, so that motivates me even more to go there and win so I can take his spot.”
Still, the UFC has recently been releasing many flyweights over the past few months, and the fate of the division remains unclear.
“There’s this pressure, I have to put on a good fight and a big win in my debut,” Paiva said, “so if they indeed cut the flyweight division, I can move up to bantamweight.”
A winner of 12 in a row and 18-1 overall as a professional fighter, Paiva plans to end France’s six-fight winning streak with a bang in Melbourne.
“This fight won’t get past the second round,” Paiva said. “I’m really confident in my game and what I’ve trained. I’ll go for the knockout, as always, but if he wants to go to the ground, I will go for the submission. I’m focused on winning as fast as possible.”