Alex da Silva, 20-1 as a professional mixed martial artist, inked a deal with the UFC two months after turning 23 years old and decided it was the right moment to finally focus on becoming a full-time fighter.
”Leko” agreed to replace injured Teemu Packalen in a short-notice bout with Alexander Yakovlev at Saturday’s UFC St. Petersburg in Russia. Signing with the North American promotion was the final push he needed to quit his job as a security guard in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
”Everybody knows you can’t get good sponsors in Brazil unless you’re at the top, nobody believes in you when you’re just starting,” da Silva told MMA Fighting. “I trained during the day and worked as a security guard at night three times a week, but now that I got this opportunity to fight in the UFC I’ve abandoned everything to make a living as a fighter.”
da Silva worked as a security guard at a night club on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in Santa Catarina, earning extra cash to make ends meet. Close to getting his first paycheck in the UFC, “Leko” knows it would be tougher to climb the rankings in the Octagon living that life.
”I decided that I would quit (my job) as soon as I got a big opportunity in MMA,” da Silva said. “The level is so high in the UFC you can’t do both things well, so I had to make sacrifices. I’m focusing only on training to evolve as a fighter and conquer what I want in the future. Nobody joins the UFC just to be another one, everyone wants to become champion, and this is my goal.”
”Leko” started his career in mixed martial arts at age 18, and won 20 of 21 bouts between 2014 and 2019. He had then-teammate and future UFC star Darren Till as one of his mentors early in his journey in Brazil — “He treated me like a son,” he said. —, and vows to be as impressive as Till in the Octagon.
Having a 20-1 record might look extremely promising, but many of da Silva’s opponents had lost the majority of their previous fights when they met in a cage in Brazil. “Leko” is aware of that, but explains that his recent challenges inside and outside of Brazil got him ready for the UFC.
”I started fighting tougher opponents in my last few fights were, competing overseas, and that prepared me for this moment,” da Silva said. “I just fought in Serbia against a local fighter, so it won’t be something new to me to fight in enemy territory. I’m used to that.”
A win in Russia will “surprise everyone” and prove he’s UFC caliber, he says, but knows that “critics will come win or lose and that’s part of the job. I know I’m prepared and I can go far in this division. I’ll prove to everybody what I already know myself.”
Yakovlev, 24-9-1 as a professional and 2-4 in the UFC, has shared the cage with the likes of Kamaru Usman and Demian Maia before, losing both fights by decision, but that doesn’t make da Silva less confident.
”I think it’s wonderful (to fight a Russian in St. Petersburg) because he’s the one with the obligation to win,” da Silva said. “I took the fight on short notice as a replacement, so he has to win. I’m going there to have fun and get the victory. That’s the difference. I’m always training, always ready, so I just had to push the pace. I’m confident and I’m going to win this fight.
”From what I could see, he’s a pretty well-rounded fighter. Whoever imposes its will first will win. I believe he will try to keep the distance and use his reach, which is really big for the division. He has a good ground game because he fought Demian Maia and wasn’t submitted by him, and that requires talent.
”I think it’s a good match-up because he’s a complete fighter but I’m ready for everything. If I impose my rhythm I will get a knockout or a submission before the final round.”