Yorgan De Castro could hardly believe it when Dana White handed him a UFC contract on last week’s Contender Series. Speaking to MMA Fighting a few days after, it still hadn’t sunken in that he was now officially a heavyweight in one of the world’s largest combat sports organizations.
With a vicious first-round leg kick TKO, Yorgan De Castro stamped his ticket to the UFC, becoming the first fighter from Cape Verde to be signed to the organization.
De Castro received plenty of love from his native island, but also from Portugal where he began his kickboxing training that eventually put him on the path to an MMA career. The 31-year-old now fights out of Massachusetts, and he has no regrets about the globetrotting he’s had to do to find success.
“I like to take a risk,” De Castro told MMA Fighting. “I believe that if we stay still, nothing happens in life, so I like to take a risk, if I’m not happy I look for a better life. I’m not scared to move, I’m always moving around and chasing what I believe is a better life.”
It was a major risk for De Castro to even step into his Contender Series bout against highly-touted Greco-Roman wrestler Alton Meeks. The odds were heavily in Meeks’s favor, but De Castro methodically defused Meeks’s explosive takedown game before landing the finishing strikes near the close of the opening round.
There was no hesitation on De Castro’s part when it came to accepting the bout because if he couldn’t deal with a wrestler now, then what was he going to do when he made it to the UFC?
“I know he was a good wrestler, very good Greco, but I didn’t understand why he was such a big favorite,” De Castro said. “At this point, to get into the UFC, you can beat someone who’s just a wrestler.
“I told my coaches and my manager if I lose to a guy who’s just going to wrestle, no hands, no jiu-jitsu, that means I’m not ready for the UFC. That was my goal, to prove that I can do it against a guy like him that’s a high-level wrestler.”
De Castro and his team drilled takedown defense for months and the work clearly paid off as he either punished Meeks during his entries or found a way to get up off of his back quickly before Meeks could do any damage.
“He was a big dude, big head, big upper body, so I tried to figure out if I’m going to hit him in the head, it’s going to take a lot of punches to knock out a big guy like that,” De Castro said of his game plan. “So let’s try to work the body, let’s figure out the movement, the kicks, and see what’s going on. He looked big, but I just made the point that every time he comes in, I get him with something. With a knee, with an uppercut, so I want to make him respect and not engage fast.
“We knew it was all about that, I was timing the knee and making him respect it, and it worked because I caught him with the right leg.”
After that, it was nothing but good vibes. De Castro’s team who told him he was sure to get a contract. When that became official, White and the matchmakers told De Castro they were looking forward to seeing him in action.
The person that De Castro was most determined to impress? His daughter who he credits as his biggest source of motivation. She was born in 2014, just before De Castro’s pro debut. He’s gone 5-0 following a shaky amateur career.
“She was actually born in the right time because that turned me around as a human being and a fighter, and made me see things sort of different,” De Castro said. “Because now I can’t give up, I have someone who looks at me and sees me as a superhero, that gives me all the extra confidence, the extra motivation to keep working in life because I want to give my daughter a good life and make her proud, so that was the big turnaround for me, when my daughter was born.”
As for when De Castro expects to fight again, he hopes that it’s soon and that it’s in his adopted state.
“I hope I can fight on the Boston card, that’s what I want,” De Castro said. “That’s why I’m going right back to the gym on Monday, because I want to be on that card. That would be awesome. A lot of Cape Verde people in Boston. That’s my goal, to get on that card.”
The third season of the Contender Series continues tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+.