MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Eduardo Garagorri was born in Brazil, but carries Uruguay in his heart as he makes his Octagon debut at UFC’s first event in Montevideo on Saturday night.
Like most who live in Santana do Livramento, a Brazilian city that’s in on the other side of the border from Uruguay’s Rivera, Garagorri also has an Uruguayan citizenship. Son of a Brazilian father and an Uruguayan mother, he makes history as the first fighter from Uruguay to sign with the UFC, facing Humberto Bandenay. To get to the Octagon, he had to make some important career choices.
Garagorri has been fighting professionally since 2015, when he decided to stop working as a lawyer at his mother’s firm to dedicate full time to martial arts. Owner of two MMA gyms, Garagorri knew he would be signed by the UFC as soon as the company announced it was heading to Uruguay on Aug. 10.
“I would be the first because no one’s record is better than mine in Uruguay,” Garagorri told MMA Fighting.
Garagorri’s entire family — plus 20 or 30 teammates and students — will travel 300 miles to watch him compete in Montevideo. His father, Carlos Eduardo, will get the best seat in the house on Saturday, cornering him against Bandenay.
Carlos Eduardo competed in boxing and karate at an early age, and laments that mixed martial arts wasn’t a thing back in the day. After renting VHS tapes of UFC 1 to watch Royce Gracie submit bigger guys, he planted the seed in his son’s head. Decades later, Garagorri would quit his job as lawyer to take the career path that his father once dreamed of.
“My dream was to enter the UFC,” Garagorri said. “I could have fought at ACB, PFL, but the UFC was always my goal. I want to test myself there and see their level. We don’t really know how it’s going to be watching on TV. I think I can fight anyone there, but I’ll have to wait and for this debut to really know how good they are. I want to get a win and establish myself in the promotion.”
Mixed martial arts still isn’t a big deal in Uruguay, Garagorri said, but people have started to pay more attention to it after UFC announced its first event there.
“UFC Uruguay will be a life-changing moment for the sport here,” Garagorri said. “Things will get better for everyone, and my gym will become a reference in the country since I’m the first to enter that cage.”
The UFC is paying more attention to the South American market recently, hosting events in Montevideo after trips to Santiago and Buenos Aires, capitals of Chile and Argentina. And just like Santiago Ponzinibbio became a huge star in his home country after stopping Neil Magny in the main event of UFC Buenos Aires in 2018, Garagorri envisions a bright future with a win in Montevideo.
“It’s entirely up to me, going there and putting on a good show and winning the fight,” Garagorri said. “Doing that, I’ll naturally become the next (star). Uruguay has Gaston ‘Tonga’ (Reyno) who fought at Bellator. He’s an average fighter who has a lot of media and followers, but lost twice in Bellator. If I get in the UFC and win one fight I’ll already be way bigger than him. I think that will happen naturally.”
Garagorri’s first test in the Octagon, Bandenay is looking to snap a two-fight skid at UFC Uruguay after losing to Gabriel Benitez and Austin Arnett. The Peruvian featherweight is “the ideal opponent for my debut,” Garagorri said, “and it’s the perfect match-up for my style.”
Undefeated in 12 professional bouts with eight first-round stoppages, Garagorri expects Bandenay to change his fighting style to avoid getting knocked out Saturday.
“He’s a striker, but I feel he’ll try to take me to the ground,” Garagorri said. “He’s training at Astra Fight Team, a good team for luta livre, so I think he’ll trade a little bit before trying to take me to the ground. I’m an aggressive fighter who likes to trade on the feet, but I’m ready to fight wherever we go.”