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Elizeu Zaleski looking forward to ‘Capoeira vs. King of Kung Fu’ matchup at UFC 251

Elizeu Zaleski is coming off of a unanimous decision victory over Russia’s Alexey Kunchenko.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC welterweight Elizeu Zaleski always expects his opponents to shoot for takedowns in the octagon, but Muslim Salikhov might give him a different test at UFC 251.

Nicknamed after a traditional form of combat crafted by enslaved Africans in Brazil hundreds of years ago, “Capoeira” returns to the cage on July 11 in Abu Dhabi against Salikhov, who’s nicknamed “King of Kung Fu” and is a multiple-time world champion in Wushu Sanda.

“He has a big name in the Sanda world, in kung fu, so it’s going to be a nice clash of styles,” Zaleski told MMA Fighting. “I’m a capoeirista, he’s from kung fu, so I think it’s a great fight. I’m excited to fight him.”

Salikhov, who’s won 14 of his last 15 fights, enters the cage riding a three-fight winning streak with knockouts over Ricky Rainey and Nordine Taleb and a decision over Laureano Staropoli.

“It’s hard to say how we will match up in an MMA fight, but I do see several holes in his stand-up game, his clinch, and even his ground game,” Zaleski said of his Russian foe. “It’s hard to predict the result, but I can say I will use every opportunity I get to finish this fight as soon as possible.”

Zaleski has won 22 of 28 professional MMA bouts since 2009, including eight of his past nine with four knockouts. Capoeira fell short when he was paired up versus China’s Li Jingliang last August, but bounced back against Russian talent Alexey Kunchenko in March.

Capoeira is “happy to face another tough opponent in the UFC,” but his head coach Cristiano Marcello, a veteran of the UFC and PRIDE, doesn’t think that’s enough: Marcello wants a big-name opponent for his protege after UFC 251.

“Elizeu is better than ever, more mature, and he’s not even in his prime yet,” Marcello said. “He’s very intelligent, the most complete fighter in the division, and we definitely expect a top-5 opponent after this fight. He deserves it, even though he’s not ranked. He’ll prove in this fight that he’s one of the best in the world.”

UFC 251 will be the first bout of Zaleski’s recently signed four-fight deal with the UFC, and he doesn’t feel any added pressure on his shoulders. In the end, he just wants to make history at UFC’s “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m ready,” Zaleski said. “I took the fight on a month’s notice, but I was already training and staying ready for a call. I happy to be fighting on the island. I want to make history there.”

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