“Capoeira” displayed his striking skills with an incredible knockout over Sean Strickland in May 2018, putting the American away with a spinning hook kick followed by punches. Four months later, Zaleski ended Luigi Vendramini’s night with a highlight-reel flying knee. Six months after that, Zaleski snapped Curtis Millender’s impressive nine-fight winning streak in the first round. Yet Zaleski was snubbed of a $50,000 post-fight bonus on all three nights.
Zaleski told MMA Fighting that he hopes to change that Saturday when he meets promotional newcomer Benoit Saint-Denis at UFC 267.
“Especially with all this time away, man, I’m full of debt,” Zaleski laughed while pointing out that a bonus check would be welcome. “I think they should look at me with more love. Man, it’s impossible [not to win bonuses] with those two performances [against Strickland and Vendramini], right? But it has everything to happen now, so let’s work for it.”
Zaleski has won three of the UFC’s Fight of the Night awards — his most recent coming in 2017 — but never a Performance of the Night based solely on his merits.
Fighting out of Curitiba under the tutelage of UFC and PRIDE veteran Cristiano Marcello, the Brazilian talent hasn’t competed since a controversial split decision defeat to Muslim Salikhov in July 2020. Now “fully recovered” from a knee injury that forced him out of a planned bout with Shavkat Rakhmonov last year, Zaleski wants to avoid further heartbreaks in Abu Dhabi by taking Saint-Denis out in under 15 minutes.
“The strategy is set so you can find the perfect spot to get the victory,” Zaleski said. “If you have to go three rounds, cool, but you’ll have to work in a way that you find moments for the submission or the knockout, and that’s what I’m ready to do. I’ll do my best not to leave in the hands of the judges again.”
Saint-Denis is making his UFC debut with a perfect 8-0 record which includes a second-round arm-triangle choke victory over Zaleski’s teammate, Luan Santiago, at Brave CF 49 this past March.
For “Capoeira,” that win doesn’t mean much.
“He fought ‘Miau,’ who’s a super tough athlete, but I don’t think he fought ‘Miau’ on his best day,” he said. “We know Luan’s qualities. Not taking anything away from my opponent’s qualities, I do believe it’s going to be a great fight. An undefeated fighter that goes for the finish, I think we have everything to put on one of the best fights of the card.”
Zaleski joked that he won’t make an official prediction as to how he finishes Saint-Denis at UFC 267 because he would be giving away his strategy, but did note that “I see many holes” in his game. The fact that Saint-Denis is undefeated also adds “pressure” onto the shoulders of Zaleski’s rookie opponent, the Brazilian veteran said.
“It doesn’t change anything [for me] because they always come with that [mindset] that they can’t make mistakes,” Zaleski said. “That’s a pressure they have. In my case, I think what matters the most is showing your best in there, showing you’re well-trained.
“Success is the combination of little things you do every single day, but only if you do it frequently. It doesn’t work if you break the cycle. I’m staying active, seeking evolution at all times, seeking new techniques to add to my game. Every athlete is unique in their own way, like this opponent I’m about to fight, so there’s a good chance I’ll show new weapons and a new game.”
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