Raulian Paiva stepped in to replace Raphael Assuncao on Saturday at UFC Vegas 32, taking on Kyler Phillips in his first octagon bout as a bantamweight. If victorious in Las Vegas, Paiva will ask for a quick turnaround against Assuncao.
Once ranked a top-10 in the UFC flyweight division, Paiva hopes to be “thrown at the lions” in the 135-pound class to “show the UFC and the division that I have what it takes do to well” and “fight for the title in the near future.”
“Get me a top-10 or top-12, that’s perfect,” Paiva said of his next step in the bantamweight division during an interview with MMA Fighting. “Even Raphael Assuncao. That would be a good fight. I’ll climb the ranking step by step. I have no rush. I’ll patiently move up the ladder.”
Paiva is focused on his matchup with Phillips, predicting to win “a war” via stoppage, and envisions the same outcome in a potential clash with Assuncao, a veteran of 16 octagon appearances who has lost his last three, dropping his overall UFC record to 11-5.
“He’s a veteran, and we can’t say he’s not good, he’s very experienced,” Paiva said. “But Raphael Assuncao also has a lot of holes in his game on the feet. And even though he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, he also has some holes on the ground. I saw him getting knocked out by Cody [Garbrandt], I saw him getting submitted by Marlon [Moraes] — and Marlon isn’t even a grappler, but he locked up a position and believed in it.
“A fight with Raphael is good for me because I like to work in all areas, on the ground and on the feet. I’m bigger than him and got a longer reach, and my hand can land just like Cody’s did.”
Paiva, who trained at Alpha Male for this fight, had a rough start in the UFC with back-to-back defeats in fights against Kai-Kara France and Rogerio Bontorin at flyweight. He then stopped Mark De La Rosa by knockout and following up that performance with a decision victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov.
The Brazilian fighter then missed weight by three pounds before his win over Zhumagulov in Abu Dhabi, withdrawing from a flyweight bout with David Dvorak this past May after being hospitalized due to a bad weight cut.
Forced to move up to the bantamweight division, a weight class where he built his entire MMA career in the Brazilian circuit before answering the call to compete at Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, Paiva feels “much healthier” now.
“At flyweight, I had to train two weeks before the fight because I had to make weight but I felt weak, depleted, but I don’t feel like that anymore at bantamweight,” he said. “I’m returning to my original weight class, my roots, so I feel with more energy and stronger.”
“I wanted to test myself [at flyweight] and I was younger and skinnier,” he continued. “I made weight well for the first two, but I was gaining more muscle, my metabolism wasn’t the same. I would try it all, consulted with nutritionists, but sometimes your head wants something but your body doesn’t.”
Now able to take a fight on short notice with an easier weight cut, Paiva expects a war in his return to 135 pounds.
“I don’t know how I’ll beat Philips, if it’s a knockout or a submission,” he said, “but I know it will be a war, an exciting fight. “No matter how, I just want to leave that cage with the win.”