It’s been a year since Rafaello Oliveira appeared in the UFC. His most recent fight wasn’t a loss, so he wasn’t cut and then asked to return for a fight with Edson Barboza tonight at UFC 162.
He is, however, stepping in to replace John Makdessi in a fight most believe he will lose.
Oliveira has gotten the axe once before in his time with the UFC, but fought his way back. This time, he aims to pull off a big upset.
Unfortunately, the Brazilian’s hands repeatedly have held back his career. The problems started two years ago, when he broke his right hand in a losing effort against Yves Edwards at UFC on Versus 6.
He was supposed to fight Reza Madadi next, but re-injured his hand in training. Then he fought Yoislandy Izquierdo despite the same problem. Then he broke his hand two weeks prior to fighting “The Ultimate Fighter 15? winner Michael Chiesa, and that fight was scratched.
An outsider might say Oliveira (15-5 MMA, 2-4 UFC) needs to reconsider his punching technique, get surgery, or take up soccer, but he is proceeding as if the setbacks are temporary distractions from his goal.
“I considered surgery, but it wasn’t necessary,” he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I’m fully healed, thankfully. Now I’m 100 percent.”
Whether you believe that to be true or not, it’s hard to disagree with Oliveira when he says he doesn’t feel he’s shown his best inside the octagon. Looking at his record, he’s 1-2 in his first UFC stint and probably saved another cut by beating Izquierdo after two losses.
But he’s come close to calling it quits, and he’s decided he can’t give up on his dream.
“I’ve been training hard,” Oliveira said. “I now live a full-time fighter’s lifestyle. I expect to give my best. People know my potential. I fight for my family and for myself.”
Fighting an opponent like Barboza (11-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC), who once was nominated for an ESPY Award for his wheel-kick KO of Terry Etim, brings questions of what could happen if he picks up a win in the FX-televised preliminary-card bout at MGM’s Grand Garden Arena.
But while Oliveira might be overly optimistic about his brittle hands, he’s a realist about his standing in the UFC.
“In reality, I don’t think about the belt,” he said. “I know I’m near the bottom of my weight class. I know my worth, and I know I haven’t displayed it yet. When I show my worth, people will take notice. I’ll be giving my best.”
So, what’s been missing? According to the lightweight, it’s all in the team around him. When he first moved to the U.S. to begin training, he moved alone and spent nine months away from his wife and two children. He would have returned home were it not for his wife’s support.
Then, he finally found a school in Knoxville, Tenn., where he could teach martial arts and obtain a work visa, which allowed him to move his family to America.
“Anywhere you go, you should find a place where your skills are valued,” he said. “I have no regrets. This is good for me and my family. Of course, I miss my people, my relatives back home. But I have my family here. And I’ve been welcomed and treated very well by my friends in Knoxville. They’re very positive people. I’m quite happy.”
For Barboza, he’s taken steps to up his sparring time, which he feels will pay dividends against one of the division’s best strikers. He went north to AMA Fight Club, where he logged plenty of hours with UFC lightweight Jim Miller.
Oliveira remains a 4-to-1 underdog, so he has yet to convince the world that he’s turned things around. But he’s under no illusions that anyone will put their confidence in him. That is, until he gives them reason to.
“I’m not stupid; I know I am the underdog,” he said. “And I’ve been the underdog before, too. I feel fine. There’s a good reason he’s the favorite. He has more victories than I do. He’s more highly regarded. This sort of thing just makes me hungrier to show everyone what I’m capable of, and prove the doubters wrong. I already knew I’d be the underdog. No problem.”
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