SAN JOSE, Calif. – One fight in to his run as a UFC bantamweight, Hugo “Wolverine” Viana (7-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) looks like a very wise man. Now he has his eyes on a top-10 slot.
“I think the knockout helped me a lot with my confidence, and I think my mentality got better,” Viana told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “That was a confirmation of my job and my hard work. I was expecting this moment in my career, and it happened in this new division. We started on the right foot – or the right hand.”
Viana made his way to the UFC as a featherweight contestant on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. He was eliminated in the semifinals by eventual tournament winner Rony Jason but was given a bout at UFC 147 with John Teixeira. Viana won by split decision and promptly decided to make the move to 135 pounds.
In his bantamweight debut, Viana fought Reuben Duran and showed incredible striking prowess in a first-round knockout of Reuben Duran.
“I think it was the weight and the new division,” Viana said. “I think I’m bigger and stronger, and I’m still fast. That helps me a lot in this new division – and I think I’m more mature. I think that’s the difference and why I can show more of my style.”
Viana’s next assignment was to be against Reuben Duran at this weekend’s UFC on FOX 7 event in San Jose, Calif. However, one month out, Duran was forced to withdraw from the bout, and Team Alpha Male’s T.J. Dillashaw (7-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) took his place.
There are some key differences between the two opponents, but Viana said his approach to the contest has remained the same.
“I think this opponent is more than just a tough guy; he appears to want it more than the other,” Viana said. “Francisco is more experienced and a little older. Francisco was on a good path after winning by knockout, but T.J. won by a knockout, too. So both fighters would have been a great challenge for me, but I think T.J. has more to prove, and he seems to want it more, so this is a bigger challenge for me.
“We’re hunting to get in the top-10, so this fight is better for me. The strategy didn’t change much. I know T.J. is a wrestler and more dangerous on the takedowns, so I have to take care of this. But I think it’s OK. I’m still on my path.”
Fighting in Northern California, Viana will compete in the U.S. for just the second time. In Dillashaw’s backyard, he’ll certainly be the enemy, but Viana said his previous fight in Las Vegas has him feeling rather at home after competing exclusively in Brazil to open his career.
“He’s going to fight in his home, and that’s good for him, but I’m more experienced in the U.S. now,” Viana explained. “This is my second time here. If this was my first trip, I think it would be different for me, but I’m more experienced now. I’m happier. I’m calm for this fight.
“Being in California, the weather is good. We’re starting the spring. In the last fight, I came in winter. I was a little afraid of this because we don’t really have winter in Brazil. Also the air in Las Vegas is very dry, and I was afraid of that. I think this helps me a lot to adapt. And the food is great. You have great food here. Sleep is no problem. We have a difference of four hours, but it’s no problem. Everybody here treats me well and with a lot of respect, so I’m feeling home here.”
Viana was a bit of unknown prior to his win over Duran. Opponent Dillashaw admits he didn’t really know anything about “Wolverine” prior to accepting the fight. But with one impressive knockout, the undefeated Brazilian announced his legitimacy in the bantamweight division.
A victory over Dillashaw – a former “TUF” finalist – would elevate his status even more. The 30-year-old said he won’t be calling out any specific names post-victory, but he believes he’s well on his way to a top-10 slot and eventually a crack at the belt.
“I don’t like to choose the opponent; that’s not part of my way of thinking,” Viana said. “I’m looking for the title, but I think it’s a step-by-step process.
“I don’t want to hurry. There are new challenges in my life, and each fight is a journey. There is a process between each fight, and your life changes each time. So I think step by step, this is the way.”
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