UFC bantamweight Raphael Assuncao said he “wasn’t quite there 100 percent” when he faced ex-champ T.J. Dillashaw this past July at UFC 200, and he’s changed his training to reverse his fortunes.
“I’m not looking past anybody, but I am making a long-term plan as far as winning my next fight,” Assuncao told MMAjunkie Radio this week. “My main goal is to challenge for that belt. I’ve never had a chance. There are guys that fought three or four times for the belt. Some became champs, and some never did. But I never had my chance.”
Aljamain Sterling (12-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) now stands between Assuncao (23-5 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and a spot in the mix of title contenders for this year. The two meet on the FS1-televised prelims of Saturday’s UFC on FOX 23, which takes place at Pepsi Center in Denver. The main card follows their fight on FOX.
Former champ Dillashaw leveraged his win over Assuncao into a title eliminator with John Lineker. He’s now set to coach “The Ultimate Fighter 25” opposite his former training partner and current champ Cody Garbrandt.
Assuncao, No. 4 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, hasn’t fought since his setback and wants to prove a point against No. 11 Sterling, whose undefeated record was taken this past May by Bryan Caraway. The two were originally slated to fight this past month at UFC Fight Night 102 before Sterling was forced to withdraw due to injury.
“I think I’ve seen what he brings to the table,” Assuncao said. “Once I get in the octagon, it changes everything. I’m sure he’s trying his best to get better and train hard, but I think I’ve seen it all. He’s not going to surprise me.
“I’m not going to be overly cocky about it, but at the end of the day, I think I’ve seen it all. He proposes some dangers, and I’ve got to be watchful for what he brings to the table.”
Assuncao carries more than double Sterling’s experience inside the cage and prior to falling short against Dillashaw won an impressive seven straight in the UFC. Injuries derailed an offered title shot against now-former champ Renan Barao, which Dillashaw used to cut the line and seize the belt. With another change at the top, Assuncao believes he’s not out of the running for another chance to win the title.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” he said. “The last two years were unfortunate for me. I couldn’t quite get my title shot, and I lost my last fight, so it’s a big deal for me. That’s what I’m gunning for.”
And while Sterling beats him on age, the more experienced Assuncao retorts: “I train like a young guy.”
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