More than seven years ago, Gabriel Gonzaga first agreed to showcase his talents in the UFC.
The winner of his first four matches in the Octagon—including a stunning high-kick knockout victory over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic—Gonzaga fought UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture for the organization’s heavyweight crown in the summer of 2007.
Following losses to Junior dos Santos and Brendan Schaub in 2010, Gonzaga—who has thus far made more than 10 appearances in the Octagon—parted ways with the UFC.
To the surprise of many, Gonzaga then walked away from the world of professional mixed martial arts.
“I believe in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I accomplished everything I wanted,” Gonzaga, 32, explained to Bleacher Report. “I won state, national and world-championship titles. In MMA, I had the opportunity to fight 12 times so far for the UFC. I fought for the UFC heavyweight title, and against some of the best fighters in the sport.”
Gonzaga’s retirement from MMA would ultimately prove to be short-lived.
“I believe I was looking for some time to reset my goals,” Gonzaga said. “I enjoyed the chance to stay close to my students, and also the extra time I was able to spend with my family...[But] my students and my friends were asking to see me fight again.”
To the approval of his students, friends and fans, Gonzaga returned to the sport with a third-round submission victory over Parker Porter in October.
Shortly after Gonzaga’s return—in which he claimed the Reality Fighting promotion’s heavyweight championship for his efforts—the UFC contacted his manager.
Gonzaga said he wasn’t surprised by the call, and was interested in returning to the UFC
“The UFC always treated me very well. I knew if I had some wins outside of the UFC, they would have me back,” Gonzaga said. “I was ready to take this opportunity to fight again in the UFC, and I jumped on it when my manager called me.”
Gonzaga is set to return to the Octagon against Ednaldo Oliveira, a fellow Brazilian heavyweight mixed martial arts, this Saturday at UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After a long training camp with Team Link in Ludlow, Mass., Gonzaga—despite his long layoff from high-level competition—insisted he is confident going into his upcoming match.
With a victory in his native South America, Gonzaga is hoping to prove he still belongs in the thick of the UFC’s heavyweight division.
“It will prove to me that I belong there, and I can still compete with some of the best in the sport,” he noted.
Although Gonzaga insisted he is taking a pragmatic approach to his return, the former heavyweight title contender is nevertheless hoping to make the most of his return to the canvas.
“I take one fight at a time,” said Gonzaga, who will be contesting the first match of a new four-fight contract with the UFC on Saturday. “I just want to focus on this fight right now.
“I want to be a world champion...I want to be recognized as a guy that comes to fight win or lose, and puts on a good show for the fans.”