The path to getting a title shot in the UFC can be a tricky route to navigate. While building a solid winning streak is typically the key to unlocking that door, other factors such as marketability, drawing power and a temperature reading with the fanbase all come into play.
A fighter's ability to consistently perform is ultimately required, but a few well-placed call-outs has become the trendy way to get what you want in the fight game.
Raphael Assuncao recognizes where those additional elements can have an effect, but it's not a direction he's willing to travel. And choosing which avenue to chase is a category the 31-year-old Brazilian has proved to be capable in.
After investing the first seven years of his career trading leather in the featherweight ranks, Assuncao made the decision to switch gears and drop down into bantamweight waters in 2011. That decision has produced impressive results. The Team Ascension fighter has notched six consecutive victories and positioned himself on the doorstep of a title opportunity.
The versatile Brazilian's most recent win came via unanimous decision against promotional newcomer Pedro Munhoz last month at UFC 170. The highly touted prospect stepped in as a late replacement for an injured Francisco Rivera, and while there was talk of the bout being pulled from the card entirely, Assuncao decided to take the fight against Munhoz and put his winning streak on the line in Las Vegas.
The end result was a unanimous decision victory and Assuncao's sixth consecutive win in the bantamweight division.
"I don't think it was a great performance, but it was another win under my belt," Assuncao told Bleacher Report. "I proved something to myself in that fight. I had been working on a game plan for my original opponent, but that changed, and I had to adjust. We are professionals, and that is what we have to do sometimes. I just feel it wasn't my best performance, and there are some holes in my game I want to fix. I was still able to go out there and get the win against a tough opponent. He was on a 10-fight winning streak and comes from a great camp where he trains with guys like Lyoto Machida. It was definitely a different test to get past.
"I just wanted to fight," he explained in regard to staying on the card. "It wasn't about money or anything. Yes, this is my job and how I make a living, but I put in a long training camp and wanted to get in there and fight. I wanted to make sure the time I invested in my training was worthwhile. When you put yourself through a three-month training camp, it takes a toll on your body, and I wanted to make it worthwhile."
Although he was critical of his performance in the aftermath, the victory gave Assuncao the longest winning streak in the division outside of the two men who up until recently shared the bantamweight title tier.
Pound-for-pound phenom and newly crowned undisputed champion Renan Barao has not tasted defeat in his last 33 outings, and former titleholder Dominick Cruz has found victory in 10 consecutive showings. While "The Dominator's" track record is beyond impressive, his two-year struggle to return from injury continues, and the Team Alliance fighter is still a little ways out from once again becoming a major player on the bantamweight divisional landscape.
Assuncao has put in the work to climb the divisional ladder and believes his record is worthy of a title opportunity against Barao. That said, he is content to let his performances do the talking and leave the microphone time to those who choose to play that game.
"There is no need to campaign for anything because my record speaks for itself," Assuncao said. "I'm not going to take up an acting class in order to get a fight. That is not what I've worked my entire life to do. It's not what I've been living for. I'm ready to be the underdog and challenge the champion. I'm ready to go out there and prove people wrong.
"I'm ready to go out there and not have all the pressure on me. All of these fights I've won, the pressure has been on me to go out there and get the win. I have to beat this guy and that guy, or I'm fighting in Brazil. I'm ready to be the underdog where all the pressure is on him and I can go out there relaxed and surprise some people and become the champion.
"It's an entertainment and performance business," he added. "I know that. I'm always critical of myself, but I know where I stand as well. I'm not dumb. I know where I'm positioned right now and I'm ready for a change of scenario. Fighting Barao would definitely be an exciting matchup."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.