There is no doubt about it—Diego Brandao is a fighter who thrives on emotion.
The featherweight powerhouse blitzed his way through the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter as he knocked out every opponent in his path to the finals. There were heated exchanges with housemates along the way, but no one came remotely close to stopping Brandao's quest to earn his place on the UFC roster.
Even a game Dennis Bermudez—who had the scrappy Albuquerque transplant rocked and nearly finished—couldn't get the job done, as Brandao caught a slick armbar to force the tap and end the bout in the first round. It was a gritty victory for Brandao and one that would start his official journey through the increasingly competitive ranks of the 145-pound division.
While the 27-year-old had a solid amount of buzz surrounding his entry into the featherweight division, the past three years have been nothing short of an education for Brandao. He's found success in four of his six showings inside the Octagon, but it has been his two losses that have proved to be the most telling.
"Ceara" was out-wrestled by Darren Elkins in their tilt at UFC 146 back in May of 2012 in a fight where the Indiana native used his grappling to wear Brandao's cardio thin en route to the unanimous-decision victory. Brandao would rebound and evoke talk of potential title contention with victories in his next three showings, but a first-round crumbling at the hands of Dustin Poirier served to stop that progress cold.
The bout was figured to be an intense affair, and Brandao's emotion spilled over at the pre-fight weigh-ins as he engaged in a scuffle with Poirier in their face-off. Words were exchanged. Threats were made, and the fact that the TUF winner came in well over the weight limit cast a negative light on a bout that should have been a showcase bout for both fighters.
In addition to missing the mark at the weigh-ins, Brandao's performance on fight night was lackluster as he suffered his first loss via stoppage in over four years. That said, his showing at UFC 168 left him feeling like he has something to prove, and Brandao is on a mission to show his critics what he's made of.
Brandao knows the drop on him is that he fades after the first round and that he allows emotion to get the best of him, but he's determined to change the dialogue with this next performance. Brandao believes he's put in the necessary work—both mentally and physically—and those results will show in his next outing on Saturday night.
"I say the same thing when I talk to everyone about this fight," Brandao told Bleacher Report. "Listen to me...don't think you can beat me just because you survive the first round. Every single guys thinks, 'Oh Diego is good, but all I have to do is survive the first round because in the second round he dies out.' I've had some problems with conditioning in the past, but I've made the right changes.
"I have the right coaches. I am doing to right type of training. I have the right type of people with me, and I want to put it all together on fight night. Today, my camp has been amazing because I have been training for six months. I'm ready to go five rounds in this fight. If I fight five rounds like I fight in the first round it is going to be very difficult to defeat me. I want to show the world I'm in great shape for this fight. It doesn't matter if this fight goes three, four our five rounds; I'm ready to go.
"This fight is going to show people something different," he added. "They are going to be talking much different after this fight. People are going to say, 'He looked great and he didn't get tired.' These are the things people are going to be saying about me. When I came off The Ultimate Fighter, nobody wanted to fight me. Nobody. That's going to happen again."
He will have the opportunity to do just that when he steps in against highly touted Irishman Conor McGregor at Fight Night 46, and Brandao is eager to get back to work. The brash featherweight prospect is undefeated under the UFC banner and has built one of the most buzz-worthy profiles to come along in recent years. The event in Dublin was built around McGregor's popularity, and the rapid sell out served to prove his drawing power in his home country is certainly valid.
Nevertheless, Brandao is eager to get back to work and plans on spoiling McGregor's homecoming on July 19.
"I've been hungry and I've been wanting to fight for the past six months," Brandao said. "I haven't been able to fight, but I have been training hard this entire time. I was supposed to fight Will Chope, but he was pulled out of the fight. Then, I was scheduled to fight in May in Brazil, but I injured my hand and was forced to pull out. But now I'm healthy, and my preparation for this fight has been great. I'm so excited for this fight. I cannot wait to see and hear the crowd, and this is going to make me put on a great show for all the UFC fans all over the world. I'm really excited.
"[McGregor] has two good fights in the UFC, but now he's fighting me, and I'm going to bring the fight right to him. We are both good fighters, but this fight is going to be determined by who is better. I want to show everyone I'm back, and I'm going to do my best. I am coming in there to fight, and I want to be the UFC champ someday."
The Fortaleza native spent the opening stages of his career competing in front of his countrymen, and he's certainly accustomed to a lively crowd on fight night. While it has been five years since the Octagon has touched down in Dublin, the event sold out in record time, and the atmosphere is figured to be raucous and intense.
This is the type of environment Brandao loves to see on his walk to the cage, and he is expecting the crowd's energy in Dublin to fuel his motivation. He knows the Irish crowd paid money to see a great fight and that is exactly what he intends to bring them.
"I already know in my mind how things are going to be when I walk out," Brandao said. "I don't think anybody is going to boo me, except maybe a few people. But when my song starts, and I walk out to the cage, people are going to be excited. I think this crowd is going to be Brazil style. I think they are going to be going crazy, and that will make me ready to go crazy for what is going to be a crazy fight."
While Brandao will be up against McGregor and his critics on Saturday night, the upcoming bout in Dublin carries a larger meaning for the heavy-handed Brazilian. From his last showing six months ago in Las Vegas, the TUF winner has faced up to heavier issues in his past that have been haunting him for years. In the process of dealing with these ghosts, Brandao found a peace of mind that had long eluded him, and it has brought about a focus he's lacked for as long as he can remember.
Yet, throughout everything he's dealt with, just knowing the fans want to see him fight has provided Brandao with a new level of motivation inside of the cage and on the outside as well. Those things have brought him to a place where he wants to prove once and for all what he's all about, and he's confident that is a task he'll accomplish at Fight Night 46.
"Knowing the people love to watch me fight drives me every day," Brandao said. "People are passionate about this sport and knowing they love to watch you fight pushes you to grow. Sometimes life can give you rough spots, and I used to get so angry. When I lost my dad I was so angry and I kept that inside. But today, I'm 27 years old and I'm learning. My friends help me learn how to deal with things. There were a lot of things in my mind that people don't understand that made me this angry person. But I have talked a lot to my mom and I have my daughter. These things are helping me grow. This fight is not about emotion. I'm going to show who I am."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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