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Carlos Diego Ferreira: Under Construction

“When I got the first call, I got super-excited. `Oh man, I’m in the UFC now, with the big dogs.'" - Carlos Diego Ferreira

A month before making his UFC debut, incoming lightweight Carlos Diego Ferreira was in San Diego preparing. With the emergence of Alliance MMA over the last several years, the California haven has become a choice training camp destination for many fighters, but it was a different kind of competition that brought the Brazilian to town.

Ferreira, like thousands of others, descended upon Long Beach, California for the IBJJF World Championships at the end of May, competing alongside 65 others in the Adult Male Black Belt Middle division. Though things ultimately didn’t go his way on the mats, the unbeaten 29-year-old says competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu aids in his development as an MMA fighter and is still his first love.

“I love to compete in jiu-jitsu; it’s my life,” admitted Ferreira, who will enter the Octagon with a perfect 9-0 mark when he faces Colton Smith in San Antonio on June 28. “I’ve competed the whole time. When I’m fighting, I’m still competing in jiu-jitsu. It’s something I love to do.

“It’s always helping me in my skills for MMA. It’s like I’ve been training real hard for my fight and it gets me more strong whenever I have a big tournament. It’s pretty good for me.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and through the first nine fights of his MMA career, everything has been running smoothly for the UFC newcomer.

Based in Pharr, Texas, Ferreira began the year as one of the top fighters competing outside of the Octagon after winning five fights in 11 months between December 2012 and November 2013. Along the way, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt picked up wins over former UFC competitors Carlo Prater and Jorge “Macaco” Patino, earning him the Legacy Fighting Championship lightweight title with his decision win over the latter.

Before he could get his first fight of 2014 under his belt, Ferreira got the phone call every fighter hopes to receive.

“When I got the first call, I got super-excited. `Oh man, I’m in the UFC now, with the big dogs,’” he recalled. “I don’t compare myself to the big dogs yet, but just to be at the same level with the best guys is a good feeling. Every day that I wake up and think I’m in the UFC, it gets me more excited to go there, train hard and do my best.”

Stepping on to the biggest stage in the sport for the first time can be an anxiety-filled affair, so every opportunity to ease the nerves is welcomed. For Ferreira, the opportunity to compete in familiar territory provides that easement.

All nine of his fights have taken place in the state of Texas and bout No. 10 will as well. Additionally, San Antonio is less than four hours from his home base, making it an easy trip for Team Ferreira.

On top of getting to fight close to home, Ferreira also gets a chance to make an instant impact by sharing the cage with a former Ultimate Fighter winner in Smith. Though he’s struggled since emerging victorious on Season 16 of the reality TV competition, the 6-3 active member of the United States Army still carries a higher profile than most new additions to the roster face in their first UFC appearance.

It’s about more than adding a recognizable name to his resume for Ferreira. He still identifies himself as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu player first and foremost, and believes most fans of the sport see him the same way as well.

But moving to the UFC and knocking off a former Ultimate Fighter winner is a good way to start changing that impression.

“I think people look at me more like a jiu-jitsu fighter, not so much a UFC fighter,” he said. “I don’t see as many people asking me about UFC. It’s really good because he was the champ for Ultimate Fighter,” Ferreira said of the matchup with Smith. “He’s a guy that has a good name. It’s always good to fight a guy like that. It’s always good to find somebody with what he has, his level.”

Being heralded as one of the top competitors competing just below the “Big Leagues” can put extra pressure on a fighter, but Ferreira is showing no negative effects. He’s remained humble and knows there is a great distance between where he stands now and his ultimate destination at the top of the division.

“I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just one more fighter coming up, reaching my dream (of fighting in the UFC). I don’t have any pressure.

“Not yet because I haven’t fought yet,” he continued with a laugh. “It’s not like I’m Top 10. It’s good to be the underdog, coming up. It’s better like that. It’s something I have to graduate to, getting into the organization to be a UFC fighter. Maybe one day, people are going to think more that I’m a UFC fighter.”

Chances are that is already happening now that he’s signed with the organization and counting down the days to his debut appearance in the Octagon, and it will definitely happen following next Saturday’s fight card in San Antonio, especially if he pushes his record to 10-0 with a win over Smith.

And while jiu-jitsu was on his mind at the end of last month, his maiden voyage into the UFC cage is the only thing Ferreira is thinking about now and he’s focused on making it a memorable day on June 28.

“I want to go over there and do my 100 percent, do my best show of my life, and show I deserve to be there as of the guys coming up.”