Abel Trujillo can’t pinpoint the exact details surrounding the day when he was given the green light to compete again after suffering a broken arm earlier this year, but suffice to say, he was more than a little pleased with the news.
“I don’t even remember all that stuff,” he laughs. “I just know that when I knew my body was healthy, I was excited. I was lifting heavy weights and my arm was being supportive and at this point now, I’m just excited to perform.”
The curtain gets raised on his next performance this Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as he faces Gleison Tibau in a UFC Fight Night bout that marks his first visit to the Octagon since a loss to Tony Ferguson in December of last year. It’s been a long eleven months, and not just financially for the full-time fighter, but because he had something he loved taken away.
“It was real depressing,” Trujillo said of the time spent waiting for his arm to heal, the injury taking him out of an April match against John Makdessi. “I just wasn’t motivated.”
Some fighters will still visit the gym while unable to train, even if only to be around their teammates and the sport. Yet for Trujillo, who usually hits the Blackzilians’ facility in Boca Raton, Florida two to three times a day, the gym was a painful reminder of what he was missing.
“Honestly, I had to get away,” he said. “Not only that, but I was sleeping in way too long. I was sleeping ‘til noon on some days. It was a personal struggle I went through. I just wasn’t motivated, and it was something that was inside. A lot of people didn’t know it of course. They thought I was just being away from the gym and enjoying life. I was enjoying life too. It was just away from fighting for a little bit.”
Injuries have plagued the 32-year-old North Carolina native for much of his UFC career, with Trujillo’s own body being a tougher opponent than the five men he’s compiled a 3-2, 1 NC Octagon record against.
“I had a layoff after the (Jamie) Varner fight too, and after the last fight (against Ferguson) I had another long layoff,” he said. “That’s another reason why I’m so excited to perform, because in the last two years, I fought three times. I’ve been out for so long that I’m just ready.”
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When Trujillo is on, like he was against Jamie Varner in February of 2014, he can compete with the best lightweights in the game, with his power that night garnering Knockout and Fight of the Night honors. He has had his difficulties with wrestlers like Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the men who handed him his only two UFC losses, and he expects the smothering attack of Tibau to be based around the same grappling game.
“He (Tibau) is a little bit slower than me, and I feel like he’s gonna wrestle me, for sure, so I’ve been focusing on my defense, and I think my defense is gonna be my greatest offense in this fight,” Trujillo said. “I want to just keep him forcing the shot and getting tired. Man, I’m fighting a Brazilian in Brazil; I don’t want to go to a decision. (Laughs) I’m trying to finish this guy.”
All his ducks are in a row to get that done. He’s healthy, he’s had a good camp, and he’s working with two other 155-pound standouts in Michael Johnson and Gilbert Burns.
“Since we’re all so close to camp, we’re all grinding together and peaking together,” he said. “I’m fighting a southpaw and Michael is a southpaw, so it’s like the old saying goes – iron sharpens iron. We have that brotherhood where everybody has your back and wishes you well for your fight.”
He also has Burns fighting with him in Sao Paulo, so that will make acclimating to the new environment a little easier, a key for anyone competing outside of the United States for the first time.
“We train together a lot, and he told me that the gymnasium we’re fighting in is really hot, and there’s a little bit of an altitude adjustment, but at this point, I just want to fight.”
That’s the recurring theme for Trujillo as fight night approaches. No more training, no more talking – let’s fight.
“I miss the actual experience,” he said. “Some fights, I let the whole fight week experience go by too fast and I don’t really enjoy it. And I think the enjoyment is in the process more than the outcome. So I’m actually going to absorb the week – I’m gonna to enjoy cutting my weight, even though that sounds crazy, and I’m excited to perform. I miss being in the cage, and I miss having, at that moment, that surreal feeling, having a gut check. And when you win the fight, hearing the crowd and having that moment of pleasure, to me it’s like a high.”
One he wouldn’t mind repeating next month closer to home.
“I don’t ever want to jinx myself, but there’s a card in Orlando the next month, and I live in Florida,” he said. “So if everything goes smoothly and I leave with no major injuries, I would definitely ask to get on that card if they need a replacement.”