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Every fighter remembers the first time they made the walk to the Octagon, but for some, like Luan Lacerda this weekend, that initial trek to the UFC cage comes with elevated excitement.
“Competing in the UFC is reaching the top,” said Lacerda, who makes his promotional debut this weekend, at home in Rio de Janeiro, against bantamweight stalwart Cody Stamann. “To debut in Rio, it’s a dream come true. I will be close to my family, friends, to all my crew, and I can make everyone proud.
“(Being in the UFC means getting) where every fighter wants to go. The UFC is the right place to be when you want to be the best.”
And like everyone else with ambitions of reaching this level and competing on the biggest stage in the sport, Lacerda wants to be the best.
Fresh off celebrating his 30th birthday, Lacerda touches down in the Octagon with a 12-1 record and a 10-fight winning streak. He dominated under the Shooto Brasil banner and collected his last two victories in his current run of success at LFA events headlined by two other UFC 283 debutants, Ismael Bonfim and Melquizael Costa.
In addition to flourishing alongside other emerging Brazilian talents set to debut this weekend, Lacerda has also benefited from numerous years on the mats at Nova Uniao, where he’s worked with some of the greatest competitors to emerge from his home country, many of whom have given him guidance, support, and coaching on his journey to reaching the biggest stage in the sport.
“I was training with my idol, Jose Aldo, and with the best MMA coach in the world, Andre Pederneiras,” said Lacerda, when sought the counsel of his coaches and teammates that have already made the transition to the UFC ahead of his fight with Stamann on Saturday. “They are talking with me about his opportunity, and they are giving me advice, as well.
“I have worked hard for seven years thinking about my UFC debut,” he added. “Dedé, my coach, told me that I’m in, so for me it was too much happiness.”
Along with training alongside icons like Aldo under the watchful eye of Pederneiras, the Brazilian newcomer has spent several years working with a psychologist, recognizing the critical importance of making sure his mind is as well-trained and prepared for what’s ahead as his body.
“I have a psychologist; (we’ve worked together for seven years),” explained Lacerda when asked how he’s worked to manage the emotions and excitement that comes with making one’s UFC debut. “I think this is one of the most important things for a good athlete.
“I have my body fit and my mind, as well, so I’m 100 percent ready for UFC.”
Every new arrival believes they are ready to thrive inside the Octagon when they get that initial call. They envision an uninterrupted march to the top of their respective division and championship success, convinced that nothing and no one can slow them down.
In many instances, that first assignment is more a gauge of whether they truly belong or not — a pairing with a fellow debutant or an opponent with only a handful of Octagon appearances under the belt. Those championship dreams remain, but only in the far-off distance, thanks to the reality of how lengthy an adventure the journey towards gold can be at this level.
But for some, like Lacerda, their pedigree and previous successes allow them to skip a step or two and jump right into the thick of things; bypassing the traditional “make sure they belong” fights and diving right into more of a “let’s see how good they are right away” matchup like the one he has on Saturday.
“Cody is a big opponent and opportunity, as well,” Lacerda said of the matchup with Stamann, an 11-fight UFC veteran and longtime fixture in the bantamweight rankings who snapped a three-fight skid with a first-round knockout win over Eddie Wineland last time out. “He is very respected and he is in UFC for a long time. He’s experienced, he has good variations inside the Octagon, so I have to be cautious.
“I want to believe that UFC is expecting something from me,” he added when asked about being paired with such an experienced opponent in his promotional debut. “He is a big challenge for me and I want to make it count!”
By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles on Saturday night, Lacerda may be sitting on an 11-fight winning streak, having just defeated a tenured veteran in his UFC debut, in his adopted hometown of Rio de Janeiro.
“I want to fight well and show the UFC that I can raise the level of the division,” Lacerda said when asked his goals for this weekend and beyond. “I already see my hand raised in my mind; (now I have to go) make it happen.”
It would be a joyous moment for the bantamweight rookie, but not the only one he wants to experience on this journey, and those greater goals remain his focus, even as he readies to make the walk for the first time.
“I’ll have achieved the first goal I set,” he said, explaining what it would mean to emerge victorious in his debut. “But I won’t stop.”
UFC 283: Teixeira vs Hill took place live from Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 21, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!