Wellington Turman’s excitement at fighting in Madison Square Garden on Saturday is equal parts practical and magical.
“So nice. Close to my home. I can drive here from there, I feel at home” he laughs, referencing the easy commute from his adopted base of Connecticut. But, of course, the real thrill is the same for every fighter before him: it’s the hallowed ground of combat sports that has earned it the nickname “The Mecca.”
“This was my dream. I always dreamed to fight at MSG, and Saturday I'm going to fight there. I'm so happy.”
He really is happy, that much is evident. Turman is one of the most effervescent personalities on the entire UFC 281 card, laughing his way through interviews and media, calling anyone he meets “Bro.” You wouldn’t guess by his infectious demeanor that he’s in the middle of cutting weight for a prelim bout with Andre Petroski, and that’s just one of the many lessons he’s learned from his friend, mentor, coach and gym-owner Glover Teixeira.
“Glover is so nice. He teaches me a lot of things in the gym and outside of the gym. To be more relaxed. Enjoy the fight week, don't think about just the fight. Like I said, this was my dream to fight at MSG and now I'm here. I need to enjoy it. Do the interviews and everything happily. I learned a lot from that guy. It’s so good to be with him every day.”
Another good influence he’s with every day is fighting for middleweight gold Saturday vs Israel Adesanya: Alex “Poatan” Pereira.
“It’s nice because I train with the guy in the main event. I know Poatan so good and he's so good. He has more experience than me, he teaches me a lot and I learn a lot from him. But I train hard with them, with Glover, with Poatan. It’s so good training with the champs because you know how it’s going to be. I know I need more experience. I just trained for six years and I want to train more. I'm going to be there in the main event, too.”
UFC 281 FREE FIGHTS: Zhang Weili vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2 | Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje | Carla Esparza vs Rose Namajunas 2 | Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa | Michael Chandler vs Tony Ferguson | Alex Pereira vs Sean Strickland
It could happen. “The Prodigy” entered the UFC with a 15-2 professional record built solidly upon his black belt in jiu-jitsu. He had more than a couple “welcome to the UFC” moments since debuting against Karl Roberson in 2019, but has managed to put together a two-fight win streak heading into Saturday, capped off by a second-round armbar submission of Misha Cirkunov last February.
“I changed all of my life,” he says of his newfound consistency and momentum. “I was living in Curitiba and now I live in Connecticut. I changed my team. I’m with Teixeira MMA now. I train with killers every day, like Glover and Poatan. I think this is the key for success: stay close to good people, like the champ, guys who know a lot.”
Brazil to the east coast wasn’t the culture shock he expected.
“Connecticut is so nice, bro. They have just one problem: the cold.”
Short of frigidity, it has been a match made in heaven for the guy who prefers to keep things quiet outside of the Octagon.
It’s so nice, so calm. And I love this. I don't like to party so much. I like to just go to the gym, stay home with my family, my dog, go walk with him. This is the best life for me.”
Inside the Octagon Saturday, he’ll be facing a fighter in Petroski that is undefeated over his first five UFC appearances.
“He’s a tough, tough fighter. I know this. He’s a good wrestler. He has good takedowns. But I’m ready for this. It's nice for me, because I like to go to the grappling,” he says, noting who his teacher is.
“I know Petroski will have hard work taking me down because I can defend Glover’s takedowns…sometimes,” he laughs. “His takedowns are so good.”
And how does he fare in the gym versus Pereira?
“I can take him on grappling, but on striking is a little difficult,” he laughs. “I'm still learning, improving every day, but he is a savage, very good indeed, and I don't want to fight him when he’s angry in front of me (laughs). I'm cool.”
So what if, hypothetically, there was an emergency and Turman needed to be called up to save the main event. Would that interest him?
“I would not fight with my friend,” he says emphatically. “We are friends and, for me, friends don't fight against friends. I couldn't do that, and I don't think he could either. We've talked about it, and when he wins the belt, and I'm getting close to the title shot, he'll go up to 205 pounds and we won't have to fight each other.”
Only one matchup concerns him now, and that’s Petroski. He’s a tough out, but Turman is hellbent on joining his teammate in the upper ranks of the middleweight division.
“I improved a lot. In the time without a fight (booked), I learned a lot and improved my striking. And I feel so good, bro, I feel great for this Saturday. I see me winning, second-round finish.”