Ever see that great band in your local club, the one that kills it every night, and you just know that one day, they’re going to get a record deal and be playing stadiums if they just get that big shot?
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos may be the MMA equivalent of that band, and this Saturday is his big showcase when he gets his first UFC co-main event against Curtis Millender. But “Capoeira” is playing it cool; Keith Richards cool.
“There’s no pressure at all,” he said. “Being on the main card is one of my team goals and I’m very happy to be co-main event of the night. I hope that it will be one of my best fights ever and I’m ready for that. I’m very calm about it and I want to show my value inside the organization.”
That value is well-established, at least for the diehard fight fans that know a fight with ZDS involves pure action and aggression and will end in one of two ways: with a Fight of the Night or a highlight reel knockout from the Brazilian. It’s the rest of the folks that wonder who the guy with the long name is, and that’s frustrating for those who sing his praises, but not for the man with the four-ounce gloves on.
“I’m not frustrated because I’ve been doing my job well and I knew that sooner or later it was going to happen, that it was inevitable,” he said. “That was one of my goals. I’m earning my spot in the organization and I’m going to present myself better every time.”
So far, he’s building a resume that’s going to be tough to top. After debuting in the UFC in 2015 with a split decision loss to Nicolas Dalby, the 32-year-old has won six in a row with three knockouts and three Fight of the Night bonuses. In a stacked welterweight division, he’s must-see TV, and he’s enjoying the ride as much as his fans are.
RELATED CONTENT: Wichita Fighter's Top 5 Finishes | Derrick Lewis: I'm Giving It My All
“My fighting philosophy is to experience MMA as best as I can,” Zaleski dos Santos said. “I love fighting and I love my job, so I try to overcome myself everyday and prove that I’m worthy. It’s important that I’m always in my best shape and the result is to be happy. That’s how I feel. I like to live by the martial arts philosophy and I try to do it the best way that I can.”
If Zaleski dos Santos sounds like a man in a good place in his life and career, that’s accurate. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been smooth sailing. By the end of 2012, a 7-0 start to his career turned into an 8-3 record after he went through a 1-3 stretch. He admits to some doubts, but none that were going to take him from his path.
“There’s always doubt about it, because it’s a complicated high-level sport,” he said. “We have to be prepared all the time, and making a living from the sport is hard. Every athlete knows that the financial return doesn’t happen fast so, of course, a lot came to mind, but to give up was never an option for me. I’d rather find a way to renew and improve myself, and that happened thanks to God and to my team, which is very strong and helped me a lot to have great performances in my fights and that also helped me in my personal life.”
Led by UFC vet Cristiano Marcello, the CM System team has ZDS right where he wants and needs to be, and if you recall, Marcello made his bones with Brazil’s legendary Chute Boxe team, so it’s no surprise that “Capoeira” is a strike first, ask questions later type of fighter.
That’s the game plan for this weekend. And beyond.
“I want more great fights in the UFC, but the goal for every fighter is to be the next champion,” Zaleski dos Santos said. “The focus right now is this match and I have to overcome this one if I want to reach my ultimate goal. But I’m doing all the work and sacrificing everything so that can happen, and if it’s meant to be it will be.”