Starting the calendar year off 2-1, with impressive knockout victories over Miguel Baeza and Cameron VanCamp before the end of May, Portugal’s Andre Fialho was on pace to compete upwards of six times in 2022.
But at UFC 275 in June, those plans took a drastic turn at the hands of Jake Matthews. In a rather lopsided contest, Matthews found success on the feet early and often against the boxing-heavy Fialho, finishing the fight by knockout halfway through the second round.
A loss in that fashion changed Fialho’s plans entirely and forced him to reevaluate the best way to approach his fights.
“I had to take care of my brain, rest a little bit, take care of my body, take some time off,” Fialho said. “It changed my plans a little bit but, without a doubt, I’d still like to stay active. I like to compete often. And, if I’m healthy, I’d like to do that.”
“I told (UFC President) Dana (White) that I wanted to fight in London and Paris and make a crazy run. Unfortunately, I lost, but I might have another plan. We’ll see.”
After spending some time recovering and getting his body back to 100 percent, it was time to dissect his training approach, and see what went wrong in the build-up to his bout against Matthews. The answer was quite simple. Sparring, or a lack thereof, prohibited Fialho’s ability to perform as sharp as he wanted to.
“I laid off of sparring because I thought I had to take care of my brain and not get hit,” Fialho said. “I was in good condition, but I was not sharp. I felt it was the same as going to war without a sharp sword. I need to spar to have my tools sharp and I felt I didn’t…my first jab of the fight, my timing, my distance.”
Having fought four times in the first six months of the year, Fialho never had a full training camp for an opponent. This time around, Fialho’s been in camp since August, has devoted valuable time to not only improving his own skill set but focusing specifically on UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Spivac opponent Muslim Salikhov.
“He has specific weapons,” Fialho said of Salikhov. “He doesn’t have many weapons. It’s been a long camp just training for him and I believe it’s been amazing.
“I’ve been working on my head movement and my defense, because sometimes I worry too much about the attack and what I’m gonna do [or] I’m too confident. I’m not that patient sometimes and I need to conquer that.”
Conquering those intrusive thoughts started by listening to advice from his coaches at Kill Cliff FC in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Overcome with pride and confidence at the start of his UFC career, Fialho has taken a back step, and allowed his team to build a gameplan for his opponent that steers him on the best path to victory.
“I gotta win, no matter what,” Filaho said. “This is martial arts. I can’t be prideful. Even in the beginning of this camp, my coaches and everyone was telling me I should follow [a specific] gameplan. They tell me he’s explosive and dangerous in the beginning, but in my mind, I was like, “I’m more explosive and dangerous,” but I can’t always be like that. I need to be smart and win the fight, no matter what.”
Unlike Fialho, Salikhov takes a similar approach to that of the old Fialho, focusing on how he can improve en route to being a complete fighter, rather than preparing to fight a certain way in anticipation for what Fialho might bring come Saturday night.
Fialho doesn’t believe a word Salikhov says.
“I don’t believe what they say now,” Fialho said. “[Matthews] told me it wasn’t going to be a standup fight. I never thought he had the courage to fight me standing up. I wasn’t even expecting [that], I was just waiting for a takedown.”
“I don’t care what [Salikhov] says. I’m like him, too; I like to build myself up and get better every day, but I train specifically for him. I believe it will be an advantage for me if he didn’t do his homework, but I don’t trust these words, to be honest.”
And if Fialho can come out of the UFC APEX with a win on Saturday night, what’s next? Will he try and turn around another fight in 2022 or continue thinking long-term?
“You guys will have to wait and see.”