Diego Ferreira enters his bout with Mateusz Gamrot on Saturday at the UFC APEX in oddly familiar territory: stuck in a two-fight skid that began with a loss on the scorecards to Beneil Dariush.
“I see a lot of similarities,” the 36-year-old Brazilian veteran said, reflecting on the last time he suffered consecutive losses as he readied to make his third appearance of 2021. “I had (my first) two losses and it has made me hungrier to fight, to get back there, to really show who I am, the same as my last two losses.”
The first two-pack of setbacks came against Dariush and Dustin Poirier in Ferreira’s final appearance of 2014 and lone fight of 2015, with the former earning a unanimous decision victory to hand the Brazilian his first career defeat and the latter securing a first-round finish in his return to the lightweight ranks a little less than six months later.
After those defeats, Ferreira rattled off six consecutive victories to establish himself as one of the top lightweights in the world before beginning this year by once again sharing the Octagon with Dariush, and once again landing on the wrong side of the results against the streaking Kings MMA representative.
Losing to Dariush for a second time didn’t change the way people viewed Ferreira as a fighter or his place in the lightweight hierarchy — he battled hard against a fighter who has since added a victory over Tony Ferguson to push his winning streak to seven — but his matchups with Gregor Gillespie three months later feels like it has.
On the morning before the fight, Ferreira stepped on the scale and came in more than four pounds above the limit for a non-title lightweight contest, marking the second time in his career (and five fights) that he’s missed weight.
The following evening, when the two grapplers were locked in the Octagon, everything started well enough for the Fortis MMA representative, who controlled the initial scramble between the two, stung the New Yorker with heavy punches on the feet, and finished the round in back mount, searching for the finish.
Despite looking exhausted at the close of the first, Gillespie came out the fresher man in the second, putting a pace on Ferreira that drained his gas tank in a hurry, resulting in the four-time All-American and former national champion wrestler to control the grappling exchanges and eventually secure a finish.
“With that fight, it was short-notice, and I think I’m not at the age anymore to be taking short-notice fights,” said Ferreira, discussing what went wrong in his last appearance. “I have real trouble with short-notice fights, and my cardio was just not prepared for that type of fight.
“I knew Gillespie was going to be a great fighter, and I was counting so much on my ground game that I wasn’t training as much in my striking or getting my wrestling sharp.
“It was a mistake,” he added. “I know I can come back from that fight.”
He gets that opportunity on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but he has another tough test ahead of him in the form of the 31-year-old Gamrot.
A two-division champion in Poland’s KSW promotion, Gamrot was considered one of the top talents competing outside the UFC when he was signed by the promotion, and although he lost a split decision in his first appearance inside the Octagon — the first loss of his professional career — “Gamer” has bounced back in spectacular fashion.
In April, the grappler showed that he’s got clean boxing and plenty of pop in his punches by knocking out veteran Scott Holtzman with a crisp one-two down the pipe a little over a minute into the second round. Three months later, Gamrot was paired off with Jeremy Stephens in the tenured battler’s return to the lightweight division and 34th UFC appearance.
Just 65 seconds into the contest, Gamrot forced Stephens to tap to a deep kimura, becoming just the third fighter to submit the veteran inside the Octagon and the fastest to ever finish the battle-tested “Lil Heathen.”
“I watched his last two fights in the UFC,” Ferreira said of Gamrot. “I never thought I was going to fight him and I was thinking, “Holy — this guy is a beast!’ When he submitted Jeremy Stephens, I was like, ‘Oh damn!’
“He’s a good fighter — he throws hard overhands, uppercuts — and he goes over there and just ran over Jeremy Stephens, got the kimura, I thought, ‘Whoa — this guy has really good skills.’
“I think we match up perfectly with each other — good grapplers, really good standup fighters — and I can’t wait,” he added. “I think we’re going to put on a good show, an exciting show, and I expect nothing less than his best.”
In addition to wanting to end this skid before it gets any worse for himself, Ferreira admitted that he draws a great deal of motivation and from the team he’s surrounded by at Fortis MMA in Dallas, and the bond he has with the team’s head coach, “The General,” Sayif Saud.
“I don’t know if you saw my last post about being in the shark tank, but that inspires me every day,” he said of a recent Instagram post featuring the impressive collection of talented fighters he trains with on a daily basis, with Saud standing in the middle of his charges. “Every day I get there, I feel like I’m just a country boy. I go in there and those guys are all beasts, and to get to train with them motivates me more. Seeing those guys training hardcore the way we do changed me to be a shark, too.
“I feel more thankful to Coach Sayif for being beside me my whole career,” continued Ferreira, who commutes more than four hours from his home in Pharr, Texas to work with the all-star cast of coaches and fighters in Dallas. “Having that mentor always telling me what to do, always telling me to believe, it just makes me hungrier than ever.
“I look up to him and I feel like, ‘F*** — I don’t want to let this man that has put so much time in me down.’ I want to go there and give my 110-percent to get my win, but also to see my teammates happy for me when I get my victory.”
And after a pair of disappointing results, Ferreira knows the pressure is on this weekend — and he likes it that way.
“I’m not going to lie — there is pressure everywhere, but I like this s***,” he said with a laugh. “I like people telling me, ‘You cannot do it; this guy is too much for you.’ That’s what makes me hungrier, makes me who I am. When you tell me I cannot do things, it makes me go out there and give my all, and I expect him to give his all, too.
“I expect his best, and to me, it’s going to be the most satisfying win of my career. It’s been a long road, but I need to go out there, get the win, and get home to my family.”