The challenge of standing out in the UFC comes down to simple mathematics for all but the most established and recognizable names on the roster.
In the last three months, there have been 12 events featuring 145 bouts and outside of the championship combatants, headlining acts and a handful of proven contenders, the efforts of a large number of the remaining 100-plus athletes who crossed the threshold into the Octagon to trade leather have been faded into the background. It’s not that they’re forgotten, but more that the performances have been tucked away until the next time one of those athletes returns to action or their name comes up in Twitter conversations.
There is no single division where the challenges of standing out is better exemplified than in the lightweight ranks, which represented 13 percent of the bouts that took place since the start of June and will account for nine additional bouts this month, including five this weekend at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
When I used to write “10 Reasons to Watch” columns, one of those points was always “this week’s crucial lightweight contest” because invariably, every card included at least one significant lightweight clash. It may not have been a championship fight or a title eliminator, but in the UFC’s deepest division, every matchup matters and each win or loss had ripple effects throughout the ranks.
Unlike in some of the shallower divisions, however, stringing together two or three wins doesn’t get you close to the spotlight in the 155-pound weight class, let alone basking in the glow solo with everyone paying attention to you, and so it becomes a vicious cycle of trying to make the greatest lasting impression possible each time out, hoping that enough consecutive victories and quality efforts will eventually lead you to getting noticed.
If lightweight represents the best divisional example of the challenges of standing out, Diego Ferreira embodies the struggle on an individual level.
Slated to square off with Mairbek Taisumov in the opening bout of Saturday’s pay-per-view main card in Abu Dhabi, the 34-year-old Brazilian arrives on a four-fight winning streak and brandishing a 6-2 record overall in the UFC.
The last man to beat him? That would be interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, who takes on Khabib Nurmagomedov in Saturday’s main event.
Despite his hot streak and overall success inside the Octagon, the black belt fighting out of Pharr, Texas remains stationed outside of the Top 15.
Not that he’s complaining.
“I like being under the radar,” said Ferreira, who picked up a unanimous decision win over Rustam Khabilov in February to kick off his 2019 campaign inside the UFC cage. “I like being the underdog — it makes me hungrier to get what I want and motivates me to grind every day in the gym. It makes me want to continue prove myself so I can reach my goals.
“I think this is a great opportunity because he has seven wins (in the UFC) and this is the fight that is going to open the doors to the Top 10 or Top 15 because he’s coming in with a lot of momentum,” he added, sharing his thoughts on the matchup with Taisumov, another streaking fighter who has struggled to make real headway in the division as a result of prolonged periods of inactivity. “It takes time to get recognized.”
While extended winning streaks in a deep weight class don’t always get you noticed, mistakes and miscues on the scale have a way of helping people remember your name and unfortunately for Ferreira, that’s currently the predicament he finds himself in ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Taisumov.
Ahead of his February clash with Khabilov in Prague, Ferreira weighed in one pound over the non-title lightweight limit of 156 pounds. Three months later, his scheduled clash with Francisco Trinaldo at UFC 237 in Rio de Janeiro was scrapped the day before the event when the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt was deemed medically unfit to compete.
“My weight cut in Prague, it was really hard to make weight — I didn’t adjust well (to the travel) for that fight,” explained Ferreira, who knows he has no margin for error when it’s time to step on the scale on Friday. “With Trinaldo, I got sick with kidney stones, but thank God I was able to (deal with that) and everything is better now.”
Like many athletes, Ferreira has enlisted the help of the experts at the UFC Performance Institute to help him dial in his diet and make the weight-cutting process significantly easier in advance of his pivotal clash with Taisumov on Saturday.
“I got out to the UFC PI and they put me on a great program, so I have to say thanks because they’ve been helping me a lot with my supplements, my diet and my meal prep and it has made a huge difference,” said Ferreira, who has earned also victories over Kyle Nelson, Jared Gordon, and Olivier Aubin-Mercier during his current winning streak. “I used to do everything myself and just train hard every day to where I was exhausted, but now I can have time to train, time to eat, and time to rest.
“My weight right now isn’t a big issue,” he added. “Now I can enjoy a good lunch. Before, it used to be lettuce and a piece of fish, where now I can have a piece of steak because of the adjustments I’ve made with the UFC PI.”
With his weight-cutting issues seemingly behind him, Ferreira is focused solely on extending his winning streak and delivering a breakthrough effort on Saturday.
As the first fight on the main card and one of five lightweight bouts headed into the Octagon this weekend, standing out amongst the crowded 155-pound field is admittedly going to be challenging, but the surging Fortis MMA representative knows what he needs to do in order to make that happen this weekend.
“I stand out by putting on my best performance ever, so I can show that I deserve the opportunities I’ve been working for,” Ferreira said. “That’s the impression I want to make and the impression I’m looking for so that I can stand out.
“I have to shine. I just have to shine.”