Styles make fights, and small gloves are game changers. We see these topics defining fights most of the time, and Paulo Thiago, who takes on the original TUF winner, Diego 'Nightmare' Sanchez, this Saturday in Anaheim, knows them better than most. If in his fight against Mike Swick the small gloves made the difference in his victory, in his most recent bout, the clash of styles between his and Martin Kampmann's showed a type of dominance we never saw the Brasilia native experience.
Okay, there was a bit of Paulo's match against Jon Fitch - but even during that 15 minutes, the Brazilian had chances to turn things around, something that didn't happen against his Danish foe. For the three rounds that the welterweight duel lasted at UFC 115, all options and attacks that Paulo tried had a rapid answer from Kampmann, who always seemed to be a step ahead.
"Man, that was his night and not mine, he was better and beat me. That was what happened," said Thiago. “I was sad, but I took huge lessons from that defeat and they will put me back on the road to victory again."
The first round of the meeting showed Thiago missing his haymakers, and Kampmann using his technical striking ability to keep the Brazilian under control. Thiago tried to take the fight to the ground, but even there his opponent was superior. With the initial stanza in the books, Thiago needed to come forward for the second, but Kampmann kept the pressure on and he took the fight down to the mat. At this moment, when everybody thought the Danish fighter was in control, Thiago capitalized on a kimura to sweep him, making it clear that he was still hungry. But the quickness and ability of Kampmann, who got back to his feet and ran over Thiago, was an antidote to the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt’s attack.
"Obviously he studied my game a lot and I was impressed by his counter-attacks," he says. "With that said, he got the confidence to let his game loose more than I did. I know I can do more, mainly if I impose myself from the very beginning, and this is what people will see from now on."
Behind on the score cards and facing difficulties to impose his strategies could have been the beginning of the end, but not for the relentless Thiago.
"I'm always confident in myself and I believe that at any moment I could win, but the lack of aggressiveness and more pressure made things easier for Kampmann," he said. "My mistake was to study too much and not attack; if I had this goal to search for a knockout, going forward, he'd feel the pressure. That was how he was beaten before, and I didn't do the same."
Thiago sees similarities in both setbacks he’s faced in the Octagon, as he thinks cage control was the key for the unsuccessful bouts with Fitch and Kamppmann.
"They trapped me and I stayed underneath them, and that isn't good when you fight on the cage. The guy holds you, keeps you under control and these two were good on the ground, so it makes the reverse or submission pretty hard to get."
For his next match against TUF 1's Sanchez, Thiago organized his ideas and fled from Brasilia to California, looking to rebuild his path in the UFC. He searched for left-handed training partners with wrestling backgrounds and speed, all to simulate the nuances that he'll encounter when meets Diego, who is coming off two defeats in a row.
"I participated in a camp where I trained with the Alliance team in San Diego with guys like Brandon Vera and Dominick Cruz," he says of the initial stages of his preparation. "The guys from Cali know Diego very well and they gave me a lot of good information. Back in Brasilia I decided to keep my whole training camp here, and not fly to Rio de Janeiro, because Constrictor Team possesses guys with same style of Sanchez, like Francisco 'Massaranduba' Drinaldo and Alex Nacfur - both are left handers, and both are skilled ground specialists."
This specific training for the fight changed the outlook of Paulo, who wants to step in the cage in the aggressor position. This is nothing less than necessary, because for a guy who wants to deliver a third consecutive defeat to the former lightweight title challenger, something that has never happened before, Thiago needs to make a big statement.
"When I returned to Brasilia from my fight in British Columbia, my intention was to make the academy my home, training morning, afternoon and night," says Thiago. "Like I mentioned, finding errors and what was really wrong, and taking them off from my day-by-day routine; once you get to do this, you reduce the chances of a defeat. That was what I did, training without mistakes."
With the pressure on their shoulders, Sanchez and Thiago come to this welterweight bout with the intention of using it like a catapult for the winner and a push to the bottom for the loser. This pivotal situation is a simple one - whoever comes out with the win will have a much better 2011 inside the Octagon.
"Look, I feel pressured by myself. I hate losing, and I get mad when things don't run like they’re planned. If he's pressured, I don't know, everyone reacts in his own way when these things happen, but I'll try to beat him any cost. I've built my strategy with my coaches, our camp was 100% focused on what he'll do, and of course I won't reveal it here (laughs), but this is my time to apply the antidote to whatever he brings to the table."
Paulo Thiago, The Aggressor
"I hate losing, and I get mad when things don't run like they’re planned. If he's pressured, I don't know, everyone reacts in his own way when these things happen, but I'll try to beat him any cost."