LAS VEGAS – For Brazilian slugger Fabio Maldonado, earning a victory in his UFC debut simply wasn’t enough to leave him satisfied.
Sure he was facing long odds, taking the fight on just three-weeks’ notice and flying to England to take the UFC 120 bout with James McSweeney. And yes, after a mediocre start, he did rally back to win the second round before scoring a third-round TKO.
This time, against Kyle Kingsbury at Saturday’s The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale, will be different, Maldonado said. This time, you’ll see the man hell-bent on knocking out every opponent in the UFC’s 205-pound division.
“I got nervous,” Maldonado admitted to reporters through his manager and interpreter, Alex Davis. “I only had 20 days to get ready, and I was overweight. I had some problems dropping the weight. On top of that, the UFC is the biggest event in the world. Everybody gets nervous in their first fight in the octagon.”
Maldonado did appear a little out of sorts in the first round of the UFC 120’s very first fight. A boxing specialist who sports a perfect 22-0 mark in that sport, the Brazilian had trouble getting range in the opening minutes. He absorbed a few early blows from the powerful McSweeney, but he insists he was never in trouble. He just needed to get his bearings, which he did before settling in to the pace en route to the win.
“That’s just how I fight,” Maldonado said. “I’ve always been a come-from-behind fighter. I absorb punishment really well, and I think I’m always better in the middle and late stages of the fight.
“As the fight with McSweeney wore on, I started landing bodyshots on the guy, and he started to feel it.”
Indeed, he did. McSweeney started to tire as the fight wore on, and Maldonado appeared to feed on his foe’s waning energy. As he got more comfortable, out came the signature moves – chin forward, forefinger tapping a target he knew his opponent would not catch.
“It just works for me,” Maldonado said of his taunt-laced style. “I used to see Ricardo Mayorga taunting like that, and I liked it. I picked it up for my own game. I enjoy doing it, so that’s how I fight.”
Maldonado now makes his first U.S. appearance for the UFC at Saturday night’s event in Las Vegas. This time, though, the 31-year-old insists, he’s feeling much better in his lead-up to the fight. He’s fought on U.S. soil before – once in MMA and three times in boxing – and has even competed in Sin City once prior.
He knows what to expect in the octagon, and he’s had a full camp to prepare. In short, there’s nothing holding Maldonado back from a virtuoso performance.
“In addition to my one MMA fight in the U.S., I’ve also fought three times here in boxing, including in Las Vegas,” Maldonado said. “I’m still a little nervous, but that’s more just the normal nerves that come before any type of fight. It’s nothing like my first UFC fight.
“I had time to prepare for this fight. My grappling is a lot better. My boxing is a lot better. My strength and conditioning is a lot better. I’m just in a lot better shape than last time.”
Maldonado will need every ounce of that strength against Kingsbury, a 6-foot-4 monster currently riding a three-fight win streak, including a 21-second destruction of Ricardo Romero at January’s UFC 126 event.
Maldonado admits his foe is physically imposing, but said he’s not the least bit intimidated.
“Kyle looks strong,” Maldonado admitted. “He’s got some wrestling skills and everything, maybe even better wrestling than me, and he does seem strong. But you can’t determine strength in one minute. It’s over the full 15 minutes that you find out someone’s strength, and I don’t think Kyle is going to be any stronger than me over the course of entire fight.”
Featured on the main card of the broadcast for the first time in his UFC career, Maldonado could make a quick name for himself with an impressive performance. That’s precisely his goal, and the Team Nogueira-trained striker hopes to continue that trend as his career progresses.
“After I knock out Kyle, I’d love for the UFC to give me tougher opponents because my objective is to knock out everybody in the UFC,” Maldonado said. “Give me ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Give me Forrest Griffin. Give me Ryan Bader. Give me whoever. I’m going to knock them out.