Fabio Maldonado was released by the UFC in December after losing three of his last four bouts, but the Brazilian fighter has no reason to be upset.
Scheduled to face all-time great Fedor Emelianenko on June 17 in Russia, Maldonado recently spoke with Sherdog.com about his return to the heavyweight division. “I’ve always competed in boxing at 105 kilos [231 pounds]. It was hard for me to reach the limit of the light heavyweight division,” said Maldonado, who spent most of his UFC tenure at 205 pounds. “I’ll feel much more comfortable facing Fedor at my natural weight.”
Maldonado was slated to meet Felipe Diego Dantas de Oliveira at this weekend’s 1st Round Combat event in Natal, Brazil, but an injury forced “Caipira de Aco” to withdraw from the bout.
“Actually, I’ve had this cervical spine injury since 2007. I already left a fight against Aaron Rosa in 2011 due to protrusions on the C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae. But, last week, I had an emergency and, after doing an MRI, the doctor said I should do 10 days of physical therapy,” explained Maldonado. “If that fight was two weeks later, I would fight, because I believe it would be great to fight five rounds as preparation for the most important fight of my life.”
Maldonado expects to be back in training within one week, though he admits it has been difficult to source partners to mimic Emelianenko’s iconic style.
“It’s hard to find Fedors anywhere, but I have nice sparring partners,” he said. “I’m bringing in Joaquim ‘Mamute’ [Ferreira], who has fought Junior ‘Cigano’ [dos Santos], plus two other local heavyweights to play Fedor’s game. I want to be really well-prepared.
“The other day, I told a friend who plays basketball, ‘Imagine if you could face Michael Jordan in a one-on-one match.’ That’s the opportunity I have -- to face the best of all time, in his home -- and I want to make a historical fight with him.”
The always jovial Maldonado joked about the “strange” experience of facing off against Emelianenko during a promotional appearance in Russia.
“It was one of the most friendly face-offs of my life,” said Maldonado. “It was funny that the Russian promoters tried to sell me as the ‘bad guy.’ They put me in a public square in Moscow with a cartoon asking, ‘Where is Fedor?’
“When it was time for the press conference, Fedor told the local press that he had a list of fighters to choose from, and he picked me because of my heart and dignity. How could I say something bad about a legend who behaves like that? ... He was so respectful, instead of trash talk, I gave him my T-shirt as a gift.”
Asked to identify a weak point in the Russian’s game, Maldonado had a difficult time coming up with an answer.
“His strongest points are his speed and powerful hands, but sometimes his submissions are better than many BJJ black belts,” Maldonado noted. “I see my boxing skills as superior, and that’s where I’ll attack, trying to surprise him and knock him out.”
Last week, Emelianenko spoke about a possible deal with the UFC. Should he finally enter the Octagon, Maldonado foresees great things for “The Last Emperor.”
“I see Fedor giving a hard time to most of the fighters in the division,” said the Brazilian. “Only the top four -- [Fabricio] Werdum, [Stipe] Miocic, Cigano and [Cain] Velasquez -- would be a bad matchup for him.”
Maldonado recently came under fire for controversial comments about his alleged plans to use steroids for his fight against Emelianenko, due to the possible lack of anti-doping regulation at the event. However, Maldonado said it was a journalist’s misunderstanding which caused the commotion.
“I’ve been tested since 2001 and never got caught. I was surprise tested by USADA for the Corey Anderson fight, and it was negative,” said Maldonado. “I have no information on if they’ll do anti-doping at the Russian event, but I will not take anything against Fedor. That’s for sure.”