Three weeks after submitting Jonathan Wilson in his Bellator debut, Jose Augusto Azevedo Barros agreed to replace Yoel Romero in the first round of the promotion’s light heavyweight grand prix.
Once the decision to step in and face Anthony Johnson at Bellator 258 was finalized, Azevedo found immediate support from master and teammate Patricio Freire.
“We see ‘Gugu’ as a better striker than Anthony Johnson,” said the Bellator two-division champion. “Johnson is a very experienced and dangerous fighter but is coming from four years of inactivity. ‘Gugu’ is in a great place, that's why, even being aware that it's a huge challenge to our athlete, we accepted that fight right away.”
Azevedo, meanwhile, was thrilled to get the opportunity to face an opponent he has admired.
“Three years ago, I was dreaming of being hired by a great organization like Bellator,” Azevedo said. “I'm extremely happy to make such a great debut and then receive the invitation to face someone I´ve always looked up to shortly thereafter.”
Azevedo doesn’t feel added any pressure heading into his clash with the former UFC title challenger.
“I’m really calm for this fight,” he said. “He is the one who has all the responsibility and also the weight of four years of inactivity. I believe I have more weapons than him and if I follow our game plan, I'll surprise many people. To tell you the truth, I’m feeling that I’m going to have fun and I’ll show all that happiness on the day of the fight.’
Azevedo is well aware of Johnson’s knockout power, but he believes his speed will be the key to surprising “Rumble.”
“I’m training a lot of boxing, karate and jiu-jitsu, and the combination of those three styles, with my speed, will surprise him,” Azevedo said.
In the event of a victory, Azevedo would move on to face reigning 205-pound champion Vadim Nemkov in the semifinals. Given a choice beyond that, the Brazilian has targeted another UFC veteran.
“I just need more time to train, but if I'm able to face anyone in that grand prix, the worst matchup for my style would be Corey Anderson,” Azevedo said. “If I could choose, I would face him in the final.”
Azevedo will share the card with his other coach, Patricky Freire, who faces Peter Queally at Bellator 258.
“Patricky is in excellent shape. I don’t see Queally having weapons to beat him. I´m pretty confident He will win that one,” Azevedo said.
Patricio Freire echoed that sentiment, predicting a knockout for his brother in the first round. On the subject of Azevedo’s fight, Freire offered a more cautious outlook.
“I believe it´s going to be 50-50. But no matter what happens in that fight I can guarantee Gugu is the biggest striking talent I´ve ever seen in the light heavyweight division,” Freire said. “Of course, he is young in the sport and has a lot to evolve, but take note. This kid will go far in MMA.”