Saturday will be an evening of strong emotions for former UFC heavyweight contender Pedro Rizzo.
In addition to cornering Raoni Barcelos in his fifith Octagon appearance against Khalid Taha in a featured bantamweight bout at UFC on ESPN 17, he will also witness a fight between two of his very close friends in the main event when Glover Teixeira squares off against Thiago Santos in a battle of light heavyweight contenders.
“Glover Teixeira is like a brother to me. When he came to Brazil in 2008, we trained together every day for almost five years. We even lived together for almost one year in Florida,” Rizzo told Sherdog.com. “‘Marreta’ is a student who trained with me for four years. Actually, when UFC announced they would fight, I promised that I would go to my farm where my telephone and TV don’t work. That was my plan until UFC invited Raoni to the same card.”
Even though he doesn’t enjoy watching two friends fight, Rizzo recognizes the logic behind the matchmaking.
“I totally understand [the] UFC. That's the fight to make,” he said. “Both had great fights against Jon Jones, both are coming from an impressive sequence of wins, but only one can be the champion, so if one has to take the other’s dream, I just hope they can make the ‘Fight of the Year.’ That’s what I’ll be cheering for.”
“The Rock” envisions a clear strategy for both Santos and Teixeira in the UFC on ESPN 17 headliner.
“They have opposite fighting styles. ‘Marreta’ moves a lot, just like he did with Jon Jones, always throwing vicious kicks and punches, while Glover hunts his opponent all the time, combining striking with takedowns and his ground game,” Rizzo said. “I see Glover in the middle of the Octagon attacking all the time, while ‘Marreta’ will be moving and looking for the perfect opportunity to hit Glover with his powerful punches and kicks. It definitely will be an interesting matchup.”
Rizzo’s tense tone changes when discussing Barcelos, who takes a four-bout winning streak into his showdown with Taha.
“Taha is a very good kickboxer and has a strong overhand. I think he will try to avoid takedowns and try to knock out Raoni. Both are very explosive fighters, so it's going to be an interesting fight,” Rizzo said. “But I see Raoni with more tools to win [than his opponent]. Raoni today is a complete fighter. He was already a wrestling and jiu-jitsu champion and since 2008 he has been training kickboxing with me. Besides that he is always in great shape. Actually, if the fight was against the champion Petr Yan, Raoni would be ready.
Rizzo has worked with other UFC champions such as Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva in the past, and he believes Barcelos compares favorably with them.
“I already worked with many great UFC fighters and I have no doubt to point to Raoni as the most intelligent and complete fighter I have ever worked with,”Rizzo said. “Unfortunately the UFC is having a hard time to find opponents for him. In this camp, for example, we had three changes in opponent. I truly hope that if he gets a fifth straight win, they will give him a ranked guy next.”
In his most recent outing, Barcelos outpointed Said Nurmagomedov at UFC Fight Night 165 last December. Rizzo claims that Nurmagomedov is a Top 5-caliber bantamweight, which only boosts Barcelos’ stock.
“Nurmagomedov is a monster. He was 14 -1 when he faced Raoni. I have no doubt he would be a nightmare to any Top 5 fighters of the bantamweight division,” Rizzo said. “That's why I truly believe Raoni today would be able to beat any of the Top 5 ranked in that division. But, of course, a fight is a fight and anything can happen.”