It’s easy for a division to consistently find itself being showcased the way that the welterweight class is when there are so many extremely talented individuals residing within it. At UFC 235 just this most recent weekend, the division’s title changed hands and a big-name fighter debuted thus further breathing life into an already rich collection of bodies.
This Saturday night, the UFC returns to Kansas state where they touch down in Wichita. And when they do so, the welterweight division will get to keep on shining.
To obtain certain credibility and establish one’s self as a viable contender, putting together strong winning streaks is a must. And as difficult as it may be in the UFC alone, it’s just not a simple task in all of MMA in general. Especially if the style being fought with continuously throws caution to the wind each and every time out.
With those attributes belonging to Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, he has quietly yet impressively been setting himself apart from the rest of the pack as a threat within the deep shark-infested waters of the 170-pound weight class.
The man known as ‘Capoeira’ holds a 20-5 record and hasn’t lost since his UFC debut in 2015 which was a split decision against Nicolas Dalby. Six fights later and he finds himself as the #14 ranked UFC welterweight contender as he looks to keep climbing the ladder and extending his winning pattern.
At UFC Wichita this Saturday night, the 10-year MMA veteran is presented with his biggest opportunity to date as despite not yet receiving the ranked opponent that he desires, he will be the co-main event opposite hot-prospect, Curtis Millender.
“I believe that my work has been done well,” Zaleski dos Santos told The Body Lock.
“I prepared myself for this fight like I was going to fight the best of the weight class anyway. My opponent is someone who is also rising, but no, I don’t feel frustrated because I’ve been doing my job and I do it with much pleasure and I’m happy to fight again on March 9, that is the most important step. And after that, I believe it’s quite impossible for them not to give me a better-ranked opponent.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” Zaleski dos Santos said of his opponent. “He is coming off a good winning streak, he likes the striking, so it has everything to be one of the greatest fights of the evening and I’m ready for that. So I hope we can deliver a great fight for the fans.”
When not fighting or training, the Brazilian is just like anyone else as he likes to spend time with his friends and family while helping out on his father’s farm. But with three fight of the night bonuses and three knockouts to his name inside the UFC, just going and watching any of Zaleski dos Santos’ fights will show that it’s not hard to see why he’s such an exciting fan-friendly fighter once that Octagon door closes. In fact, only 4 of his 20 career victories have ended via decision (14 KO/TKOs, two submissions).
Even though ‘Capoeira’ can more often than not be found engaging in back and forth striking onslaughts with whoever is standing across from him, there are still calculated and technical approaches to be made for such a chaotic and ‘in your face’ type of style.
“Everything is studied with strategy [in preparation] and we try to take the advantage to my side and to complicate the opponent’s life as much as we can,” Zaleski dos Santos explained.
“Basically, that’s it. To play the game the best way we can so we can finish the fight as fast as possible. Sometimes that leads to a finish but others times it also put me in harm’s way which [has] led to some of the wars that I’ve had so far and earned me three fight of the night bonuses.”
When Zaleski dos Santos fights, very rarely is the crowd not noticeably enthralled by the action that he provides. And with his last three outings all coming in his home country of Brazil, that is to be even more expected than it would be elsewhere.
As the true fighter that he is though, the location doesn’t matter to the 32-year-old. The energy from the Brazilian fans is admittedly nice, but if he comes in best prepared like he always intends to, a show is going to put on no matter where the bout is booked for and no matter how many eyeballs it garners.
Being as active as he possibly can, Zaleski dos Santos has fought your typical average two fights a year since joining the UFC. However, he was looking at three in 2018 after his last win in September against Luigi Vendramini.
Unfortunately, a leg injury would be suffered by Zaleski dos Santos thus forcing him out of his UFC Beijing clash with Li Jingliang in November. That has just made him all the more excited to return then hopefully turn right back around to compete at UFC 237 in May when the UFC heads back to Brazil.
“Yes, of course!” Zaleski dos Santos replied when asked if he would like to fight at UFC 237. “It would be great to fight again in two months and it would be an honor to fight again in front of the Brazilian fans.
“I’m very happy to return to the Octagon. Unfortunately, I was injured last year, nothing too serious, but because of it, I wasn’t suitable for the fight on the scheduled date [at UFC Beijing]. It was a knee injury that happened during training, but now I am fine. I kept training in the same way, even injured, just preserving the leg. But now I am well prepared for the next challenge.”
More often than not, for all fighters there will have been some inspiration drawn from somewhere. Whether it’s other fighters or different types of athletes, there’s no limitation. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to analyze and try and grow one’s game through fellow participants of their sport.
In Zaleski dos Santos’ case, there are plenty of iconic and legendary figures from his homeland to look up to. And when hearing who his favorites are, it makes all the more sense as to why he fights the way that he does.
“There are great athletes, for example, Cristiano Marcelo, with whom I have the pleasure of working with in the CM System,” Zaleski dos Santos shared. “Also from Brazil, there is Mauricio ‘Shogun’ [Rua] and Wanderlei Silva. And to know that these guys are from Curitiba is an extra motivation. I also have great admiration for GSP (Georges St-Pierre), who is a very strategic and intelligent fighter.”
Like all great fighters that there has ever been, they’ve all just had to keep on winning time and time again to achieve their goals before they reached their respective pinnacles.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos should arguably be getting treated better at this point with some bigger name match-ups, but he isn’t deterred and will keep on doing what he does best… And that’s fighting whoever is put in his way.
“I’ve been doing my job and fighting the best that I can and now it’s up to UFC to give me the opportunity,” Zaleski dos Santos said. “But I guess with two more fights against two highly ranked opponents, I could see myself in the title picture.”
Drake Riggs is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at: "Drake Riggs" where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.