Despite changes in his training camp and continuing to serve as a part-time essential worker, undefeated heavyweight prospect Yorgan de Castro is set to take on the controversial Greg Hardy at the re-scheduled UFC 249 pay-per-view event on May 9.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has led to lockdowns across the globe, travel restrictions, and widespread shutdowns of sports and businesses. Nonetheless, the UFC is pressing forward with events, something of which de Castro is honored to be a part.
“I’m honored to be part of such a big card of this [magnitude],” de Castro told The Body Lock. “I told my manager, ‘I will be ready no matter what.’ If it was the 28th or was the 18th, or whatever is next, so then they [kept] me on the card, as I always reach to my manager and say that I’m ready to go no matter what. This now is more mental than physical. You got to be ready to fight. I’m always ready to fight, man. I believe I was born for this. So, I’m in the zone for me to be a part of such a big show like this.”
Like many living in America, de Castro has been subject to government-led isolation and distancing measures whenever possible.
“I live with my wife and my daughter,” said de Castro. “We stay home; I’m the only one who really goes out to train and for shopping and stuff, but my wife and my daughter stay home all the time.”
However, de Castro has been out of the house to train, as well as to serve as an essential worker.
“The training: so, it’s different. It’s just me and the coach and two teammates, that’s it. We split it up: strength and conditioning in the morning, and we drill in the afternoon, so we kind of keep it safe.
“We adapt. We split it up. My strength and conditioning is only one-on-one. By myself, me and my coach [do] pad work, and we spar on Saturday – so the two different teammates – but most of the work now is done by myself; me and one of my striking coach or my grappling coach.”
When he’s not training, de Castro is working part-time as a safety officer in the Fall River public school district.
“Right now, the school is closed, but we still provide food for families that [don’t] have, can’t afford right now. So, we are still gonna serve lunch, so I still do part-time – like 10 to 2 o’clock – and we still get paid like full time,” said de Castro.
For fighters who don’t have a second job, or whose livelihood is limited, UFC President Dana White has said that the promotion will “take care” of financial difficulties where possible.
However, as de Castro reiterates, that falls short of paying out monthly stipends, as fellow American promotion Professional Fighters League (PFL) has announced they will do, which ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported are worth roughly $1,000 a month.
“They say if we need anything or if any of our family needs anything we go, any type of situation we get [where we] struggle, just reach out they will help us, but about [stipends]? No, I don’t think so. If we need money, I bet that they will help us. I’m not in that situation because I still work. I have a part-time job. So thank God I can live with it.”
Likewise, de Castro says the UFC is not paying fighters extra for competing during the pandemic.
“No! The same money, man, the contract is the same,” said de Castro with a laugh. “I was hoping to get more money, but no. We fight because we want to fight, I mean, they don’t force us to fight; you can say “No” right now. There’s no hard feelings right now. I want to fight, so I’m fighting. But they told us that we don’t have to put ourselves in the situation right now.”
As for the event itself, many have raised concerns over the promotion’s lack of transparency surrounding safety measures, as well as to whether an event can be held safely during the current COVID-19 situation. De Castro believes that it can be done, and that the UFC is taking the precautions necessary to ensure it is.
“I think they try to do it as safe as possible. I know we’re going to get tested before we fly to Florida,” said de Castro, claiming that the UFC would test the fighters and their coaches prior to the event.
“They text us – I think we had an email last week asking for the address of me, my two coaches – my two corners – and they will test us before we fly down there and when we get there, I think we’re going to get tested, too, and submit to a bunch of other safety stuff,” he continued.
“We have a lot of precaution and safety stuff that we have to do when we get there. I believe that UFC’s been taking care of everything, and [when] we go down there we’re going to be safe and taken care of. They’re going to do everything possible to make it as safe as possible. But I do, of course, I do [have] concern for everybody outside and everything is happening. You got to be aware of everything. But I think we’re gonna be good.”
One such measure de Castro mentioned is that he believes the UFC has reduced the number of coaches who may be present at upcoming events, noting that he is only bringing two corners specific to his camp to the event.
“I think they cut it down with the coaches in the corners. Gonna be less corners this time for everybody. Yeah, but my third corner then with Eric [Nicksick], from Extreme Couture, so he’s going to be in Francis Ngannou’s corner so he was going to be there already,” the Cabo Verdean explained.
De Castro will face former NFL Pro-Bowler Greg Hardy on the card, a fight he has been campaigning for for some time.
“I begged for this fight actually,” revealed de Castro. “This was never a fight that they’ve given it to me. They keep asking me I remember Mick Maynard and in my manager kept saying, “Do you really want to take this fight?” and I’d say, “Yeah, this is the fight I want. The guy’s got name [value]. People are gonna want to watch this fight. I mean, either you like him or you hate him.
“I think he is one of those guys who’s going to get better with time. I mean, I don’t know him personally; I’m talking about the athlete. I think he’s getting better, and in a year or two he’s going to get even better. He’s super athletic, big for the division, athletic. In a year or two, I think he’s going to be too good. I think now is the time to fight him, and I asked for this fight.”
Both de Castro and Hardy have been lauded for their heavy hitting, but de Castro believes he has the edge, something he thinks will be the deciding factor come fight night.
“Every time I fight, I knock people out. Cold. I’m talking about not TKO, if I touch them, they go out cold. I mean, he’s a big guy, we’re both big, there’s a 50-50 shot, but I don’t remember if he ever knocked someone out. He got a TKO. He’s got five fights in UFC, two are TKO. Two he got DQed, and one he lost. I mean, it is what it is. I mean, he probably hit hard but I’m 100% sure that if I touch him, either with a right hand, left hook, any one… I’m pretty sure I’m gonna put him out.
“We don’t get paid by the hour. If we can get it done in the first round, good. But I do think he has the skills, and he’s long – his reach. He can make the fight go longer, but he’s gonna be up to him. I want to get done in the first round. I’m willing to take a risk even if I go out, but I’m willing to close the distance and take a risk.”
Should de Castro get past Hardy, he believes the UFC will have no choice but to put him in the mix for a ranked opponent.
“I think they’re going to have to give a ranking opponent. Greg Hardy is not in the ranking right now, but he’s definitely a big name, and the UFC got a lot of hope on him. Not just UFC. A lot of people think he can do good in the division. If I go down there and finish him, the next one has to be big.”
For The Body Lock’s full interview with de Castro and more MMA videos, interviews, and podcasts, check out our brand-new YouTube channel.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.