UFC 243’s main card bout between Yorgan De Castro and Justin Tafa is poised to steal the show, and that has De Castro excited.
The 31-year-old made waves earlier this year on Dana White’s Contender Series by becoming the first fighter representing Cape Verde to step foot in the Octagon. De Castro’s night ended on an even higher note as he scored a first-round TKO victory over the heavily favored Alton Meeks by dropping the wrestler with vicious leg kicks and ending with massive hammer fists.
On Saturday, October 5, De Castro will travel deep into enemy territory in Melbourne, Australia, to battle Australian Justin Tafa. The fight will be in front of an estimated 60,000 people and most in attendance won’t be there to see the Cape Verde native win. De Castro is not allowing the pressure of the moment to overwhelm him and is fired up to face a fellow striker.
“The guy’s good. A good striker. Trains with good guys,” De Castro told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “I mean, what else? It’s the best scenario for me, fighting a striker in my UFC debut… I know he’s a game guy. He trains with good guys. He comes to bang. What else? What else? This is the best. I couldn’t ask for a better UFC debut for me. I’m willing to meet him in the middle of the cage and throw bombs. That’s it.”
Tafa is a far cry stylistically from De Castro’s last opponent Alton Meeks. Meeks was a wrestling and college football standout who was looking to get the fight to the ground immediately. Despite coming out with a monumental win as the overwhelming underdog, Yorgan was not too fond of preparing for a grapple heavy opponent.
“My last fight was miserable. My camp was disgusting. It was stuff on the ground; it was takedown defense. It was jiu-jitsu all day. Now it’s totally different. Now we’re doing pad work all day, sparring, I spar twice a week, strength and conditioning. I mean this is MMA. He may come in and take me down and surprise me, but I expect him to come and bang because that’s what he does best. He’s Australian.”
The evolution of Yorgan De Castro
Although the Cape Verde native isn’t shy about striking being his preferred martial art, his opponents would be foolish to believe it’s all he focuses on improving. Yorgan will have names such as current UFC light heavyweight Mike Rodriguez and two-time DWCS fighter and New England MMA staple, heavyweight Greg Rebello, helping him prepare in all aspects of combat for his upcoming UFC 243 clash.
De Castro wasn’t always someone who worried about being as well rounded and as prepared as he should. This new approach is the driving force behind the undefeated start to his professional MMA career, a stark contrast to the ups and downs he experienced as an amateur. The 31-year-old ended his amateur career with four consecutive losses leaving his overall record at 2-4. De Castro admits these struggles were in part due to the lack of preparation and trying to rely on his knockout power to get him through.
“I started to approach things different. I used to just rely on my power and my skills. I used to say ‘I’m fighting someone, I’m just going to go and knock them out,’ and clearly that wasn’t working for me. Now I put in the work. I train for three hours a day and the results show up. I do things that I didn’t like to do. I’m wrestling, I’m doing jiujitsu, strength, and conditioning, running and it’s paid off so far.”
A focused, well rounded Yorgan De Castro is a scary opponent for any UFC heavyweight; however, it may take a little extra to conquer the task at hand on Saturday. The atmosphere at Marvel Stadium is going to be unlike anything the 31-year-old has experienced, having last fought in front of 50-100 people at the UFC Apex. De Castro knows that his gameplan can be perfect, but if he can’t find a way to handle 60,000 people rooting against him, then a gameplan is all for naught. He is implementing the hostile environment into his training, from getting used to the time difference to working on focusing on his opponents and not the screaming fans looking to see him lose consciousness.
“I focus on my opponent. I see things coming up in the cage. I’m really focused on my opponent. Forget about everything else. This is a thing I’m getting better on. I used to see people around and heard when they talk. Now, not anymore. I’m focused on the guy I’m fighting… We’re doing sparring around 10 o’clock. The fights going to be at 10, 9:30, 10. We’ve been simulating like we’re fighting in the morning.”
Regardless of the time and place of any fight offered to Yorgan, he is confident about one thing: it’s his time. Yorgan has noticed the evolution in his game after every fight and believes that it has all culminated in the perfect time to be entering the UFC.
“As a heavyweight, I mean, right now I feel way more confident and my physical than I was five years ago. There’s no comparison, so I’m definitely at the right time. This is the right time. And I know this is the UFC, there is no easy (fights). Justin Tafa is tough. The next guy is going to be tough and we’re going to be in the gym all the time. This is the right time. I feel good. I don’t have to cut weight. I’m 260 right now, feeling good. I can train all day. So, this is the right time. This is my time.”
You can watch Yorgan throw down with Justin Tafa on the main card of UFC 243 this Saturday, October 5. If you want to check out the rest of De Castro’s interview with John Hyon Ko, check out the video below.
A 29-year-old paralegal by day, but I rather write. MMA nut since '04.