It’s been quite the turnaround for Antonio Paulo Branjao.
When he meets Kyle Noblitt at LFA 21 on Friday, Branjao will get to not only be on his first international event – he’ll headline it, too. And, as someone who’s unwillingly spent the past two years sitting on the sidelines, the 29-year-old Team Nogueira fighter is aware of how big this is.
“Brazil is going through a financial crisis, so there are few events,” Branjao told MMAjunkie ahead of the light heavyweight scrap, which airs on AXS TV from Branson Convention Center in Branson, Mo. “I had signed with a Chinese promotion, but that bout was canceled.
“I’m not idle. I haven’t fought in two years, but I’ve been training during this time. I’ve been training for two years for fights that never happened. This will be a great opportunity to represent my team at LFA.”
Hailing from a small town, Branjao says it was tough to get his career going at first. But the same 6-foot-5 frame that gave him the nickname “Montanha” (“mountain” in Portuguese) among his training partners eventually led to some valuable support in UFC Hall of Famer Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
“I was his sparring partner when he got ready for Brendan Schaub (at UFC 134),” Branjao said. “He liked me, so he brought me to Rio de Janeiro to spar with him. I’ve been here for four years now.”
It was after his move to the team that Branjao landed his biggest opportunity yet: a spot on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3” cast. Branjao, who competed at heavyweight, was off to a good start, too, knocking out jiu-jitsu expert Fernando Camoles to stamp his way in.
But, in the quarterfinals, he saw himself in a tough spot when he got scheduled against Vitor Miranda.
“He is a personal friend and training partner,” Branjao said. “We got ready for ‘TUF’ together. So it was a very difficult fight for me. Fighting against a friend weighed on me. It’s the only loss I ever suffered in my career.”
Miranda went on to lose in the final, but still made his way into the UFC – where he now competes at middleweight. Branjao, in turn, would only fight once more since the show wrapped, with a knockout win sandwiched between two canceled bouts.
A win over the also-undefeated Noblitt (8-0) could certainly mean a huge push in Branjao’s (4-0) career. And, thankful for the opportunity, he counts on the likes of both Nogueira brothers and grappling ace Rousimar Palhares to help him make the most of it.
But, maybe because he’s aware of what rides in the high-stakes shot, Branjao is too focused to dare look much further than it.
“I deal with one objective at a time,” Branjao said. “My next objective is this fight at LFA. I’m focused on that only. Then I’ll be ready for whatever is next.”
As for the task at hand, Branjao knows he’s not only got a tough opponent – but one that will count on the home turf advantage. But, after making it this far, he’s not about to let the unfavorable odds faze him.
“In most of my fights, I was the underdog,” Branjao said. “That’s never bothered me. I always manage to surprise. The pressure is on him. He’s fighting at home. I’ll play my part and give my best. One of us will be victorious. I’ll try my best the entire time.
“If we hit the ground, I’m a black belt under the Nogueira brothers. I also train boxing, muay Thai, and takedown defense. I’ll be ready for whatever he brings.”
For more on LFA 21, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: AXS TV Fights, News
Source: MMA Junkie