Last week, middleweight Wagner Silva Gomes captured the first quarterfinal victory of the season and put coach Wanderlei Silva’s team up 1-0. Despite the victory, all is not well in Team Silva’s locker room after the fight.
Ismael de Jesus is upset with teammate Paulo Henrique Costa for what de Jesus perceived as negativity in the corner of “Wagnao” during the fight. Costa felt Gomes was losing in the opening round and said as much to one of their coaches, which de Jesus felt was a “betrayal” of the team.
“This is a team,” de Jesus fumes. “If we have to drink water, we all do it. If we have to drink gasoline, we all do it. We have to encourage each other. You can’t be wavering. You can’t have someone who’s not positive.”
Soon enough, coach Wanderlei steps in to break up the heated discussion and gets the teammates to squash their beef. With things settled amongst his fighters, it’s time for “The Axe Murderer” to make the next fight selection, this time in the heavyweight division. Team Silva will send its top selection, Antonio “Cara de Sapato” Carlos, up against Chael Sonnen’s third heavyweight pick, Edgard “Magrao” Castaldelli.
“If we had to choose, we’d pick that matchup,” says Team Sonnen assistant coach Hortencia Marcari. “We’re confident this time around.”
Castaldelli praises his opponent as young and eager, though he thinks the less experienced fighter won’t be able to match his striking skills. Carlos calls Castaldelli “well-rounded” but says the coaches on Team Silva believe this to be a favorable matchup.
While he’s fighting for a spot in the UFC, Castaldelli’s wife of 11 years is waiting at home, about to give birth. Coach Marcari wants to use this as a motivational tool, but Sonnen prefers a softer touch, instead asking the former basketball player to give Castaldelli a pep talk.
“I just think you should show him your support, tell him you believe in him,” Sonnen tells her. “Let him know that he’s trained hard. Let him know that he’s prepared for this. The only thing that we’re asking of him is that he goes out and performs. We’re not asking him to win or think about the outcome at all -- just perform to the top of his abilities.”
On the other side, Carlos explains that he is different from many Brazilian fighters simply because he does not come from a poor family. The 24-year old Bahia native has the support of his parents in his MMA career, even if his mother doesn’t like watching him fight. As a member of Champion Team, Carlos has had the chance to spar with former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos, something coach Silva feels has prepared “Cara de Sapato” well.
Wanderlei stops by the house for a barbecue, which “Wagnao” earned for his team by defeating Joilton Santos last week.
“Everything is great. This show is ours,” Silva tells his squad in between mouthfuls of food and games of foosball.
Assistant coach and former fighter Andre Amado is there, too, and the ability to strategize with “Dida” outside of the gym seems to further encourage Carlos.
“He’s intelligent and plans the fight strategy,” says Carlos. “He has helped me a lot. We were reviewing my best moves. I feel at ease, and that builds confidence, because Dida is great.”
Meanwhile, Team Sonnen is discussing their coach and whether his feud with Silva could make his team into villains by association. Despite Sonnen’s past remarks about Brazil, some of the fighters are warming to him -- though their feelings are conflicted when it comes to Sonnen’s next fight.
“I didn’t change my view on Chael Sonnen in here,” says Marcos Rogerio “Pezao” de Lima, wagging his finger. “I watched him on ‘TUF 17,’ and he’s really smart... But despite my opinion of him, I won’t cheer for him against Wanderlei. I’m rooting for Wanderlei. I want him to win.”
At the official weigh-in, Carlos hits the scale at 209 pounds, while Castaldelli checks in at 217. Both fighters describe their mood as “calm” on fight day, and their relaxed vibe seems to permeate the house. As Carlos sunbathes in the yard, though, Castaldelli admits that “it’s strange to look at a guy’s face and know you’ll be fighting him soon.”
Soon enough, it’s fight time. Santos stakes out the center of the cage, and the first punch he throws Castaldelli’s way -- a huge overhand right -- lands flush. Castaldelli shoots desperately for a single-leg takedown, but a hailstorm of right hands leaves him slumped forward on his knees, unconscious. Santos leaps atop the cage to celebrate the lightning-fast knockout with his screaming teammates. No official time is given, but the fight lasted approximately 12 seconds.
“He’s a jiu-jitsu world champion,” coach Silva says of his winning fighter. “Magrao was afraid of grappling, as he knew he’d be in a disadvantage. Dida rehearsed that: pretend you’ll lunge and fire a straight punch, because it will land.”
The next day, the teams engage in a game of “mud soccer” to decide which coach gets to pick the next fight. The game is simple, but taxing: two fighters -- one from each team -- push a giant soccer ball around a mud pit, and the first fighter to score a goal wins. Only one match is shown, with Jollyson Francino Sosatleta scoring on Pezao after a protracted struggle. This means that Team Silva keeps the right to choose next week’s fight, the second middleweight quarterfinal.