10 Questions for Jafel Filho

Jafel Filho could not have drawn a more difficult first assignment.

The 29-year-old “Pastor” will make his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut when he collides with the undefeated Muhammad Mokaev as part of the UFC 286 undercard on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. Filho enters the Octagon on a run of five consecutive victories, all of them finishes. He last competed on Week 9 of Dana White’s Contender Series, as he put away Roybert Echeverria with punches in the third round of their Sept. 20 encounter and booked his ticket to the UFC.

In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Filho examines his rise through the ranks, touches on his training at one of the world’s most acclaimed academies and focuses on his forthcoming showdown with Mokaev at 125 pounds:

Sherdog.com: What is the story behind your nickname?
Filho: I’m an evangelic missionary, along with my wife. We have a missionary project in the Sertao [the arid region of Brazil].

Sherdog.com: What were some of the most important fights of your professional career?
Filho: I’ve been fighting for a little over 10 years. All wins, except for two setbacks. Those losses were very important in regards to my learning. Several things in those fights that weren’t supposed to happen did happen. Of those fights, the most important ones were indeed the ones I lost. From those, I learned the most. They made me into the athlete I am today.

Sherdog.com: What inspired you to become a professional fighter?
Filho: My dream of becoming a fighter came from watching movies. I had a dream. The dream was to support my own family and change their lives since I come from a very small town. Sports was my way to make that happen, and fighting was the sport that I most connected with. I started practicing capoeira in my home state of Bahia, then added karate and eventually jiu-jitsu. I won a few jiu-jitsu tournaments. That’s when MMA, which we used to call vale tudo, became a more likely path. A strong desire burned in my heart. I started training muay thai with a group that already competed. It’s how I ended up becoming an MMA pro.

Sherdog.com: What sorts of jobs did you work while gaining experience in the sport?
Filho: Today I’m able to make a living from fighting. Early on, it was pretty difficult. I’d wake up at 4:30 in the morning to train before heading to my job as a manager at a truck cargo insurance company. I’d clock in at 8 a.m. and go home at 6 p.m. At 7:30 pm, I’d have my second training session. On top of that, I had to pay for my college courses. Eventually, I finished my studies and switched to working as a personal trainer.

Sherdog.com: Did you have emotional and financial assistance in your chosen career?
Filho: My biggest supporter, above all, was my father. He was my sponsor. He worked very hard so we could afford competitions and related costs. It wasn’t enough, which is why I also had to work long hours. I did a few odd jobs. My father worked with a truck. I helped him load and unload. It was difficult at the time. We come from a humble family, but we made it.

Sherdog.com: How did it feel when you locked up your spot in the UFC on Dana White’s Contender Series?
Filho: It was one of the greatest feelings of my life. I would always say that all I needed was an opportunity. I had learned a lot from my two losses. Since then, I’ve been working on my mind, body and spirit, so I wouldn’t waste my chance whenever it came. It’s what happened. I felt strong emotions. I celebrated a lot. Now, it’s a new day. Now, I’m among the lions, and I’m not here to be just another fighter. I plan to fight the lions at the top.

Sherdog.com: What are your thoughts on Mokaev?
Filho: I was already following his career. I enjoy his fighting style. He’s truly very talented. His standup isn’t excellent, but it’s good. His grappling is also good. He’s undefeated, but he’s not perfect. There are various holes in his game that we can exploit. He tends to grapple and has some wins by submission, but I have more.

Sherdog.com: What advantages to you feel you have heading into the fight?
Filho: I have more tools in my ground game, and I’m faster when throwing submissions. He had a long undefeated winning streak as an amateur prior to going pro, but amateur isn’t the same as professional. As an amateur, you face very few quality opponents. I’ve already faced much tougher and more dangerous guys. I’m very motivated to be booked against him. I’m very happy with this opportunity. It’s what I like. I’m fighting under pressure. I’m fighting on his home turf. I’m always the guy who comes to spoil the party. I’m the toughest guy he’s ever faced.

Sherdog.com: How was your training camp?
Filho: My training was done at the Nova Uniao academy under coach Andre Pederneiras in Rio de Janeiro. Our team lacks nothing at all. It’s the best team of lighter-weight fighters in the world. My training partners include Jose Aldo. Our team has three fighters at flyweight [in the UFC]. Besides me, we have Matheus Nicolau and Rafael “Macapa” Ramos Estevam. Matheus is ranked No. 5. We’ve been doing great work together. We put a lot of emphasis on our wrestling with coach Daniel Malvino. He’s the former coach for the Brazilian team. We’re overflowing with coaches and sparring partners.

Sherdog.com: What do you feel like you bring to the flyweight division?
Filho: I’ve always told myself that once I got into the UFC, I would stand out. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many guys who draw attention to our weight class. The same guys keep fighting for the belt. I’m coming to bring something new. I’m going to bring some excitement. All my wins, with a single exception, have been by knockout or submission. I’m here to finish anyone they put in front of me. I hope I can become champion soon. My first step is to spoil Muhammad’s party and hopefully get a bonus to go with it.
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