Promises, style changes, and different training regimens. When a fighter loses a match and then is scheduled for the next one, he tries to add all of it in search of perfection. He is determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past, to not restart his path to the title after a key defeat which can actually represent numerous steps back when your goal is a simple step forward.
Rio Grande do Norte native Gleison Tibau, who faces Kurt 'Batman' Pellegrino in a lightweight duel this Saturday at UFC 128, knows the aforementioned situation very well. The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu powerhouse had a defining moment in 2010 as he changed his game plan and put his physical and technical attributes to work, decimating Japanese star Caol Uno at UFC Fight Night nearly one year ago. That result was a surprise to many, because even though Tibau had submission victories inside the Octagon, the technical knockout he imposed over Uno was fast and furious.
It seemed that the man previously badmouthed for using his strength to only control fights was focused on finishing them. But for his second 2010 match, against Jim Miller, the old Tibau that was sleeping woke up again as he felt the speed of his American foe and was beaten by decision.
Why couldn't he produce the same result against Miller that he did with Uno? Was that fight just a mirage? Those were just two of several questions insiders and fans had in mind after that September UFC Fight Night match with Miller.
"Miller was stronger than Uno," said Tibau. "Early on in the fight he hit me hard and that changed my strategy, so I fought warily for the rest of the match."
Punches are a game changer, we know, but once again Tibau viewed himself in a deja vu position. Winning two consecutive fights and losing the third one, that has been a replay in his career for the last three years, and this is the one hurdle he needs to get past if he wants to be in with the top dogs of the division.
"I worry about that and I try to sharpen my game, mainly my striking, in order to build a satisfactory winning streak and then get inserted into the title picture," he said. "The lightweight division is stacked, we have guys who arrived from WEC, and it makes the category very crowded."
That’s the pressure of fighting at 155 pounds. The tough division is full of skilled guys and those who are on top are just one or two steps ahead of the rest of the pack. Just ask George Sotiropoulos, who saw his winning streak snapped at UFC 127 by underdog Dennis Siver. In this division, any fighter can beat another on any given night, but Tibau believes that now he has everything under control.
"Nowadays I step in the Octagon thinking it's only another tough training day at the American Top Team gym; my psychological side is fine," he said. "Back in the day, I suffered a lot during my diet, and it, of course, was a factor in a few of my defeats, but Stefane Dias (strength and conditioning coach) helped me to get the formula right and cutting weight is an easy issue now."
Tibau's next opponent, Pellegrino, has a great Brazilian Jiu-jitsu game and his standup is improving in each fight. After four consecutive victories, he lost to George Sotiropoulos in July of 2010 at UFC 116. A long layoff due to injury followed, and that’s something Tibau hopes he can take advantage of in the fight and something that he has his own experience with during six long months without a fight.
"Of course (he can take advantage of that), my training sessions are intense the whole year and the momentum that I think I lost after the Uno's fight was significant," he said. "I hope to beat Pellegrino and fight soon, because this is what I love to do and what's good for me."
One missing thing in Tibau's last appearance was the lack of control when the fight hit the ground. Every time Miller could, he stood up and dictated the pace. Against Pellegrino, who will be the home favorite that night, the ATT representative thinks his better strategy will allow him to dominate and not let the judges decide who the winner will be.
"I'm fixing my ground game and wrestling to keep him where I want to," he says. "I can permit him to stand up after a takedown only if this is my option. I polished my ground and pound, because it is never good to leave it in the judges' hands when you're fighting in your adversary's hometown (laughs)."
For 2010, Tibau promised some things - one he accomplished, the other he failed at - so after the lesson against Miller, he probably won't promise anything against Pellegrino, right? Not so fast, as the man has something to say, and this time there is much more involved than a simple phrase. He needs this win to keep the mission to get into the title picture alive.
"I trained with Muay Thai fighters Luciano Macarrão and Diego Gaspareto, but I didn't forget my BJJ and wrestling. I did everything to erase the past mistakes," he said. "Now, I want to say that I’m promising a surprise for Newark; you'll be stunned."
Gleison Tibau: No Room for Mistakes
"I did everything to erase the past mistakes. Now, I want to say that I’m promising a surprise for Newark; you'll be stunned." - Gleison Tibau