Even now, long after the fight was set and deep into training camp, Bruno Machado still cannot quite believe it.
Given the opposition, the headline act, and the location, that’s perfectly understandable.
“Ah, man,” Machado says, followed by a lengthy pause. “It’s a dream … a dream. I have not enough words to say what I’m thinking, because it’s a lot of big things together at the same time. You understand?
“I never expected from where I came that one day this would happen to my life. There’s no way for me to expect that. Like, ‘Hey man, in the future I’m going to fight Anderson Silva, in the Burj Al Arab, on the helipad, with Floyd Mayweather heading the fight card’. Man, it’s unbelievable.”
Machado, the current UAE Warriors lightweight champion, finishes with a laugh, and that rather encapsulates the very thought of what is apparently to come next month.
That, on May 14 and, supposedly yes, on the Burj Al Arab helipad, the Brazilian will face compatriot and UFC great Anderson Silva in an exhibition boxing match as part of Global Titans Fight Series, a new combat-sports production with plans to stage events at “iconic locations across four continents”.
Other sites targeted, organisers say, include the Pyramids in Egypt, Niagara Falls and Table Mountain.
For the UAE launch, entitled “The Showcase in the Skies of Dubai”, Machado and Silva serve as the prelude to unbeaten former five-weight world champion Mayweather’s clash with fellow American Don Moore.
Naturally, as he speaks to The National following another intense session at Cobra Fitness Abu Dhabi gym in Al Bandar, Machado is relishing the chance that came almost out of nowhere.
“To tell you the truth, I really don’t know [how it happened],” he says. “But in my opinion, it’s maybe because I’m the UAE Warriors lightweight champion and I live in Abu Dhabi, so maybe they saw a good opportunity to put me against him. But I really don’t know. It’s a gift from God.”
Much like Machado initially, his friends and family back home in Rio de Janeiro could not quite believe it either. Since, though, the long-time Abu Dhabi resident – Machado moved to the UAE in 2013 and teaches jiu-jitsu in the military – has been inundated with messages of support on social media. There has been a steady flow of interview requests from Brazil, too.
The interest has no doubt been piqued by Silva’s involvement. The Brazilian is considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time, a former UFC middleweight champion who holds the record for the longest title reign in the promotion – 2,457 days – despite leaving in 2020.
Silva, 47, has since shifted to boxing; last June he defeated former WBC middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, before in September he knocked out former UFC light-heavyweight title-holder Tito Ortiz in only 81 seconds.
“In Brazil when you talk about sports … let’s say we talk about football, we have to remember Pele, Ronaldo,” Machado says. “We talk about F1, we speak about Ayrton Senna.
“So when we talk about MMA we have to speak about Anderson Silva. Because he changed the MMA style in the world. He’s a legend. I remember when he fought in the UFC, on a Saturday night, everybody back home stopped to watch. People made parties to watch him fight.”
Machado would often do the same, but now, thanks to this golden, bolt-from-the-blue opportunity with Global Titans, people will be tuning in to see him also.
“My friends from when we were kids, when they knew about the fight, they start to talk a lot and said, 'Hey, everybody here just talks about the fight. On the day of the fight we’re going to close the city, everybody’s going to watch on the big screen in the middle of the city'. It's crazy.”
It's why Machado says “there was no way for me to say no” when the offer to take part came. He knows Silva well, and not simply from the television set back in his homeland.
“We trained together in Brazil in 2011 until 2013,” Machado says. “We had some good sparring together at that time. He taught me a lot. A lot of things in my knowledge now, I got from him.
“He’s unbelievable, a very humble guy. He’s an amazing human. I was his friend back in 2011; we had good times together.”
Despite their divergent paths, the pair have kept in touch. Predictably, the correspondence has increased in the build-up to Global Titans.
“Last time we talked he said to me, ‘Be careful, man, you’re not to hurt me. I said, ‘No, no, I won’t’. Before, when we knew the fight was confirmed, he messaged me to say, ‘Everything’s fine now, let’s do a very good show for the people. I said, ‘Yeah man, let’s go’.”
To that point, Machado is keen to stress that “exhibition” does not mean he or Silva are taking the bout lightly. In fact, Machado has brought a coach and a sparring partner over from Brazil to help prepare. The stakes, he emphasises, are high.
“I’m expecting something very good from this fight,” says Machado, who defends his UAE Warriors crown in June in Abu Dhabi. “More doors are going to open to me, I hope.
“People are expecting us not to do something good, but believe me, we’re going to do something very good. We’re training very hard. I know him, I know he’ll come ready to fight. It’s an exhibition, but people can expect a very good fight.
“We have to take it very seriously, because we have reputations to protect. He’s a UFC legend; I’m the UAE Warriors world champion here. So if we go there and don’t do something serious it’d won’t be nice for us. At the end of the day, from the heart we are fighters. We are there to fight.
“I’m trying to make it very clear for everybody: I have a good relationship with Anderson, he helped me a lot in the past. But, at the same time, we are professionals.
“From my side especially, I’m very hungry. I really want to fight, I want to put on a show with him there. And I hope we can do something very special for everybody.”
Machado, who rides a six-fight win streak in MMA and says he “owes everything” to the UAE Warriors for the position he finds himself in today, believes the pressure is on Silva, given his resume and reputation.
Even if, he laughs, that might not necessarily impact the fight.
“He doesn’t care about the pressure,” Machado says. “I remember in the past, always when he had fights, he liked to go to the mall. He’s different … very different. His mind is another level.”
Machado’s mind, of course, is firmly in fight mode. Even now, smile wide, as he sits not far from wife Flaviane – also Brazilian, she teaches jiu-jitsu too, at an all-girls school in the capital – and young son Kauan.
“As I said, we are fighters,” Machado says. “For sure, until the warm-up finishes, I will be this Bruno you’re talking to now. But when the guys call us to go inside, I change. It happens all the time. I become another person.
“I really don’t care who’s beside me; I see nothing around me. I just focus inside the ring and the fight. Every day I imagine going to the fight, doing my warm-up, the walk, going to the ring. Every day.
“I’m very excited. I’m going to do something that will be in the history of boxing, for sure. Thanks to God for this opportunity.”