It’s been a long couple of years for Bruno Machado so, understandably, the UAE Warriors lightweight champion cannot wait to finally defend his belt once more.
“Of course,” the Brazilian tells The National, the enthusiasm pouring from him like sweat following another training session ahead of next week’s headline bout at UAE Warriors 36 on Yas Island.
“I love to compete, especially here in Abu Dhabi. Always when I have a fight in Abu Dhabi it’s like... you know when you are a kid and you know your birthday will come in 10 days and so in 10 days you will have a party? That’s the feeling I have.
“When I go to fight week I say, ‘In five days I’ll have my party'. It’s like a party for me. I love it… I love it. Every single moment there. I love to go backstage; I love to do the warm-up; I love to do my walk to the cage. I just love everything. Honestly, I enjoy every moment.”
Machado, a long-time Abu Dhabi resident, hasn’t experienced that feeling in MMA in quite some time. Having secured the UAE Warriors lightweight belt in July 2020, he retained it the following January.
However, he hasn’t fought in the UAE-based promotion since. A succession of bouts booked against Martun Mezhlumyan have fallen out on the Armenian’s side, with Machado typically biding his time to meet him inside the cage.
The rivals were slated to top the bill next weekend, in the middle event of the UAE Warriors’ three-night series at Eithad Arena, only for Mezhlumyan to again pull out, citing illness.
Yet, rather than wait even longer, Machado agreed to fight South Korean southpaw Yun Jae Jung as a late stand-in on February 25. Given the protracted period between title defences, Machado has a competitive itch he needs to scratch.
“Why I took too long to be back?” he explains. “I was supposed to fight before, but the guy I wanted to fight in UAE Warriors, when we had the agreement to fight, he was sick. And the second time he got injured.
“They always offer me someone else, but I say, ‘No, no, I want to fight this one’. We were supposed to fight next weekend, but he’s sick again. So they changed my opponent, one more time.
“But this time I’ll fight a new opponent; I won’t wait for [Mezhlumyan] anymore.”
It’s not as if Machado, 36, has been sitting around, casually wishing away his time. He has continued training since that unanimous-decision victory against Mikael Lebout way back in January 2021, and recently sparred regularly in Dubai to help friend Mounir Lazzez through camp as the welterweight prepared for his UFC return.
“So, I didn’t lose the feeling,” Machado says.
There was also the incredible opportunity that came his way last May, when Machado took on UFC great and compatriot Anderson Silva in an exhibition boxing bout in Abu Dhabi.
Even now, he describes it as “a dream to all fighters, especially in Brazil – he’s a hero there”.
Not that Machado, who teaches jiu-jitsu in the military, has allowed that to change him at all.
“My life really didn’t change a lot,” he says. “I’m still doing everything I was doing before I fought Anderson. Still fighting, still training.
“Of course, now people know me a little bit more than before. But if I say to you, ‘Ah my life changed a lot. No, it hasn’t changed.”
Machado adds with a laugh: “I still have to go to work every day at 5am.”
That said, as Machado heads into UAE Warriors 36, the Silva challenge has inadvertently worked in his favour.
“It gave me more experience; especially, it will help for my next fight because Anderson is also southpaw,” Machado says. “So it will help me a lot if the guy thinks I have no experience to fight southpaw.
“I was training a lot to fight southpaw, especially against Anderson. I fought Anderson, and he’s high-level southpaw.”
Machado, whose current six-fight win streak has lifted his pro MMA record to 15-9, has still had to completely change his strategy for next week, though. He trained for three months for the orthodox Mezhlumyan, so a significant chunk of time now is given to analysing video of Jung in action.
The welterweight, 8-2-1, is coming down to 155 lbs to meet Machado. It marks his UAE Warriors debut after claiming the Double G welterweight title in his Seoul last May.
“The change was a little bit hard, but thanks God I have a bit of experience,” Machado says. “I’m very positive for that fight, too. I’m more than ready to fight.”
Perhaps even more dangerous, also.
“I think I’m a hard fight for anyone,” Machado says. “Why? Because I’m already 36 years old; I’ve fought a lot before. I had a lot of experience. And I have nothing to lose.
“Like I said before, I’m still fighting here not because I need the money. I’m still fighting because I want to fight. I have my money from my job every month. I’m still doing it because I love the feeling. I love to go there and fight.
“Can you imagine you go to the fight without any pressure on your back? I’m going there just to enjoy the moment and fight. So, for me, it’s much better.
“It’s different when you go to the fights because you have to win because you need that money to do something. It’s a little bit harder.
“The guy who needs the money doesn’t risk a lot. Because in his mind he always says, “I cannot lose, I cannot lose, I cannot lose’. For me, I don’t need the money. But, for sure, I want to win.”
Not only that. But enjoy a double celebration, as well.
“I’m very happy to fight on that night, especially because a friend [flyweight Victor Nunes] who also trained with me is fighting on the same card. I’m a little bit more excited because of that.
“So perfect scenario: we both go there, and both get out of the cage with the victory, no matter how, because we’re ready to do whatever it takes to get our hand raised.
“I’ll be very happy to see my friend win. Then I will be happy to get my victory also.”