SAO PAULO, Brazil — Augusto Sakai didn’t even have time to celebrate. Less than two months after inking a deal with the UFC, the heavyweight will make his promotional debut against Chase Sherman at UFC Sao Paulo on Sept. 22.
One of the most experienced fighters to get a chance to compete on the first season of Contender Series Brazil in August, Sakai earned a contract with the company after knocking out Marcos Conrado Jr. in Las Vegas.
A former Bellator fighter, Sakai admits he felt a different vibe competing on a stage like the Contender Series knowing that he had to impress UFC president Dana White in order to sign an exclusive deal with the promotion.
“Every fight is a different experience, a different feeling,” Sakai told MMA Fighting. “I knew that a win could get me a contract with the UFC, but I also knew that Dana White only signed two, maybe three fighters per card on the American version, so I had to convince him. I was happy with my performance, but I could have done better. I could have attacked more, but his style was kind of crazy.”
Sakai signed his deal and was quickly called on to help save UFC Sao Paulo after several injuries hit the card.
Not completely satisfied with his performance in Las Vegas, Sakai sees Sherman as a better matchup for him to show his full potential.
“If he fights the way he fought in his last four or five fights, I think I’ll be able to let my game flow more,” Sakai said. “He’s more of a striker, he doesn’t go for takedowns that much, so it’s a better matchup for me.”
Sherman, 11-5 in MMA, is looking to snap a two-fight skid in Sao Paulo following losses to Shamil Abdurakhimov and Justin Willis.
Sakai, who went 4-1-1 under the Bellator banner between 2013 and 2017, feels that everything he went through with the UFC’s rival company helped to shape him into a better athlete.
“Every fight, win or lose, is a learning experience,” Sakai said. “Being through that, six fights in Bellator, has given me a lot of experience. I hope I’ll continue to do my best in the UFC so one day I can get to the belt, which is my goal.”
Bellator decided not to sign Sakai to a new deal after his contract expired following his first career loss to Cheick Kongo in 2017. The Brazilian fighter admits he was already looking for a way out of the promotion at the time, as the UFC was his biggest goal, but leaving the promotion on a loss hurt his value.
“We wanted to end this contract already and go to the UFC. Unfortunately, we finished the contract coming off a loss and had to fight a few times, but the opportunity came on the Contender Series,” Sakai said.
“Everything happens for a reason in life. I was really upset to leave Bellator on a loss, nobody likes to lose and I’m no different, but it’s always a lesson to learn.”