Nathaniel Wood was only two years old when his UFC Utica opponent, Johnny Eduardo, made his MMA debut in Brazil. By the time Wood actually competed in a cage for the first time, Eduardo already was a UFC fighter — and the Brazilian expects all of that experience to be the difference on Friday night.
”I like this match-up. It’s going to be a good fight,” Eduardo told MMA Fighting. “What I can say is that this matchup is a great fight for me, but I don’t know if it’s a good one for him. I’m going there to win, brother. If I have to take him down and submit him, I will. Whoever is better prepared and hungrier will win. I’m on this road for a long time, I’ve fought many and many tough opponents, one challenge after the other.”
Eduardo will be making the walk to the cage for the 40th time as a professional athlete Friday, but feels as excited as a beginner.
”It feels like my third fight, man,” he laughed. “I’m anxious, crazy to get in there. It’s not only the experience of fighting 40 times, but doing 40 training camps, cutting or gaining weight 40 times.
”I’m always motivated, this is my job. What’s great about it is that I got to my 40th fight as grateful as one can be. Grateful for my life, my story in this sport, grateful for being who I am. The key is being grateful.”
What drives him and keeps him as motivated as ever, Eduardo explained, is the desire to “make money and build my castle.” Building a castle doesn’t mean making a fortune and building a mansion, but to build a legacy in the mixed martial arts world.
”An athlete doesn’t do it only for money,” Eduardo said. “It’s about proving to yourself that you can do it. Being in there, competing, fighting. I’m creating my legacy.”
Eduardo has been fighting since 1996, only three years after the UFC was created. Competing at a high level after so long is impressive, especially if you look at who fought on the same night he made his international debut back in 1999: Andre Pederneiras, his coach at Nova Uniao, and Kings MMA leader Rafael Cordeiro.
Cordeiro lost to Rumina Sao that night, Pederneiras fought to a draw with Caol Uno, and Eduardo was dominated and submitted by Takanori Gomi. “The Fireball Kid” was not the Japanese star from the PRIDE days yet, and the Brazilian crew that flew to Japan actually thought it would be an easy night for Eduardo.
“‘Dede’ (Pederneiras) came to me and said, ‘Hey Johnny, you’re the lucky one, you’re fighting MMA’s version of ‘Xuxa,’” said Eduardo, referring to Brazilian TV star Xuxa Meneghel. “He was skinny, blonde, and I was like, ‘Yeah, lucky me.’ [Laughs.] When the fight started, brother, what a beatdown. That’s what happens when you’re not prepared for your opponent and you lose focus.
”It’s completely different now, you wake up and go to sleep thinking about your opponent. We didn’t have the technology to study our opponents, build a fight strategy. Back in the old days, it was about bravery. It’s more professional now. You receive lots of tapes of your opponent to train focused on him.”
That night, on Dec. 11, 1999, Eduardo learned an important lesson in the MMA world: Never underestimate your opponent. Almost two decades later and having fought the likes of Raphael Assuncao, Jeff Curran, Eddie Wineland, Aljamain Sterling, Manny Gamburyan, and Matthew Lopez, the Brazilian has seen it all in the cage.
”I think I’ve fought athletes that are way tougher than him, with more knockout power, fighters that scare people just to hear their names,” Eduardo said, “but he has a great talent, won many fights in Europe, a champion at Cage Warriors. I’m sure it will be a good fight.”
In the end, though, Eduardo believes that the UFC has made a mistake by booking a rising European prospect against him in Utica in hopes of building Wood as the next big thing.
“I’ve seen some of his fights and he’s aggressive, and that’s my style, but I have more weapons. My arsenal is bigger,” Eduardo said. “I don’t bring only one weapon to a fight. I’ve been fighting for a long time and I will make him feel the pressure of debuting in the UFC.”