There are more than a few similarities between Matt Serra, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight champion, and heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga despite the seven inches, 70 pounds and language barrier that separates them.
Both are jiujitsu experts who are among the most accomplished in the world at their craft. Both are supremely confident despite recently being huge underdogs.
But the primary difference between them is one Gonzaga believes he’ll fix Saturday when he faces Mirko Cro Cop in a heavyweight title eliminator in Manchester, England.
Serra scored a stunning upset April 7 after telling everyone for weeks he would defeat Georges St. Pierre. Gonzaga, too, is a bold talker who exudes confidence, but he’s yet to post that kind of a career-defining victory.
Though Gonzaga said he believes it’s only a matter of time until he bags his signature win.
“I’m not going out and swinging for a home run and hoping I get lucky,” Gonzaga said. “I think I’m the favorite. I know I’m going to win the fight. I’ve prepared to win it and I’m going to go out and win it.”
Serra called his first-round knockout of St. Pierre the biggest upset in UFC history. But if Gonzaga were to defeat Cro Cop and derail a potentially huge summer blockbuster between UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture and Cro Cop, Serra’s hold on that honor would be short-lived.
Though UFC president Dana White pointed to the Serra knockout of St. Pierre as evidence that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in a mixed martial arts fight, it was clear from the moment the UFC announced the signing of Cro Cop on Dec. 30 that it had big plans for him.
Cro Cop’s image already adorns large billboards on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, Calif., and in Times Square in New York. The UFC has put all of its marketing muscle behind him, believing that a Cro Cop-Couture fight could set live gate and pay-per-view records.
Gonzaga has a black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu and won the 2006 Mundials, essentially the World Cup of jiujitsu. Cro Cop is a southpaw striker who is also perhaps the best kicker in the history of the sport.
But Cro Cop said he felt comfortable fighting on the ground and didn’t fear competing there with Gonzaga. Gonzaga said he had similar thoughts about waging a standup fight against Cro Cop.
“I’m glad he feels that way,” Gonzaga said. “I feel the same way about standing with him. I believe I can knock him out if we stand or (submit him) if we go to the ground.”
Gonzaga said he believes Cro Cop is the second-best heavyweight in the world, behind Fedor Emelianenko.
Still, much like Serra a few weeks earlier, Gonzaga is confident.
“Some people may think (I have no chance), and that’s fine, because the great thing about this sport is that we get to prove who’s better,” Gonzaga said. “And I know I can beat this guy.”