Back in 2010, Gabriel Gonzaga lost his confidence and his passion. He got both back tonight in Rio de Janeiro.
The former heavyweight title contender schooled hotshot prospect Edinaldo Oliveira in less than four minutes. Gonzaga made it look easy as he took the 6-foot-7 Oliveira to the ground and eventually locked on a nasty rear-naked choke to force the tap at 3:22 of the first round.
"It felt great to be back in the Octagon. My time away from the UFC was good for me. I dealt with some personal business in my life and came back refocused. Before, I was training well, but my mind just wasn't in it. Now, I'm back, I feel great. I'm focused and I showed that," said Gonzaga.
Gonzaga (13-6, 8-5 UFC) last fought with the promotion in Oct. of 2010, then abruptly retired. He had a comeback fight with a smaller promotion in October of 2011.
After starting off 4-0 with the promotion, he rose near the top of the division, but then lost badly to UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture at UFC 74. After that fight, Gonzaga looked tentative and wilted in big moments going just 3-4.
Oliveira (13-2, 0-1 UFC) was way in over his head tonight. He looked to small for the weight class and his takedown defense was shaky. Once Gonzaga got him to the ground, Oliveira was easy prey.
Stout tentative in first fight since trainer's passing
This was going to be a tough night for Sam Stout. He was facing Brazilian Thiago Tavares on his home turf and doing so without his trainer Shawn Tompkins, who passed away last August.
Having to defend takedowns early, Stout got taken out of his game and lost via unanimous decision.
Stout (17-7-1, 6-6 UFC) was taken down twice in the first round. Tavares did little damage and really never settled Stout on his back, but the mental toll it took on the Canadian changed the fight.
Stout, a very dangerous striker, never committed the rest of the way to letting his hands go. At times, he was actually outstruck by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
"Sam Stout was the toughest opponent I've ever faced and this is the biggest win of my career. I thought about this fight for a long time. I have to be honest: of all the ways I saw this fight going, I never expected to beat him striking," Tavares said. "I tried to take the fight to the ground, but he has great takedown defense. The fight stayed on the feet and I was able to win there. I want another big name next."
This was Stout's first fight without Tompkins in his camp and cageside. Tompkins was more than just a trainer, he was Stout's brother-in-law. Stout's sister Emilie was married to the trainer.
"This was my first fight without Shawn (Tompkins). It was definitely an adjustment not having him in my corner. I hope Shawn would be proud," Stout said. "I thought I took rounds two and three, but I just struggled to find my rhythm. My head wasn't in it in the first round. I had a slow start and I have no one to blame but myself for that."
The lackluster performance wasn't surprising, but it was uncharacteristic. Stout is only .500 fighter with the promotion, but he's earned four postfight award bonuses.