Raulian Paiva excited for new start at bantamweight, eyes potential ranking after UFC on ESPN 27

After a frustrating year on the sidelines, Raulian Paiva is anxious to get back to work this weekend.

Forced to withdraw from both a May clash with David Dvorak and an October 2020 bout with Amir Albazi, Paiva is scheduled to compete once again at Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 27 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

“The fight in October (against Albazi) didn’t happen because I tore a knee ligament during training camp,” Paiva explained to MMA Junkie in his native Portuguese. “I underwent surgery right away. I recovered well. When I was going to face David Dvorak, I felt sick at the weigh-ins. Actually, I started feeling it the day before, while getting dehydrated for my weight cut. I passed out from that and only woke up at the hospital.”

The two incidents brought Paiva’s career progress to a halt for the past 12 months. It was especially frustrating for the Dana White’s Contender Series graduate because he is currently riding a two-fight winning streak and was hoping to continue his rise of the UFC’s flyweight ranks.

“I had been on a long winning streak when I beat Allan Nascimento at Dana White’s Contender Series and earned my UFC contract,” Paiva said. “Despite losses in my first two UFC bouts, I feel I put on good fights against Kai Kara-France and Rogerio Bontorin. I’ve always believed in myself and in the work I’ve been doing with my team. I knew that the moment would come in which I would show to the UFC and Dana White why I was deserving of my contract.

“Dana was impressed by my Contender performance. I knew my moment would come. I didn’t allow myself to be shaken by those two losses. Now that I’ve beaten Mark De La Rosa and Zhalgas Zhumagulov, I was able to show that I was right, and that my team was doing the right things.”

As Paiva (20-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) looked to book another fight following his May withdrawal, an opportunity arose to replace Raphael Assuncao at Saturday’s card. The only catch – the fight was one division up, against Kyler Phillips (9-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC), at bantamweight.

The 25-year-old Paiva saw the offer as an opportunity. While currently No. 14 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie flyweight rankings, making a run at a new division seemed like a fine idea.

“People who follow me know it – I’ve always had difficulty making 125 pounds,” Paiva said. “I’m big for the weight class. I have to cut too much. Prior to my Contender Series appearance, I had always fought at 135 or 145 pounds. Most fights were at 135. I agreed to fight at 125 because that’s the opportunity I was given at the time. I also wanted to test myself. I did make the weight for the Contender Series. But since that time, it’s been really difficult to keep cutting down.

“Having to heavily restrict my diet for more than two months before each bout was a real challenge, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity the UFC gave me, to move to bantamweight and face a ranked opponent, Kyler Phillips. With a win, I’ll be ranked in my new weight class upon my debut. I’m very ready and motivated to make that happen.”

Phillips currently sits at No. 15 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie bantamweight rankings, so a victory for Paiva would indeed be an impressive debut in the division. But the Brazilian contender knows it’s not an easy assignment.

“Kyler Phillips is both tough and versatile,” Paiva said. “He’s good – a complete fighter. He’s undefeated in the UFC, on a three-fight winning streak within the organization. As I see it, we’re going to have a fiercely fought war.

“I can win by KO, submission, or decision. The important thing is to win. My goal is to do that as quickly as possible. I realize it’s going to be a tough, fast-paced fight. It’s going to be great.”

In order to aid his preparation, Paiva spent the final days of his camp at California’s Team Alpha Male, and he believes the work that he’s put in for the past year will pay off once he finally sets foot back in the cage.

“My goal is to always keep improving by training with the best,” Paiva said. “I remain focused on getting better each day. I hope to be ranked as a bantamweight after this next bout, after which I can start aiming even higher.”

UFC on ESPN 27 airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

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