'A little lost' after end of 12-year UFC stint, Gleison Tibau looking for offer that will rekindle motivation

It’s been a few weeks since 12-year UFC veteran Gleison Tibau has been, technically, a free agent.

But most of us only got to hear about the fact he was no longer a UFC fighter on Monday, after a report by Ag. Fight. And that’s partially because it took a little while for Tibau (33-14 MMA, 16-12 UFC), himself, to realize his expired contract wasn’t getting renewed.

“When the news came to me, I didn’t quite believe it,” Tibau told MMAjunkie. “It hadn’t sunk in. I didn’t believe it. For me, we hadn’t renewed it but I thought we would, because it had always been very automatic between the UFC and I.”

That’s not to say Tibau was caught off guard. Going into his most recent bout, a UFC Fight Night 131 meeting with Desmond Green, Tibau carried an overall three-fight losing skid – with a two-year suspension after testing positive for erythropoietin (EPO) in between. He was aware of what a loss – which is what ultimately happened – could mean to his UFC career.

“These more than two years that I was away threw me off my rhythm,” Tibau said. “I returned in January – it was a lightning-fast fight. I didn’t even have time to let loose. I was a lot more motivated in that fight and, really, it was a bucket of cold water. It was so fast.

“And then this last fight, my second one, I wasn’t very motivated, due to the whole situation. I was a little aware that, yeah, if I didn’t do well in the fight I would leave the promotion. Because it’s part of the job. If you’re not performing well, they need to keep things moving and renew the roster.”

The lingering hope can be explained by the fact that his previous renewals had happened under various circumstances – both wins and losses, “good times, bad times.” The contracts would just make their way to Tibau. This time, though, what he got was a message from his manager saying that there wouldn’t be a new agreement.

The 35-year-old fighter says he’s had a few offers already. Still, after 12 years and 28 bouts for the UFC, the idea of facing the market again prompted some “fish-out-of-water” feelings.

“It’s what I told my friends: I don’t even know how much money to ask from these events,” Tibau said. “My situation in the UFC was entirely different. I don’t know what they’re paying. I don’t know how the situation is out there because my entire life was in the UFC. So I’m a little lost still.

“We’ve had a few offers from events in Japan, Dubai, Russia, the U.S. But we haven’t closed anything yet, because we’re talking and I want to see what’s best. I don’t want to be tied down to any event now. I want to close a fight-by-fight contract: Do one, and be free. Because I know good opportunities will come and I don’t want to miss them.”

There are two things, in particular, that help Tibau stay positive when it comes to his future. The first one is the perspective of correcting what he thinks was his big mistake in his final stretch in the UFC: insisting on making the grueling cut down to 155 pounds.

“The weight loss was difficult and I really felt it in the recovery,” Tibau said. “I felt, in the fight, I wanted to do things and I didn’t have strength, explosiveness or energy to do what I wanted. So, really, after (the loss to Green) I sat down with my team, with everyone, because we’d been training with guys in the (welterweight division) and training super well.

“… The sad part is not having seen this before. And not having fought in the UFC in the division above to have a better performance. I didn’t want to end my contract this way, unable to have a good performance. So I was upset.”

Tibau thinks he should have made the call to move up to welterweight sooner. And he can certainly understand why, from a business standpoint, the UFC chose to cut ties with him.

But that doesn’t mean that, emotionally, there isn’t some sadness about the way he and his longtime promotion parted ways.

“Actually, I felt used, you know?” Tibau said. “Because, our whole lives, we work hard for the event. There were several times when the UFC would call: ‘Tibau, please, help us out, take this fight.’ An example is when I fought Tony Ferguson. I had just fought, I was on vacation, I was eating junk food, drinking, and the UFC called me with two weeks’ notice: ‘Tibau, please take this fight, because three athletes have gotten injured. So the only guy who could take this on short notice would be you.’ I did it to save the event, to contribute to the event. And then there comes a bad time for me, when I had to step away, was out of rhythm, didn’t do as well as I should have and then they just say, ‘No, we’re not going to renew it.’

“It’s tough. It’s tough for us, as athletes. I can understand, because it’s part of the business. They have to keep things moving and find athletes who are doing well. But I think that, out of consideration for all that I’ve done for them, they could have at least said, ‘Hey, Tibau, do you want to give it a shot in the upper division?’ Because everyone, all the promotion, everyone knows I had a tough time recovering. And with the new rules banning IVs, supplements, I wasn’t doing well. I didn’t recover well. This return was terrible, in the weight cut and in recovery. So, for me, there was a bit of lack of consideration. For what I did for them, for them to contribute, to encourage me to move up. They followed me on fight week and saw my suffering. No one came to me and guided me on anything, they just said they weren’t going to renew it.”

The cut to 155 had always been tough. But, for Tibau, it became tougher after the arrival of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which also meant fighters could no longer use IVs to rehydrate before their fights. Another aspect of it was the fact that, after being suspended for a doping violation, Tibau became extra aware and stressed about his supplement intake, clearing every single one of them with USADA until he basically gave up on taking them.

Tibau’s height and range, he says, is what kept him competing at 155. But once the Brazilian started training with taller, rangier opponents, he noticed that fighting bigger competition wasn’t hurting him.

“What was hurting me was the weight, because I wasn’t able to impose my game, my explosion, my resistance, my strength, my performance,” Tibau said. “Now, with this test, I’m not finding any difficulties to get in there, to use my wrestling. Because I’m a pressure fighter and an explosive fighter. So what I have best, I didn’t have in the lower division.”

As for the second thing that got Tibau excited about his future options?

“When the UFC contract ended, I was like, ‘Now I get to fulfil my dream of going to Japan,’” Tibau said. “I’d love to fight there, because Because of their martial arts history, a different type of culture and respect. I got an offer to fight (at RIZIN 11), but I was in Brazil for vacation. It would (have been) July 18, against Takanori Gomi. It didn’t work out. They put in Melvin Guillard, and I was upset to miss this opportunity because I wasn’t trained.”

Although that particular offer didn’t come together, Tibau admits that his “heart and soul” currently lean toward the idea of fighting in Japan. Which is not to say that’s necessarily where he’s headed next.

“We talked to Bellator – they asked to hold off a bit because they have a few contracts to handle,” Tibau said. “But they said I’m a first option for them to take. So we had that conversation with Bellator. We had a good offer from an event from Russia, which takes place once a year, from the president. But they also told me on three weeks’ notice, when I was vacationing in Brazil, so I didn’t take it. It would also (have been) in July.

“… (PFL) asked me to wait another year, because I can’t join the tournament now. So there’s been good offers. There’s an event in Dubai, in December. So I’m waiting. But I’ll fight this year, for sure, whether it’s Dubai, Russia, in Japan.”

Tibau says he’s back at training hard and has let his manager know that he’s ready to take on a fight, even on shorter notice – if he was able to do that at lightweight so many times in the UFC, he points out, that should be easier now that he gets those extra pounds. After the years he spent away, and the negative effects that the layoff had on his training and fighting, Tibau is also looking forward to getting things going again and making up for lost time.

But, mostly, he’s looking for an offer that will help him find the drive that recent circumstances have put a damper on.

“An athlete, I think in every sport, they need to be motivated,” Tibau said. “That’s the most important thing. And I’ll tell you that I’m not very motivated. But I’m searching for that. I was very motivated by Japan, because it’s a childhood dream of mine. I grew up watching PRIDE and that motivated a lot – the culture, the events with high production value. That motivates me. I want to me motivated. So I’m waiting for a new offer to make make me hungry to fight.”

It helps that his non-literal hunger has been dealt with, too, and Tibau has the perspective of going into a fight week happy and nourished. Not to mention the comfort of knowing that, even as he looks back on all the things he could have done differently in his long, busy UFC stint, Tibau knows the effort was always there.

“Those 12 years in the UFC were of heavy dieting,” Tibau said. “Zero carb, zero sugar, so it was hard. There were camps in which I’d go sparring without eating anything, running only on black coffee, to fulfil my obligation of making weight. And in these 12 years in the UFC, I never had problems with missing weight. If you look, I’m the athlete who’d lose the most weight in there and I never missed. Because I had the responsibility of honoring that contract.

“I’d never get into a fight and not fulfil my obligation of making weight, of going up there in the octagon and giving it my blood and sweat. Win or lose, I always gave it my all in there. Whether it was in camp, in fighting injured, in making weight at all times, in giving it my all in fights – these, I’ve always done.”

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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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