Back in the day in Brazil, the term Christ Fighter of MMA led you to only one name, UFC, Pancrase, PRIDE and K-1 veteran Ebenezer Fontes Braga.
Trying to spread the word of his Christian faith at the same time as he was winning fights in high-profile competitions, Braga was one of the most unique fighters competing at the end of the 90s and in the beginning of the new millennium. He had a small problem though; how to explain to the members of his church that his work was based on fighting people professionally.
Now time has passed, and after Braga’s retirement six years ago, it opened the door for another athlete with the same intentions. Diego 'The Gun' Nunes - who faces former featherweight WEC champion Mike Brown in the preliminaries of UFC 125 on January 1st - started his MMA career in 2004, filling the space that appeared after the retirement of ‘Pitbull’ Braga. However, to reach the levels of his evangelic colleague, Nunes had to pass through a lot of tests until he began squaring off with the best in the best organization. Eleven fights later he did, getting into WEC unbeaten, but when asked if he walked the same road Braga did when in front of his church, Nunes smiles and shakes his head positively.
"In the very beginning of my career, mainly when I lived in the inland of Rio Grande do Sul, where the people are more reserved, they asked me to change my job, talking only about violence and that I won't have success doing that," he said. "But I grew in spite of this aversion, keeping my idea of fighting and spreading the word of Jesus Christ intact in order to make the sport of MMA recognized in the environment I'm in, the church."
Step by step, Nunes convinced people that what he chose as a profession wasn't blasphemy to his beliefs. However, he couldn't forget about training hard in order to put together a stellar career, and the native of Caxias do Sul city smashed opponents in the Southeast and South of Brazil as he looked to make his jump to the next level - fighting internationally.
“The Gun” did it too, with a quickness and ferocity that earned him his moniker. But he likes to tell the people who watched his previous 16 fights (mainly his first 11) and said that things have happened too fast in his life, as in his fights, that isn't the case. And for a guy who lived in four different cities (his homeland, Florianopolis, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) and left his parents' house early, traveling on Christmas day, and fighting on the first day of 2011 and against a former WEC champ is not a problem.
"Everybody has a tough story to tell; I achieved a dream fighting in the WEC since 2008 and then fighting in the UFC now, and the path to get here wasn’t quick and easy…" an emotional Nunes says. "On many occasions I didn't have a place to sleep, or food to eat and I still kept fighting, and thank God now I'm in the UFC, I'm a Nova Uniao representative and I can provide what I couldn't have before to my wife. The suffering was a challenge to surpass, so I can deal with later celebrations for Christmas and the New Year (laughs)."
Nunes’ international career began a little over two years ago, and the 28-year old Brazilian has compiled a 4-1 record inside the cage battling against the likes of Cole Province, Rafael Dias, L.C. Davis (his lone defeat), Raphael Assuncao and Tyler Toner. These fights, along with his stint in the Vado-Dela Riva Gym and with Team Nogueira and his current squad, the ultra-competent Nova Uniao, helped “The Gun” to become the fighter he is now, and a UFC featherweight. But leading up to Saturday’s bout, he recalls that one moment that he didn't participate in directly that is one of his keys to making him more confident against Brown.
"The way Jose Aldo beat him, it was spectacular and it motivated me a lot. Perhaps if it didn't happen I'd be more anxious to fight Brown. But instead, it worked like a fuel and showed me the road to beat him," Nunes says. "I know this is a different situation and he's going to fight me differently than he fought Aldo - but I think that was very positive for me."
Talking to Nunes is typically like this. He gets motivation from where we don't see, he thinks of the past to get stronger for the present and future, and he looks at the next steps on his journey with a boy's innocence while still not looking past his next opponent, one he needs to take seriously.
"I'm training very hard here without free time during the weekends, I am pushing my limits and Brown is the perfect guy for my UFC debut," he says. "I didn't have easy fights, and if I'm going to take on the former WEC champ, this is good for my career. I fought three times in the last six months and I know this is audacious, but after beating Brown I'd like to face Chad Mendes next."
Diego Nunes - The New Generation
"Everybody has a tough story to tell; I achieved a dream fighting in the WEC since 2008 and then fighting in the UFC now, and the path to get here wasn’t quick and easy…"