Two weeks into 2012, Rousimar Palhares (14-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) seemed to be heading toward a banner year.
He needed just 63 seconds to dispatch of Mike Massenzio in "Submission of the Night" fashion, and at 6-1 into his past seven fights, he looked primed to elevate himself as a legitimate 185-pound contender.
But a loss to Alan Belcher and a knee injury that forced him out of a planned fight with Yushin Okami forced Palhares to put his title aspirations on hold. Still, the Brazilian submission master said he still dreams of wrapping the UFC belt around his waist.
"All that matters is to go after my dreams," Palhares told MMAjunkie.com (MMAjunkie.com
) through an interpreter. "I want to be a UFC champion and therefore I spend all my time working hard, looking to improve my game."
Palhares' loss to Belcher came at this past May's UFC on FOX 3 event. Certainly, there was no shame in falling short against Belcher, who is on his own 6-1 run, but the manner in which "The Talent" claimed victory was a bit shocking. Belcher willingly attacked from Palhares' guard, a tactic previously thought to be somewhat silly considering the Brazilian's penchant for mangling limbs.
While Belcher's effort would seem to lay a potential blueprint for other opponents to follow, Palhares insists he's already addressed the errors he made.
"First of all, I have to say that Belcher did a good job in that fight," Palhares said. "Coach Murilo Bustamante and I reviewed what went wrong. It was a technical error on the takedown position, and we've talked about it for future fights."
Palhares then hoped to bounce back in an August meeting with perennial contender Okami but was ultimately forced to withdraw from the fight due to an ailing knee.
"I really was excited for that event," Palhares said. "Unfortunately, it was a ligament and the meniscus of my knee and I had to be cut off from the fights, as doctor Michael Simoni advised me."
And so Palhares had to deal with the burden of the Belcher loss even longer. A self-professed gym rat, Palhares said the time off was difficult but necessary.
"It was hard – really hard," Palhares said. "I love what I do. I gave my life for this sport. So if it were for me, I wouldn't really need free time. My entertainment is to go to the gym and work out and train. When I can't do that, I get frustrated. So it was not only a body issue, it was also mental as I could not train, and that affected me.
"Still, my recovery was good. I did a lot of physical therapy. Each fight for me is the most important of my life, and the lessons I learned from my previous fights have taught me that for me to step in the octagon, I have to be fully prepared."
Which brings us to the present, where Palhares is putting the finishing touches on his preparation for this weekend's UFC on FX 6 event in Australia, where he faces dangerous judoka and former Bellator Fighting Championships title holder Hector Lombard (31-3-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC), who is also looking for redemption after a surprising UFC 149 loss to Tim Boetsch. Prior to the result, Lombard had been on a 25-fight unbeaten streak.
"Everyone in the UFC is a danger," Palhares said. "Despite being a really good judo fighter, I know he likes to clinch, as well, so I am prepared for all possibilities. Whichever way the fight will go, I'll be ready for it."
Both fighters are lauded for their powerful, compact frames and are each capable of highlight-worthy moments in the cage. Lombard wasn't quite as aggressive as expected in his loss to Boetsch, but he still possesses heavy hands and the ability to end fights in a single blow.
Palhares said he's preparing for all possibilities.
"I want to win more than ever, so what I do is train even more," Palhares said. "I worked a lot on my standing and on the ground. I improved my wrestling, muay Thai, boxing and jiu-jitsu. At the Brazilian Top Team we have a lot of talented athletes in all of these areas, so Milton Vieira, 'Toninho Furia' (Gleristone Santos), Pedro Nobre and others have helped me everyday. They teach me a lot under master Murilo Bustamante's lead."
Palhares isn't likely to enter any title talks with a victory. Names like Belcher, Michael Bisping and Chris Weidman are undoubtedly ahead of him in the division's pecking order, and current champ Anderson Silva is also linked to potential superfights with fellow champions Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones. Still, a win ensure Palhares remains relevant in the title discussion.
Palhares believes while 2012 didn't turn out the way he hoped, a win over Lombard could certainly catapult him to a brilliant 2013.
"You can expect a guy who will always look for a submission or a knockout," Palhares said. "I want to show the world all my potential that until today I have not quite yet shown. I pray to God and I truly believe that I'm going to show my best and everyone will say, 'this is the real Rousimar Palhares.' I do not want to prove anything to anyone, I just know who I am, and I will start to show this on Dec. 14.
"I have to thank everyone that has shown me support in these past seven months. I'm blessed to have great fans and friends. I'm really excited to be in Australia. It's such a great country with a beautiful culture. I can't wait to get in the octagon and represent Brazilian Top Team. I want to see all your positive messages on my Twitter at @ToquinhoMMA. Hit me up there!"