ABU DHABI // When Marcos "Santa Cruz" Oliveira left a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting team in the USA for a post as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) teacher at schools in Abu Dhabi, he feared he may never compete as a professional fighter again.
Some 16 months later, the 31-year-old Brazilian is just days away from the semi-finals of the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship (ADFC) open-weight grand prix, a Dh1 million purse within his grasp, having gained the title of World Grappling Champion USA 2009.
The move to the UAE has brought him more than a little good fortune, he said.
"As soon as I moved to Abu Dhabi a lot of things in my personal and professional life improved," the curly-haired, 120kg fighter said. "I became a world champion. I had never taken first place when I was in Brazil or America."
ADFC: Round 2 takes place at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) on Friday evening. Local and international fighters will take to the cage for nine undercard fights before the two co-main events of the evening - the semi-finals of the first ADFC open-weight grand prix championship.
Oliveira takes on Neil "Old Skool" Wain and Thierry "The African Assassin" Sokoudjou, of Cameroon, will face the striking power of the Russian Federation's Shamil "Rostov-on-Don" Abdurahimov, for a place in the final and a shot at the Dh1m, winner-takes-all, prize.
Oliveira, who trains and instructs at Abu Dhabi Combat Club, entered ADFC's elimination contest as an underdog - some of his opponents having experience in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), K-1 and Japan's Pride Fighting Championship.
But his first-round annihilation of Johan Romming in May - which ended with a knockout in just 17 seconds with a fierce straight right - has blown the competition wide open.
His battle on Friday night with Wain - a 115kg, 32-year-old British fighter with a record of eight wins, six by knockout, and two losses - is likely to be explosive.
The Briton, like Oliveira, lists his strengths as jiu-jitsu and grappling, and has won the majority of his fights by technical knockouts. He beat his first-round opponent Przemyslaw Mysial late in the second round of May's event, by a knockout (punch).
"When two men step in a cage you never know [what will happen]," Oliveira said. "I think it will be one of the toughest fights of my life.
"I know some of the guys have fought in UFC and PRIDE, and [what Wain has achieved], but I believe that they don't train as hard as me. I have the best training and coach and I hope I win this for [ADCC]."
In the other co-main event, Sokoudjou, 26, who has fought and beaten big names in UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction and Dream, is looking to shine after a lacklustre win over Dave Herman of the USA in the event's first round.
Herman had dominated the fight until two illegal knees to the Sokoudjou's head saw him disqualified.
The African Assassin has kept busy since then, having had two fights and a tough training camp with Team Quest, in California, where Dan Henderson, the former Pride and UFC champion is also preparing for an upcoming fight.
"I'm ready, it will be interesting," Sokoudjou told the press yesterday.
Asked how he will deal with Abdurahimov's 9cm height and 12kg weight advantage, he added: "I've had a bunch of big guys to spar and train with. Usually when I'm fighting heavy weight I like to cut down because I'm faster when I'm lighter."