With all the depth in the lightweight division these days, it’s easy for a fighter to get lost in the shuffle. Big names and big fights keep moving to the forefront, fighters that are injured or inactive left to be overtaken by the latest rising star or resurgent veteran.
Counted among that somewhat forgotten group is Gesias Cavalcante.
Not all that long ago, Cavalcante was a rising star in his division. A member of the vaunted American Top Team, winner of back-to-back K-1 Hero’s middleweight Grand Prix events, he was a fringe top 10 contender who pundits predicted would have a very bright future.
That feels like a long time ago now.
Eight months after losing a controversial split decision to Josh Thomson in his Strikeforce debut, Cavalcante is no longer talked about as a potential champion. In fact, he’s rarely been talked about at all, having fallen out of the spotlight thanks to a 1-3 record over the last three years, and an overall lack of activity.
This weekend, the 27-year-old Brazilian hopes to start changing all that. He’ll finally return to the cage, facing hard charging Justin Wilcox at Strikeforce: Dallas on Saturday night.
It’s an opportunity that Cavalcante has been awaiting for quite some time, and he’s ready to start showing people that he still has championship potential.
“I’m excited, man. I’m really excited,” blurted out Cavalcante, his enthusiasm and genuine eagerness to get back into the cage coming through the phone loud and clear. “I’ve been waiting for a fight for a while, and finally everything came through. Strikeforce gave me another opportunity to fight. My management worked hard to get me the fight – ASM, Authentic Sports Management, Glenn Robinson. I’m really happy, man. Excited to be back. Ready to fight. Just got to cut some pounds, and that’s it.
“I’m feeling renewed now. I’ve been through a lot of things, and now everything is in the right place at the right moment. I’m feeling good. I just feel like another opportunity has come to show what I’m capable of.”
Since he last stepped into the cage in October 2010, Cavalcante left his long-time home at American Top Team. Cavalcante, Jorge Santiago and the Villefort Brothers, Danilo and Yuri, split from the Coconut Creek-based outfit and set up shop on their own in Boca Raton. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans joined the group after his split from Greg Jackson’s team in Albuquerque.
While the media has made a lot of the split, Cavalcante says things aren’t that different. Yes, there have been changes, but all of them have been positive.
“Danilo, Jorge, Yuri, their older brother, I’ve been training with them before; those are my closest friends. So, it’s not like I changed a lot, you know? The only thing now, I’m having more attention. We’re having more attention for training, especially for what we need and what we want to do. How we feel we’re going to get better. It’s doing good.
“Rashad brought along Mike Van Arsdale, his wrestling coach; he’s doing an excellent job. I’m training a lot of wrestling with him, and that has helped me a lot. I’ve gotten a chance to train with my old striking coach, Ouali Mohamed. For me, he’s the best striking coach in the game right now. He’s a seven-time world champion in Muay Thai. He’s the one that will sharpen us up for the fight. Back in the days of 2006, 2007 when I was winning in Hero’s, he was one of the guys that was with me, so everything is in the right place at the right moment.”
Many people think of Cavalcante as a striker.
They recall his quick TKO win over Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro or his stunning 30-second flying knee finish of Hiroyuki Takaya. Highlight reel finishes aside, the man known as “JZ Calvan” in Japan is quick to point out he’s ready no matter where this weekend’s meeting with Wilcox goes.
“I came from the ground game. I sharpened up my striking over time, but that makes me more comfortable in the fight. If he wants to go to the ground, I trained jiu jitsu, I trained the ground game a long time; that’s my specialty. If he wants to stand, that’s good too. I’m not going to make his life easy. I can control the fight all the way, but whatever way it goes, I’m comfortable.”
While Cavalcante doesn’t intend to make like easy for Wilcox Saturday night in Dallas, he isn’t expecting any different from his opponent either.
“I’m not looking at him like a stepping thing. I’m taking him serious. He’s an opponent who wants the same thing that I want too. He’s a tough guy. [He’s been winning a lot of fights],and he’s hungry. He comes forward, he comes to fight, that’s the same thing that I do, and I think it’s going to be a good fight. I’m not taking him like a stepping stone.
“I see this fight going a battle; two guys who want to come, fight, walk forward. We’re going to come to fight. He’s not a guy who is going to be circling; he’s gonna come to fight, and that’s the same mentality I have. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.
“I cannot say if it’s going to finish before the third round, but if it goes to the third round, it’s going to be exciting until the end.”
Delivering exciting fights is how Cavalcante first made his name, but those memories have faded.
A lack of opportunities and a lack of results have recast him as a forgotten man in the lightweight division; a fighter with a once bright future whose recent past looks bleak.
But in this “what have you done for me lately” world we live in, an impressive showing Saturday could erase all that. A victory over Wilcox could be the first step on Cavalcante’s road back to relevance, and a trip back to the top ten. It’s also a chance to show that he is as talented and dangerous as anyone in the lightweight division.
Healthy, happy and focused, don’t be surprised if Cavalcante makes everyone sorry they forgot about him in the first place.