You’ve heard the horror stories before. A fighter travels overseas and can’t make weight because he’s dealing with food that he’s not accustomed to. Or jet lag has him lethargic and unable to get back on track by fight night. Or maybe he’s just out of sorts because he’s thousands of miles away from home.
Whatever the scenario, it’s not uncommon to hear fighters groan a little when told that they’re fighting outside of their native country. Then there’s UFC flyweight Chris Cariaso, who not only looks forward to international work trips, but has excelled during them, going 3-0 in bouts taking place in Canada, England, and Japan. So when he got selected for a May 18 bout in Brazil against Jussier Formiga, that was no problem whatsoever.
“Brazil and Las Vegas, those are kind of like my bucket list places to go,” said Cariaso, whose most recent match with John Moraga was in Vegas. “So being able to go and fight in Brazil is just awesome and I’m really excited about it.”
So what’s the secret that has Cariaso performing to his best overseas while others falter?
“I embrace the experience,” he said. “I enjoy going out there and seeing the new stuff and I embrace every minute of it. When I’m enjoying something, it brings out the best fighter in me. Being able to go fight in Brazil is one of those experiences that you don’t get all the time, so I’m gonna be enjoying every second of it.”
And being the “bad guy” against the local hero isn’t an issue at all.
“I like it when people like me,” he laughs. “But it doesn’t bother me if I’m going to have to be the bad guy. There’s no pressure on me, so all I have to do is go out there and perform, and hopefully by the end of that fight I’ll have a bunch of new fans.”
He’s hoping to come home with another win as well, as he looks to bounce back from the UFC 155 submission loss to Moraga and get back to the form that saw him win three straight in the year previous. To do that, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but making sure that he’s not taking on too much at one time when his focus should be solely on the upcoming fight.
“My second fight (at flyweight) was real tough,” said Cariaso, who entered the 125-pound weight class in July of last year after a successful run at bantamweight. “It was kind of short notice, it was over the holidays, the weight cut was hard on me, and I had barely opened up my gym, so there was a lot of work and I had a lot on my plate. Now coming into my third fight, I feel like I was going into my first flyweight fight. I feel fresh, my body’s healthy and strong, I’ve been able to train consistently and I’ve got my schedule worked out where I’m able to teach and keep training and not burn myself out. This third time around, you’re definitely going to see a new fighter.”
Flyweight has served Cariaso well, despite the 1-1 record in the division, and it wasn’t just a fresh start for him in the Octagon, but in life as well, as his move ten pounds south coincided with a move with his wife and two children to Tucson, Arizona.
“I was living in San Francisco for a lot of years, I have a wife and two kids, and it’s just that Bay Area grind,” he said of his decision to move from northern California. “It’s expensive to live out there and it’s harder to bring up kids in a good area. So one day I just got a hair in my butt and said ‘I’m ready to get out of here. Let’s try something new.’ We circled our fingers around a map and ended up in Tucson.”
Making a move like that can be harrowing in any case, but when you’re an established professional fighter who is now left with the task of finding a new gym and team to train with while competing in the biggest organization in mixed martial arts, that can make things even more stressful.
“It was definitely scary,” said Cariaso, “but I own a gym in San Francisco, so I’m always able to fly back and go over there. And now I opened another gym here in Tucson, so now I have a second gym. I brought in guys to train with me, and I think we’ve done a good job of putting together good guys for me to train with and keep me learning and going to the next level.”
And in Brazil’s fifth-ranked Formiga, a fighter long considered to be the best flyweight in the game before losses to Ian McCall and John Dodson took him down a few pegs in the rankings, the seventh-ranked Cariaso can make that move to the next level with a win, and he knows it.
“He’s a real tough contender and this is one of the reasons why I wanted this fight,” said the 31-year-old. “I believe that me beating him is gonna put me back into that title picture, and that’s where I want to be. I believe that I should be fighting for that title. In my last fight against Moraga, I feel like I was winning that fight and I just got caught in the third round, and I didn’t even feel like I was on top of my A game in that fight. I just want to prove that I belong on top.”
Consider that proof that Chris Cariaso doesn’t just want to spoil a home game for Formiga, but that he has a sense of urgency that the better he looks on fight night, the better the odds are of him meeting Moraga once again, this time with a title possibly on the line.
“There is that urgency,” said Cariaso. “I want to make a statement in this fight. I dropped the ball in my last fight and I’m ready to bounce back and reintroduce myself.”
Chris Cariaso: A Road Warrior Welcomes His Upcoming Trip to Brazil
"I want to make a statement in this fight. I dropped the ball in my last fight and I’m ready to bounce back and reintroduce myself." - Chris Cariaso