Gabriel Gonzaga: 'I can still compete with the best in the sport'

Gabriel Gonzaga makes his return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight roster this weekend (Jan. 14, 2012) at UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after a 15 month layoff.

If you happen to catch the UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" prelims in front of tomorrow night's (Jan. 14, 2012) pay-per view event, which airs live via the FX channel, you may be witness to a Gonzaga sighting.

Gabriel Gonzaga, to be exact.

The Brazilian heavyweight makes his return to the new and revamped Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight roster to take on fellow countrymen Ednaldo Oliveira following a 15-month hiatus. Gonzaga announced his short-lived retirement following his release from the promotion after losing to Brendan Schaub at UFC 121 back on Oct. 23, 2010.

The loss marked his second in a row and his third in four attempts inside the Octagon.

Before going on an up and down roller coaster of wins and losses, "Napao" was a force to be reckoned with, but is perhaps still best known for his devastating head kick knockout over Mirko Filipovic at UFC 70 way back in 2007.

Not only did Gonzaga nearly decapitate the Croation kickboxer, but he also ruined everyone's hopes and dreams of seeing a championship match-up between then-champion Randy Couture and "Cro Cop." The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt took his place but went on to lose to "The Natural" at UFC 74 via technical knockout (TKO), thus beginning his slow and steady decline within the promotion.

After taking more than a year off to reset, Gonzaga returned to mixed martial arts (MMA) at Reality Fighting: "Gonzaga vs. Porter," to claim the promotion's heavyweight title.

However, as recently told the gang at Bleacher Report, "Napao" is ready to show the world that he can still compete at the highest level and even hopes to compete for the title one day.

Check it out:

"I believe in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I accomplished everything I wanted. I won state, national and world-championship titles. In MMA, I had the opportunity to fight 12 times so far for the UFC. I fought for the UFC heavyweight title, and against some of the best fighters in the sport. I believe I was looking for some time to reset my goals. I enjoyed the chance to stay close to my students, and also the extra time I was able to spend with my family...[But] my students and my friends were asking to see me fight again. The UFC always treated me very well. I knew if I had some wins outside of the UFC, they would have me back. I was ready to take this opportunity to fight again in the UFC, and I jumped on it when my manager called me. It will prove to me that I belong there, and I can still compete with some of the best in the sport. I take one fight at a time. I just want to focus on this fight right now. I want to be a world champion...I want to be recognized as a guy that comes to fight win or lose, and puts on a good show for the fans."

Gonzaga couldn't have picked a better time to re-join the big boys of the UFC. With the addition of the Strikeforce roster and Alistair Overeem, the heavyweight landscape is as strong as it has ever been.

With young and hungry fighters ready to make their own mark in the UFC's heavyweight division, Gonzaga may find himself to be a grizzled veteran surrounded by rising young prospects who are also aiming for the coveted UFC strap.

Which begs the question, is Gonzaga ready to take on the new breed of heavyweights that will soon include Shane del Rosario, Daniel Cormier, Antonio Silva and the existing young talents such as Cain Velasquez , Frank Mir and company?

Or will it be too little, too late for "Napao?"

Opinions, please.

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