Of all the 10 winners at ONE Fighting Championship 'War of the Lions' none of them had more reason to celebrate than Fabricio Monteiro. Not only had he just defeated the reigning Deep welterweight champion but it was his first fight in almost three years and his first win since 2008.
'The Pitbull' was forced to reluctantly retire from the sport of MMA because, even after 26 fights, he still wasn't earning enough as a fighter to train full time. As a result his form had begun to suffer and he finally made the painful decision to walk away from the sport after suffering five losses in six fights.
Monteiro's record at the time was a respectable 17-9 but a career which had promised so much seemed destined to end if, if not failure, then at least disappointment.
He won his first ten fights and was one of the brightest welterweight prospects in the entire world. However a hectic schedule soon caught up with him as he tried to fight 10 times in 2005, winning the first six but then losing three out of the final four.
Monteiro finally began to break out onto the international scene the following year, winning five straight fights including three for Japanese promotion Deep to put himself a win away from a spot in the Pride Lightweight Grand Prix.
He was submitted by Satoru Kikaoka in aneliminator, a defeat which was to prove almost fatal for his MMA career. The Pride Lightweight Grand Prix never happened and as the Japanese promotion sunk into oblivion so did the Brazilian as he fought with increasingly less frequency and began to look for alternative sources of income in order to provide for his family.
The second degree BJJ black belt and Pan American Games gold medalist could reflect on a successful MMA career but would always wonder what might have happened if he had the time to train properly as well as to rest and recuperate in between fights.
Then Monteiro's life changed. His excellent reputation in the BJJ world led to a recommendation from Rafael "Gordinho" Correa and an offer to work as a trainer at Asia's most sophisticated mixed martial arts facility, Evolve MMA.
Working alongside world class fighters such as Shinya Aoki, Rafael Dos Anjos and Zorobabel Moreira and top trainers like Heath Sims and and Gordinho every day it is no surprise that Monteiro started thinking seriously about a return to professional competition, particularly with Asia's biggest MMA promotion setting up on his doorstep in Singapore.
For the first time in years he had the luxury of a full time training camp and the results have been remarkable. Under the guidance of the Evolve MMA coaches Monteiro has been able to finally fulfill his potential and there could not have been a better stage to do so than in front of 8,000 fans, as well as a massive international audience, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last Saturday night.
Shira was a massive favourite going into the fight, he was the Deep 170 lbs champion and had fought seven times since Monteiro last set foot inside a cage. Few gave Monteiro much chance of winning against such an experienced opponent after being out of action for over two years.
Instead Monteiro showed that he is still good enough to mix it with the very best in the division by going the full three round with Shirai and winning a clear cut decision. Not only did he showcase his striking, wrestling and BJJ but he also put himself in pole position for a shot at the ONE FC welterweight title when it is introduced and, according to Monteiro, it feels good to be back,
"I am happy to have won this fight and am very happy to have had the opportunity to fight with one of the best fighters in the world in this category. I really wanted to win this fight and knowing I had trained a lot with the best team in Asia gave me great peace of mind."
It is impossible to underestimate the role Evolve MMA has played in Monteiro's remarkable recent transformation from former fighter to one of the top 50 welterweights in the world. Shirai is by far the best fighter he has ever beaten in his career so training in Singapore has not just helped 'The Pitbull' recapture his former glory, it has allowed him to surpass it.
"Evolve MMA has helped me so much. It has changed my mind, my body and soul and made me a new fighter. We have the best Muay Thai trainers in the world here and they gave me some new weapons which I could use in this fight."
Monteiro fought a smart fight and was able to stop Shirai using his Judo and Sambo to manhandle him to the ground at the same time as staying slightly busier when they clinched up against the cage. A big takedown in the final round probably made the difference and the Brazilian says he was confident the judges would give him the nod,
"When the fight ended I was not nervous because I knew I had won. I did what my team told me to do at all times and it worked, I wanted to keep the fight standing in the first two rounds and then take him down in the third round and that is what happened."
Now that he has a team behind him who ensure nothing is left to chance in his pre fight preparation and his career is being properly managed Monteiro could be on the verge of finally realizing the potential which saw him win his first 10 MMA fights,
"ONE FC every day grows more and will get much better. I want to battle with the best and I look forward to good fights and even greater challenges. I hope to fight regularly this year, this win is just the beginning and I want to show people that whatever is happened before it is never too late in life to be the best you can be."
ONE Fighting Championship 'War of the Lions' was a spectacular success which was well received by fight fans all over the world. With the stadium sold out and the ESPN cameras in attendance it was a seminal moment for the fastest growing promotion in MMA history.
For Monteiro it was the moment that he showed the world that he could still be one of the best in the division, almost eight years after he made his debut and two years after he decided to walk away from the sport altogether. Since the 2006 loss to Kitaoka little has gone right for 'The Pitbull' but he is back now, better than ever and will be a force to be reckoned with in the ONE FC welterweight division.