Any Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) loss can set a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter back greatly, delaying their ascent into the rankings.
Featherweight prospect and Team Alpha Male (TAM) product Andre Fili (14-3) has achieved a 2-2 record inside the Octagon, but his losses have been of the more heartbreaking kind. "Touchy" was caught in a surprise flying triangle choke by submission ace Godofredo Pepe in March 2015, which occurred nearly one year after being submitted by current 145-pound contender Max Holloway in a back-and-forth exchange.
Losing isn't something that Fili is used to -- the 25-year-old brought an eight-fight win streak (five finishes) into ZUFFA in Oct. 2013.
He'll look to establish some consistency when he takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Latin America" veteran, Gabriel Benitez (18-4), at UFC Fight Night 78 inside Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, this Saturday night (Nov. 21, 2015).
But before that, Fili spoke with MMAmania.com about his health, Urijah Faber and TAM, the new generation of stars in the Sacramento camp, Benitez and much more.
Give us an update on your health to start. You pulled out of your last fight versus Clay Collard in September with injury. How are you feeling?
AF: I'm feeling great now. I'm feeling a lot better. I took that fight on short notice and really wasn't feeling well. It was a cold or flu. I was in Vegas and then went to Sacramento to get ready for the fight and I wasn't feeling better -- like the way I thought I would and the doctors had an infection in my lungs, brought on some breathing problems. I was advised not to take the fight. I gave it a few more days just to see how I felt and I really wasn't getting better. I wanted to make sure I was as close to 100 percent as possible before I step back into the cage.
It sounds like that could've been a serious issue. How long were you out for during that period of time?
AF: I tried to stay active. I took a few weeks off just to rest, but I tried to stay active. It was just hard because I was having trouble breathing. It's hard to perform at your best when you're not breathing. I got back to it and it's been a good fight camp where I've been able to feel -- for the most part -- healthy. I got some quality work in.
It's a pretty busy time at Team Alpha Male. You guys have fights lined up and you spent time coaching on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 ...
AF: I went out there for three-to-four weeks to help coach with Urijah [Faber] obviously. It was a cool experience other than getting sick and having trouble breathing. For the most part, it was a good experience to work with the guys. It was kind of a landmark thing for me because I tried out for TUF when I was freshly 21 and they told me I didn't have enough fights and now to come back and be able to help coach on the show, it was kind of cool for myself to not make it on the show and be able to come back and help.
This is the second time Urijah has coached on TUF and being that he's been through an emotionally draining time on the show and outside of it, has this been a distraction for him at all?
AF: I don't think so at all. If anything, it's beneficial. We went out there and it's not like we went out and partied in Vegas -- we were training every day, multiple times a day. We were all living together and we were eating good for the most part and training as if we were back home. It gave us a change of scenery and new partners to work with. I don't think it's been a distraction at all.
Can you talk about the mood in the gym? Are you all focused on your upcoming fights and is the drama between T.J. Dillashaw and the gym in the past?
AF: T.J. leaving was definitely a bummer because we were so close. Everyone on the team is like brothers, but everyone has to do what they have to do. He felt like that's what he had to do and train somewhere else. On a personal level, we're all friends and brothers. If anything, it brought us closer together. The vibe in the room has been outstanding lately. We're all on the same page. It makes me appreciate what I have. I have this amazing team, where I can get all the training I need and has all these people who I genuinely care about.
Has this situation affected who TAM lets train with them in the future?
AF: I don't think so. No one is really jaded or bitter. Everybody on a personal level wishes T.J. the best and on a professional level, we've just been doing what we've been doing, which is training hard and taking care of each other. To me -- like the way I grew up as a kid -- fighting kind of saved me and Team Alpha Male was a huge part of that. They took me in when I was a punk ass kid. It hasn't really changed us. Now we have more coaches than we did before and have more people -- we have two or three different striking coaches working with us now. Some worked with us before. We have a new striking coach, who's really intelligent and his fight IQ is really high. We have numerous amounts of people who come train with us from all over the world.
What kind of void did Martin Kampmann's departure as striking coach leave? That's not something we've heard much about.
AF: Martin leaving -- it sucks to see him go. I've grown close to him. He's a good coach and friend. I liked having him in the gym. He's not leaving on bad terms. He's leaving because he has a family to take care of and he's got kids now I believe. He's got his wife and they're at home in Denmark. It was really cool for him to move out here and coach us. He'll always be part of the team.
There's an influx of young talent between you, Cody Garbrandt and Paige VanZant at TAM. What are you doing to stand out and what have you begun to add to your tool belt since your submission loss to Godofredo Pepey?
AF: I don't worry too much about standing out. We're kind of the next generation I think -- Paige, Cody, Chris Holdsworth and myself. We're the next ones to carry the torch. I mean we're all really different and stand out in our own way. I look at us four as the next -- you know, you have Joe [Benavidez], Chad [Mendes], Urijah, T.J. and Danny [Castillo]. The first generation of TAM guys. I look at us as kind of the next generation.
As far as sharpening my tools, I sure as hell have been working on my triangle defense. Obviously, the fight didn't go the way I wanted and Pepey. He's had mixed results in the UFC, but he's a bad-ass black belt. He caught me in some slick shit. That happens. I still think about it every day -- it bothers me. I'll never let it happen again. Everybody is tough when they're winning. I was on a nine- or 10-fight win streak before I got to UFC and I dominated the first guy I fought and dropped the ball a couple of times. I'm just really excited to go in and prove I deserve to be in UFC and that I'm one of the best young 145-ers in the world. I want to prove I can be at the top of the division.
Moving to your fight against Gabriel, it's in Mexico and the last two times out you've fought in Brazil. When do you think you'll fight on American soil?
AF: Yeah, I'd definitely like to fight at least somewhere remotely close to where I'm from. At the same time, you can't really bitch about because everything is put into perspective. Where I come from is nothing. I come from really humble beginnings -- a life where just getting to travel to Brazil isn't feasible. That's not something you ever get to do, let alone travel to Brazil to fight and follow your dreams. It's such a blessing and easy to get caught up in the idea of traveling. No, you get to do that. Those are things you're blessed to do. You have to keep the right perspective on shit and stay positive. Hopefully after I win this fight in Mexico, Sean Shelby can throw me a Vegas card or something. Sacramento is getting a new arena. If I could fight there, that would be a dream.
Can you just give us a quick rundown on how this fight camp has been going and your expectations for the fight?
AF: I think he's tough. He does a lot of good things. He's young and hungry. I think I'm technically better than him everywhere. The fight could be stand, or on the ground, but I just know that I'm prepared and can beat him everywhere. I'll be ready to fight. Any position we go to, I'll be ready to dominate. If you're winning, people love you. If you lose, people forget about you. I just have to remind everybody I'm here to do big things in this sport and in the division.
I'd really like to stay more active. I want to be fighting every couple of months. I want to get as many fights as possible in 2016. I want this more than I want anything else in this world.