by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
It’s hard to believe that in the span of just a few short months the UFC lightweight division has gone from non-existent to one of the promotion’s most stacked and exciting divisions.
Returning veterans Yves Edwards, Hermes Franca and Jens Pulver combined with the arrival of very talented youngsters such as Roger Huerta, Mark Hominick, and Melvin Guillard have solidified weight class and produced some of the most entertaining match-ups of the year.
At the upcoming UFC 64 the Lightweight Championship will once again find a home for the first time in years around the waist of either Sean Sherk or Kenny Florian, but they are not the only 155lb fighters to watch for that evening.
Kurt Pellegrino, long respected as one of combat sports’ premier grapplers will be returning on the card to the weight class that he is at his most dangerous when he takes on late replacement Clueder “Junior” Assuncao in a lightweight showdown.
“I think every fighter would say the same thing I’m going to say…when someone gets hurt you want the same exact type of fighter because that’s what you were training for, so I was upset,” Pellegrino told MMAWeekly about his change of opponent for UFC 64.
“I was training for Wander Braga, who’s a jiu-jitsu guy with takedowns and a cautious fighter on his feet. I was going to come out throwing major bombs and frustrate him because I knew he couldn’t take me down. So I was a little upset when I heard that he was out because I thought my whole training had to change,” continued Pellegrino.
Wander Braga, Kurt’s original opponent, had to bow out of their match-up less than two weeks prior to their scheduled fight. Junior Assuncao will now step into Braga’s place and according to Pellegrino; Assuncao’s style is slightly reversed of his original opponent.
“I think Junior is going to come at me harder on his feet than Wander Braga ever would have,” exclaimed Kurt. “With punches he’s a lot stronger than Wander but I don’t think he’s as skilled as a grappler and takedown artist as Wander Braga is.”
Regardless of the change in opponent, Pellegrino says he feels better than ever and should become a force to be reckoned with in the lightweight division.
“I have never felt this fast and strong in all my MMA career,” exclaimed Kurt. “When I used to fight at 155lbs I was undefeated and held three championship belts in the WEC, Reality Fighting and Ring of Combat. In those events I was unbeatable but when the UFC got rid of the 155lb weight class I moved up to 170lbs and fought guys that had fought fighters like Jeremy Horn. So for me, training for 155lbs has been unbelievable.”
Kurt added, “When you train with Hermes and see what he’s been doing in his last couple fights that should be a notice on who he’s training with, who his training partners are. He’s my training partner and for him to call me a superhuman freak when I train because I don’t get tired and am not gassing…that’s because I’m not holding that extra weight that I should never have had. So for this fight and the preparations I was making for this fight you could have thrown me Sean Sherk and it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Now that both Pellegrino and Franca are in the same weight class in the same promotion the question was posed if that could become an issue down the line as the two jockey for title contention.
“We’ve always told each other that we’d never step in each other’s way of a title shot,” explained Kurt. “Whoever gets the call first…if he does, I’ll help him or if I do, he’ll help me…whoever wins that championship belt it doesn’t matter it’s still coming home to Jupiter, Florida. With the belt if Hermes gets it or I get it, it’s both of ours because we trained so hard to get there.”
Speaking of Jupiter, the area is becoming a hotbed for MMA as Pellegrino and Franca’s school, The Armory, is quickly becoming one of the elite training grounds for the future of sport.
“With our school we have amateur training partners that are going to fight in the AFC amateur show and people are going to see how really good our school is,” proclaimed Kurt. “We’re training with guys that had nothing…no striking, wrestling or jiu-jitsu and now they’re standing toe-to-toe with Hermes, me and Matt Wiman. They give us all we got and I always say that you fight like the people you train with and those guys train with us and you can only imagine what they’re going to do when they hit the scene as well.”
“Joe Mullings did a great job bringing us all together, managing us, and bring us to this school. The school has over 200 students in it and it’s just a phenomenal place to be in my life right now, I love it,” further commented Pellegrino.
Much akin to Franca, Kurt is a very thankful individual of those who have helped him become the fighter that he is today.
“I want to thank the fans. I believe they saw me fight Drew [Fickett at UFC 61] and they want to see me one more time,” said Pellegrino. “I want to thank Joe Silva and Dana White for bringing back the 155lb weight class, now I’m at my true weight class; this is where I should have been. Thank you so much to God, Joe Mullings, Hermes Franca, Raphael Chaves, Wald Bloise, Melissa Pellegrino, Brian Simmons from Grapplers Quest, Chris Brennan from NoGi, and Premier Martial Arts.”
“All those people had a major impact in my life to get me to where I am today, so I hope on October 14th I won’t let any of them down…I’ve never trained for any single fight as much as I’ve trained for this one. For everyone out there, don’t blink, I’m ready,” concluded Kurt.