by Tom Hamlin for MMAWeekly.com
Jorge Gurgel is smiling a lot these days. Around the gym, he hardly looks like a man on the way to a fight. For the first time in years, he is 100 percent healthy. It’s been two and half years since he’s been able to say that.

“I get to perform at 100 percent of my physical ability,” Gurgel says. “I’m so friggin happy right now.”

Gurgel’s always been the guy who stay’s later at the gym, working endlessly on something that needs tuning up. He has a tendency of overestimating his opponents, which keeps him toiling for perfection. “My whole life I’ve been associated with overtraining,” he says.

It’s cost him in the injuries he’s sustained since his emergence in the UFC. His first knee injury hobbled his appearance on the second season of the Ultimate Fighter. His second, sustained only days before his last fight at UFC 63, put him out for nearly 10 months.

Two knee replacement surgeries later, Gurgel wants to show fans that he’s worth their adulation. Since the injuries, he’s worried about whether he’s worthy of it.

“The biggest concern I have at this point is that people never got to see me,” he says candidly. “They support me so much and I have such a huge fan base, and I don’t understand why yet. Every single person that asks for my autograph, or says ‘Jorge you’re my favorite,’ they light a fire under me every single time.”

Now that he’s healthy, Gurgel is ready to face the pundits who’ve criticized his past performances. “If you want to criticize me, do it right now. Because there’s no excuses, so if you want to say anything about me after this fight, go right ahead.”

His fight with Diego Saravia this Saturday at UFC 73 has been a long time coming. What many fans don’t know is that there’s history between the two Brazilians. It started on the beaches of the two’s hometown in Fortaleza, Brazil.

“I’ve known him for over ten years,” Gurgel explains. “We were always just buddies. We trained at rival jiu-jitsu schools, so we’d see each other at the beach, see each other at shows. We just grew up together as teenagers. We were friendly with each other, but we never competed against each other because he was always one weight class below mine. But I’ve known him since we were 14 years old.”

In jiu-jitsu tournaments back in Brazil, Gurgel was always a weight class or two heavier than Saravia, something that might play a big part in this meeting.

“I’m definitely bigger than he is,” Gurgel says. “I’m 3 inches taller and he walks around at maybe 165, and I walk around at 185.”

With that disparity in weight, one might expect Gurgel to muscle through Saravia’s excellent jiu-jitsu, but Gurgel is counting more on the element of surprise.

“Part of my game plan is to always keep him out of his element,” Gurgel says. The only place he’s comfortable is when he’s fighting off his back, and I don’t plan on being there. So I’m not gonna get caught up in his guard playing jiu-jitsu. I’ll be throwing punches, kicks, elbows, and knees from the time the fight starts to the time it ends.”

Win or lose, Gurgel is not concerned about his place in the lightweight division. Though it seems to deepen by the month, Gurgel is unconcerned.

“If you spend too much time thinking about the future or what the future’s going to be like, you forget to do shit today in the present,” Gurgel says. “Just make everything the most you can make it, and the future will take care of itself.”

He’s already learned a valuable lesson about staying power in the fight game. Instead of staying later at the gym, or teaching seven private lessons a day, he takes a day off from time to time. Gurgel is confident that UFC fans will see a new fighter in the cage this Saturday.

“I just wish I would have listened earlier,” he finishes.