It’s been a long road to the UFC for Yorgan DeCastro, who makes his debut Saturday at UFC 243. Born in Cape Verde, he left his home country looking for something more.
While wealth and prosperity was at the heart of what he was looking for, he discovered a love for combat sports as well.
“I moved from Cape Verde to Portugal, of course, looking for a better life and more opportunity,” DeCastro said. “Then from Portugal I started kickboxing.”
Although he found an avenue that led his down a very different career path, it didn’t lead to the new life he wanted. He wasn’t changing his fortune in the way that he envisioned; Portugal wasn’t quite the place for him to make it to where he wanted to go. So, he changed that plan and headed towards family, this time in the US.
“I was doing kickboxing, but I wasn’t going nowhere,” he recalled. “My uncle, my mother and all my family were here in America, so I moved here to chase the dream with the hope that one day I could make it big.”
But even that that stage the dream was not about MMA. In fact, it could not have been further from his mind. Then a chance encounter with a famous UFC fighter and their gym got things started.
“My dream was kickboxing - it was never MMA,” DeCastro said. “When I moved out here, I was living in Brockton [Massachusetts] and my uncle was connected to Lauzon MMA. So he brought me there and I started to do kickboxing and they made me do jiu jitsu and wrestling.”
And while that may have been his first foray into mixing martial arts, it didn’t take him long to dive full blown into MMA. After 6 months, he made his amateur debut, a TKO victory on a local Massachusetts card. That success was short-lived though, as his time with the grappling arts began to hinder his career.
“I failed as an amateur. I lost 4 fights where guys were able to take me down - dominate me on the ground, and I couldn’t get up,” he said. “[Now] my jiu jitsu is not that bad. I can defend a submission, I can get up - but at the beginning it was really rough.”
A lot of that progression is in thanks to advice Joe Lauzon gave him early in his career. Lauzon didn’t try to make DeCastro into something he wasn’t, but rather tried to show him how his weakness could aid his biggest strength.
“From the moment that I walked in there, to Lauzon MMA, he told me ‘your career is going to be all about defending the takedown. As an amateur my kickboxing was already good, but he said ‘you’re not going to find too many people who wants to stand with you,” DeCastro recalled noting the changes he eventually made. “As a pro I told myself that this can’t happen to me. I’m going to look for the best wrestling around, I’m going to wrestle my ass off.”
Now DeCastro trains at Regiment Training Center in Fall River, where he credits the wrestling advances to his coach Dan LaPage. He also notes that grappling with Bellator-veteran, Pat McCrohan, and Brown University wrestler, Ian Butterbrodt, have been pivotal to his progress.
Still, even though he is much better than he once was, it doesn’t mean he really enjoys that part of MMA.
“I hated it at the beginning. I’d get home in pain, all my body was hurt. Like ‘wow, what the hell was this?” he recalls. “I’d [still] rather do 2 hours of kickboxing than do a half hour of jiu jitsu.That’s a whole different game right there.”
DeCastro is likely to get his wish to kickbox this weekend as he takes on notable Australian striker Justin Tafa on the pay-per-view portion of UFC 243.