Is Guto Inocente the next big star in the UFC heavyweight division?
BOCA RATON, Fla. — You’ve barely heard of him. He has never fought in the UFC. But to those who know him and see him in training, Guto Inocente is going to be the best heavyweight fighter on the planet before long.
"I have no doubt," said Jorge Santiago, his head coach with the Blackzilians.
Cain Velasquez is the UFC heavyweight champion. He’s beaten pretty much everyone of significance in the division. And most believe there isn’t anyone even close to him.
The Blackzilians think differently. They see Inocente, 27, as the heir apparent. His greatest adversary so far, though, has been the injury bug.
The Brazilian has had surgery to repair torn ACLs in both knees and also tore a ligament in his wrist. Inocente has not fought since beating Virgil Zwicker in Strikeforce on Jan. 7, 2012. To put that in perspective, that’s just three months after the last time Dominick Cruz competed.
He’ll be champ in two years. His standup is unlike any heavyweight’s in the world.
Inocente has been patient and his wait is almost up. He told FOX Sports that he expects to fight at UFC 175 on July 5 in Las Vegas. He cannot wait.
"Let’s do it," Inocente said Friday after sparring at Jaco Hybrid Training Center. "I want to fight. I’ve spent a lot of time not fighting. I want to show my skills."
How good is he? UFC veteran Matt Mitrione is blown away by his skills. Santiago said Inocente routinely got the better of Alistair Overeem in sparring when Overeem was with the Blackzilians and he’s on a similar level striking as Tyrone Spong, the Glory kickboxing standout.
"He’ll be champ in two years," Mitrione said. "His standup is unlike any heavyweight’s in the world. … Nobody can strike with this dude. Everything he does hurts."
Inocente (6-2) is one of those new breed of mixed martial artists who started training in everything from an early age. He was a champion kickboxer in Brazil and also began Brazilian jiu-jitsu when he was 7 years old. His father has been his coach all his life.
When asked what he thought of Mitrione’s remarks that he would be heavyweight champion before long, Inocente brushed it off. He just wants to get into the Octagon. The rest, he said, will take care of itself.
"I don’t care about what people say," said Inocente, who was supposed to fight the since-deceased Shane del Rosario at UFC 168 in December. "They can say anything. I don’t care. They can say I’m bad, too. It doesn’t matter to me."
He’s hardly a self-promoter. And since he hasn’t fought in more than two years, no one has been talking about him. Santiago said people will find out soon enough why he’s the Blackzilians’ next big breakout star.
"People don’t know the guy," Santoiago said. "That’s the thing."
They might in two months. Inocente is excited about the prospect of fighting on one of the biggest cards of the year and showing the world what he can do.
"I want to fight, knock this guy and then I want to know who’s my next fight," he said. "I’ve been out a long time."
The UFC’s heavyweight division is strong in the middle, but a little thin at the top. Fabricio Werdum will challenge Velasquez in November. There’s no clear-cut contender after him.
Could Inocente find his way into the title picture by as early as 2015? There are people in South Florida who are confident that it will happen.
"He’ll be the best heavyweight for sure," Mitrione said.