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UFC 146:

With pressure subsided, Diego Brandao more than ‘the crazy Brazilian’

Brandao sets his sights on UFC gold after winning ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ 14

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Steve Marcus

Featherweight fighter Diego Brandao of Albuquerque, New Mexico, shadow boxes during workouts for UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Wednesday, May 23, 2012. UFC 146: “The Heavyweights” will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday. Brandao will fight in a preliminary bout before the pay-per-view.

UFC 146 Workouts

Roy Nelson of Las Vegas talks to reporters during workouts for UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Wednesday, May 23, 2012.  UFC 146: Launch slideshow »

Diego Brandao is fully aware of how he came across on “The Ultimate Fighter” 14.

“I was the crazy Brazilian,” Brandao said.

Brandao took no issue with the portrayal because, well, it was true. Being on the set of the UFC’s biannual reality television show brought out both the best and worst of the 24-year-old featherweight.

He became as well known for violent outbursts at cast mates in the house and at the gym as he did for cruising through the tournament by finishing four straight opponents in the first round. Looking back, Brandao provides an explanation for it all.

“I had so much pressure,” Brandao said. “I needed to win to eat and take care of my family in Brazil. It was too much. Sometimes I would train and I would not be there. I would spar and when I got hit in the face, start to think about my mom.”

Brandao (19-7 MMA, 1-0 UFC) has no such nerves heading into his first fight outside of “TUF,” a showdown with Darren Elkins (13-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) on the preliminary card of UFC 146 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

A guaranteed $100,000 UFC contract from winning “TUF” — and an additional $80,000 in bonuses from beating Dennis Bermudez at the finale card — effectively calmed Brandao.

He was able to return home to Manaus, Brazil, and buy his mother a house — a goal he talked about repeatedly while on the show.

“I was away two years and three months from my family,” Brandao said. “That’s too much. I don’t like to call, because the phone is no good for me. It makes her happy, but it doesn’t make myself happy. I only want to see her. The experience when I got there to buy a house was a relief. She deserved it. She took care of me for basically 10 years after my daddy passed away. She worked cleaning houses. It was a very hard life.”

Brandao spent four months in Brazil after winning “TUF.” Once he purchased the house, he said he “partied and just had fun” the rest of the time.

He didn’t return to the United States until one of his coaches at Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque told him he needed to get back to work.

“I had time to reset my mind,” Brandao said. “Now, I’m a different person. I can stop being crazy. I don’t have the pressure on myself.”

But Brandao does have a new goal. He vowed that he wouldn’t return to Brazil until he fights himself into a title shot.

He’s confident it can happen in as few as two or three fights if he performs like he did on “TUF.”

“The first promise, I was going to spend all my money on my mom and buy her a house,” Brandao said. “This is my second promise — I won’t go to Brazil until I fight for the title. I want to see my family, so I’ve got to win. I’ve got to finish and knock the guys out.”

Brandao is confident he’s reached a new level since winning “TUF.” One bizarre reason? His diet.

Brandao said he hardly ate anything except for McDonald’s and candy for the first two years he lived in America.

“The guys were telling me I was crazy,” Brandao said. “I didn’t know how to speak English, so I couldn’t eat. Sometimes I would go to restaurant and go to order some food and the food would come completely different. I didn’t even know what I ordered. So I liked to go to fast food because they had the pictures. But now my English has gotten better, so I can order whatever food I want. I eat better because I have a little bit of money to buy food.”

Brandao may have reached a point where he’s less combustible, but he’s not ready to ditch the craziness all together.

“A lot of things have changed,” Brandao said. “Now I can be a real fighter. It can be my job. I’m going to finish fights and get out of there because there is danger. I learn every day, and when I fight, I’m going to be Diego Brandao the crazy Brazilian.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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