All fighters who reach the top in mixed martial arts travel their own unique path, though there are certain milestones and benchmarks that can help them get there a little faster than expected.
While success is still an inexact science, it’s impossible to deny the connection between winning the CES MMA Bantamweight World Title and reaching MMA’s biggest stage. All three fighters who’ve worn that belt since its inception in 2016 – Andre Soukhamthath, Andre Ewell, and Tony Gravely – have gone on to compete for the UFC.
Is it luck? A strange coincidence? Hardly. As the leader in high-quality MMA in the northeast (and beyond) CES has become synonymous with putting the best fighters in the most important bouts, so this remarkable turnover rate is no surprise; the fighters competing for CES MMA titles are typically on the cusp of greatness, and putting your best foot forward in a fight of such magnitude is the ultimate game-changer.
With all three champions having moved on to the UFC, coupled with a worldwide pandemic that has limited the activity of most promotions, CES MMA’s bantamweight title is predictably vacant, but not for long. Beginning with a four-man eliminator at CES 62 next Friday, April 30, a new champion will inevitably be crowned in 2021.
The fun part is getting there, and that road begins at the Caribe Royal Orlando less than a week from now live on UFC FIGHT PASS®.
One title eliminator is an intrastate showdown between Orlando bantamweight Diego Silva (12- 5, 2 KOs) and Coconut Creek veteran Andrew Whitney (18-6, 7 KOs), both making their CES MMA debut. In the other title eliminator, Dinis Paiva (13-8, 7 KOs) of East Providence, RI, a 20-time CES MMA veteran and former bantamweight title contender, faces off against Pensacola native Josh Smith (9-6, 5 KOs). The winners will meet one another in a five-round world title bout at a later date.
Limited tickets for CES 62 are available online. Doors open at 6 pm ET. Showtime is 6:30 with the live FIGHT PASS stream beginning at 8. To sign up for UFC FIGHT PASS, visit ufcfightpass.com, or download the UFC app.
The fighters competing next Friday know the history, and, most importantly, know what’s at stake. They, too, could be next in line to join the short, but successful, list of former champs who get that coveted call to the UFC.
Of the four competing in the eliminator, Paiva has come the closest to wrapping the belt around his waist; he faced Ewell for the then-vacant title at CES 50 in 2018, only to watch Ewell escape with the win and, within three months, earn a spot at UFC Fight Night 137. He’s been with the promotion ever since. An attempted second shot at the crown five months later fizzed when weight issues forced Paiva to withdraw from his showdown with reigning champion Gravely at CES 53. Could the third time be the charm? First, he must get through Smith on April 30.
“I’ve learned to constantly refine what works, improve on areas of weakness, and secretly add new weapons to the mix,” said Paiva, who recently appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series in September. “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
“[Smith] is a great opponent and offers a lot of challenges, which will lead to a very entertaining fight.”
Staying true to his nickname, the 33-year-old Smith promises fans will know who “That Guy” is once this fight is over. He recognizes Paiva’s stature as CES’ most tenured fighter, but isn’t interested in writing a redemption story for anyone other than himself; he could go a long way toward penning that first chapter with a win over Paiva.
“He’s already had and lost his chance at the gold,” Smith said of Paiva. “It’s my time now and I want that belt. I promise you I’ll shine under those CES lights.
“I know he is a good fighter and I have nothing but respect for the guy, but I can’t let anyone stand in the way of my dreams. I’m super grateful for this opportunity. I will take that belt and, hopefully, be the fourth bantamweight champion from CES to make it to the big show.”
Silva is equally confident entering his bantamweight eliminator against Whitney. The 27-year-old from Rio de Janeiro hasn’t fought since January of 2020, just months before the pandemic shut down most professional sports, and is itching to get back in the cage after two proposed bouts in September and November fell through the cracks. He also spent part of the pandemic back home in Brazil to help take care of his family, but remained ready and in shape by training nonstop.
“I knew at any time I could get a call,” Silva said. “I am very close to signing [with the UFC] and I believe being a CES champion will give me that chance, so I’m excited for this opportunity. [Whitney] is a tough guy with heavy hands, but he’s never faced anyone like me.”
Like Silva, Whitney has also been out of the cage for quite some time, but his stretch of inactivity dates back to September of 2019, so this April 30 bout will end a 19-month layoff. Rust, he says, won’t be a factor; if anything, the time off gave him the opportunity to heal both physically and mentally after several tough bouts against top-level opponents.
“My opponent is scrappy, transitions well in scrambles, and is a complete martial artist, but I’m looking forward to showing my dominance in the cage,” Whitney said. “You can expect a gladiator mentality – I’ll be taking his head off!”
There is no shortage of motivation for the contenders in this special bantamweight eliminator. The allure of championship glory – and the track record of those who’ve won the title – is enough to get anyone to shake off the pandemic rust and get back to business with a clear goal in sight.
Full fight card info for CES 62 is available at Tapology. Visit CESMMA.com for more information, and follow CES MMA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @CESMMA.