Octagon redemption: Hong Kong fighter Alberto Mina ready for delayed UFC debut
Unbeaten welterweight determined to make the most of a second chance after original fight in March was suddenly cancelled
Alberto Mina doesn't want to hear anyone talking about that empty feeling you get when you realise a golden opportunity has gone begging. For five months he's been dealing with it every single day.
In March, what could have - should have - been the 32-year-old welterweight's proudest moment was taken away from him by circumstances beyond his control. And ever since, Mina has been thinking about what might have been.
Chosen to make his debut on the Ultimate Fighting Championship's card at the Venetian in Macau - the first Hong Kong fighter to make it to the UFC - Mina had put himself through months of intense training in London, only to have his opponent, American Zak Cummings, fail to make the weight.
Fourteen years after he'd made his mixed martial arts debut, what should have been the unbeaten Mina's coming-out party turned into a wake as the fight was cancelled.
"It was a really hard blow for many reasons," says Mina. "I had gone through a hard training camp, it was going to be my first UFC fight in front of my home crowd and not being able to perform was devastating.
"Over 400 people had made the trip [from Hong Kong], supporting me and couldn't see me fight. It was a painful chapter that is now gone with the help of those around me and who support me whether I am fighting or not," he says.
Mina was consoled by the fact that UFC supremo Dana White immediately promised him a fight on his organisation's next card in Macau - and came through with the appearance fee Mina had been promised.
And so, here we are, five months later, and Mina is back in London putting the finishing touches on a campaign he hopes will lead to a debut UFC victory when the octagon goes up again at CotaiArena on August 23.
As part of the Cung Le-Michael Bisping/Kim Dong- hyun-Tyron Woodley undercard, Mina will be facing Canadian Sheldon Westcott and he's expecting the Hong Kong hordes - most of whom the fighter has trained as part of his day job at the Epic mixed martial arts club in Central - to be out in force once again.
"From what I have been told, Epic members and friends have already bought tickets and hundreds of them will be there to support me," he says. "I really can't wait to make them happy this time around."
It has been some journey that has brought Mina to this point in his life and his MMA career. Born in Campina Grande, Brazil, he fell into judo as a five-year-old and by 12 had moved into Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well. By 21, with black belts in those two disciplines, Mina thought it time to explore MMA - and the world. He says the sport has taught him a lot about life - both on and off the canvas.
"Anyone who knows me, sees that I am not the stereotype of the MMA fighter that perhaps people have in mind," says Mina.
"I am a quiet and calm person. Martial arts and the lifelong practice of them have taught me the values of discipline, self-respect and respect for any opponent. I learned that I can never underestimate anything or anyone and the mindset has been embedded in me since I was five.
"I try to bring that mindset to wherever I teach. I have taught in 27 countries and had the privilege and honour of meeting exceptional people that have in turn become my teachers."
The move to our shores came after the city captured his heart during a short stay in 2010, during which Mina turned up at Epic looking for a place to train.
"I visited the club and I guess it was love at first sight," he says. "Hong Kong as a city captivated me and I loved interacting with the people. The decision was easy and my commitment to Epic, the city and the expansion of MMA is serious and long term."
It has helped no end of course that UFC has set up shop in these parts. Two cards have already been held in Macau - last March and in November 2012 - and the August 23 event will herald further expansion in the region.
China hosted the first local version of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality television series earlier this year - it culminated with one bout on the March 1 card, while another was postponed until August 23 because of an injury to one of the fighters - and Mina is among a growing band of supporters who predicts the sport will go from strength to strength across the region, as it has over the past decade across other parts of the globe.
"A lot has changed [in mixed martial arts] and the UFC has been the biggest reason for instituting this change," he says. "The athletes and their training have changed, the events and the way they are put together have changed and with all that, the public awareness and understanding of the sport has changed.
"Long gone are the days when fans were just looking on in amazement thinking 'how the heck did he do that?'. People now know the sport, understand the moves and techniques and can spot a good performance from a bad one."
It was Cung Le who first pointed Mina towards the UFC. The Vietnamese-American fighter met Mina at Epic while preparing for his bout against Rich Franklin that headlined the November 2012 UFC card at the Venetian and liked what he saw.
The two fighters now share a few things in common outside the octagon too, as both have been able to dabble in a little acting - Le most famously in the multi award-winning Bodyguards and Assassins (2009), while Mina had a role in last year's award-winning action hit Unbeatable, which starred Nick Cheung Ka-fei as an MMA fighter looking for redemption.
Ironically, the film showed Mina to be exactly not what its title suggested - even if only for dramatic purposes - as, after carrying a MMA record of 10-0 into the production, the fighter was asked to do the almost unthinkable, and lose.
"I had tasted fighting in small movie projects in Brazil but the experience didn't compare with shooting Unbeatable," he says. "The actors in this movie trained for their parts - I mean, they really trained. They were committed to performing as real as possible. The scenes were really intense and the director found a good balance between the real and the artistic.
"But losing my fight in the movie made me feel bad - even if it was just a movie. I have not lost yet inside the cage and I intend to keep it that way. I really didn't like the feeling of having to lose."
And that leads us to a prediction for how things will turn out against Westcott.
"Of my 11 fights, only two have reached the third round," says Mina.
"I am putting 14 years of hard work and dedication to the sport into this fight and I have been preparing for this moment, both physically and mentally my entire life.
"I will leave everything I have inside the octagon."