'I will prove I belong in UFC': Alberto Mina determined to show he's an Octagon powerhouse
Hong Kong-based fighter locked in training for another call to arms in South Korea
Alberto Mina had been preparing for the moment his whole life but then it came, and it was gone, and he found himself standing back stage wondering what the heck had just happened.
"It went by in a flash," says Mina. "Two minutes after the fight I was asking myself, 'Did it happen already?' If you blink your eyes the fight is over."
The bout was Mina's Ultimate Fighting Champions (UFC) debut at Macau's Cotai Arena in August last year, the culmination of years of training and the reward for a dedication to the fight game the 33-year-old can trace back to growing up in Campina Grande, Brazil, and the fascination he felt for judo and ju-jitsu.
The first Hong Kong-based mixed martial artist to grace the UFC stage - the biggest there is in mixed martial arts - Mina did the city, and the thousands of fans who had made the trip across the pond, proud.
The fight against Japan's Shinsho Anzai in the UFC's welterweight class was over after four minutes and 17 seconds of the first round, Mina's opponent hammered to the canvas and covering up by the time the bout was called over.
Mina's all-action style won him a bonus for fight of the night and he's been biding his time ever since, waiting once again for the call to arms.
The chance presents itself again on November 28, when Mina lines up inside the Octagon against Yoshihiro Akiyama as part of UFC Fight Night South Korea, the organisation's first foray into hosting an event in that country as it continues to test the waters on the other side of the world from its Las Vegas base.
"After the whole excitement of signing the first deal with the UFC, then waiting and getting that first opportunity I've just really needed some time to work on solidifying the relationship," says Mina, who been based in Hong Kong since 2010.
"Now this is my moment to prove that I really belong, and they were not wrong when they hired me."
Mina is talking from Los Angeles where he has locked himself away at Kings MMA, the gym that's home to such UFC luminaries as heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum.
"I've been training two or three times a day," he says. "Weekends for me are active recovery with cardio stuff and swimming. It's been intense during the week.
"I've been at Kings MMA, which at the moment is the best place on the planet to train for MMA. It's been exciting and my weight is now coming down as we move towards the fight so everything is on schedule."
Akiyama presents a whole new scenario for Mina. The 40-year-old's record stands at 14-5-0 (two no-contests) and includes a first-round win against former world heavyweight boxing champ Francois Botha. The man who likes to be known as Sexyama has a cult following in Japan and beyond.
"This is a very big fight for me," says Mina, whose pro MMA record stands at 11-0. "I'm a big fan of his. I've been watching his fights for years and years. It's just a huge opportunity and I am very proud to represent Hong Kong.
"I know he likes to scramble, he likes to brawl and exchange punches and kicks but I am ready for it.
"I have been working with the guys at Kings MMA who are specialists in strikes, in Muay Thai and boxing. So I am ready for this big war inside the cage."
Mina's big breaks have come relatively late in the day - he says he spent 14 years waiting for the call-up to the elite divisions - but the fighter says in a roundabout way the situation has allowed him to reflect on his role in the sport as it expands in Hong Kong.
"My heart at the moment is divided in two. I have the coaching side in Hong Kong where I want to teach the kids about this sport at Epic MMA," says Mina. "Every day I am there as a normal trainer. Then there is the other side of the heart where I am a fighter.
"I want to fight and this is a chance to jump out of my role as a coach and become 100 per cent focused on my fight. That's why I came to LA - to become an athlete again, and a student."
Mina believes the support he received last year in Macau, and the attention this fight is getting, augurs well for the future of the sport in these parts.
"Hong Kong is my home," he says. "We are building a bunch of amateur fighters at Epic and getting ready to throw them into professional fights.
"These are really talented Hong Kong kids and I am sure we will succeed and the sport will grow. In two or three years we will be pushing out some great fighters on the world stage.
"The city has the potential for fighters and to host big fights and we'd love to get the UFC to come one day."