The trophy was a nice touch. The glowing recommendation from his father meant even more. After switching trainers in 2014, helping him win both of his fights and earn the award for New England's Most Improved Fighter, featherweight Dinis Paiva enters the next chapter of his career Friday night with another key addition to his corner.
"My father has been an important figure in my life, but he hasn't always been my biggest fan," said the East Providence, R.I., native, who makes his network television debut Friday, Jan. 30th, 2015 when he faces Matt Doherty on the main card of "CES MMA XXVII" live on AXS TV from Twin River Casino.
"Knowing he's on the other side of the camera watching me and following me is more motivating than I can put into words."
Growing up in a Portuguese family, Paiva's father was always partial to soccer. Combat sports were a foreign concept. He didn't dislike MMA. He just didn't understand it.
"He's growing to like it," Paiva said. "I even catch him watching UFC every now and then."
He won't be watching Friday's event cageside at Twin River, but he will be watching from his second home in Florida, rooting for his son with a close group of friends.
"Before he left, he told me, 'Listen, I've got all these guys down here who are big fans. They're coming over to watch the fight. You've got to get past this 5-5 record. You've got to do this!' It motivates me," Paiva said. "I got teary-eyed knowing my father is proud. He's falling in love with the sport through me."
The new-and-improved Paiva (5-5, 3 KOs) faces a tremendous challenge against Doherty (3-1, 2 KOs), a Salem, Mass., native who hasn't fought since April when he suffered his first career loss to current UFC bantamweight Tateki Matsuda. But this isn't the same inconsistent Paiva who wandered the first three years of his career, alternating wins and losses and struggling to develop rhythm.
Paiva now trains out of the Cape Cod Fighting Alliance (CCFA) under the guidance of veteran trainer and former pro Mike Gresh, a decision he admits was one of the most difficult of his career, but one that has been validated by his recent success.
Gresh, nicknamed "Loco Lobo," has helped Paiva mature both physically and mentally, an important key to his turnaround in 2014. Paiva won both of his fights last year, highlighted by his thrilling first-round knockout win over Joe Cushman in June, and Gresh earned his own slice of recognition by winning the N.E. Trainer of the Year award.
"Most importantly, I believe in myself," Paiva said. "For the longest time, I just fought to fight because I'm a nutcase. I love the sport. But I really believe in myself now. I know I belong at the top of my division among the best 135-pounders in New England.
"It was more of a mental block than anything else," he continued. "I would win, then I'd lose, then I'd win, then I'd lose again. It took someone like Gresh, who's been around the game so long, to show me and expose me to everything. I'm mentally strong. He told me I'd be top 10 by the end of the year, but I didn't believe it until it started happening."
"He's like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of New England MMA. He's trained me in my Jedi mindset.
Paiva's knows the hardware doesn't mean much unless he keeps improving in 2015, starting with Friday's fight against Doherty, which could be a turning point in his young career. Thanks to the network television audience, he'll have plenty of support, starting in his hometown of East Providence and stretching all the way to Florida, where his biggest fan will be watching.
"Actions speak louder than words," Paiva said. "You hear guys all the time tell you how they're 10 times better than they were, so on and so forth, but what I've done speaks for itself. I've improved a lot. Come Friday night against a tough guy like Matt Doherty, it's going to show.
"I can't be broken. I can't be beat at this point with the mental strength I have."
Tickets for "CES MMA XXVII" are on $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All bouts are subject to change.
Two title bouts highlight the main card, including Bourne, Mass., welterweight Chuck O'Neil (14-6, 4 KOs) defending his CES MMA title against Jersey City's Manny Walo (7-1-1, 1 KO) in a five-round bout and a five-round lightweight showdown between CES MMA's reigning 155-pound champion, Julian Lane (8-3-1, 1 KO) of Mansfield, Ohio and Somerville, Mass., challenger Lucas Cruz (7-2, 4 KOs).
Also on the main card, Dedham, Mass., welterweight Brett Oteri (12-5, 1 KO) battles Ludlow, Mass., vet Jon Manley (8-2) and Providence's Luis Felix (11-8, 4 KOs) faces D'Juan Owens (11-8-1, 4 KOs) of Durham, N.C.
The undercard of "CES MMA XXVII" features six bouts, including a three-round featherweight showdown between Kyle Bochniak (3-0, 1 KO) of Boston and Long Island vet Thomas English (5-5, 2 KOs) and a lightweight bout between battle-tested veteran Jeff Anderson (11-9, 2 KOs) of Pawtucket, R.I., and Medford, Mass., prospect Lewis Corapi (6-1, 3 KOs).
Middleweight Eric Spicely (5-0, 2 KOs) of Providence faces Terrell Clark (2-1, 1 KO) of Worcester, Mass., and South Boston's James Murrin (2-1, 2 KOs) battles Baltimore's Robert Sullivan (4-3) in a featherweight bout. Flyweights Chris Cole (3-2) of Andover, Mass., and Dan Cormier (4-4, 1 KO) of East Providence, R.I., battle in a three-round bout and featherweight Rico Disciullo (3-0, 1 KO) of Peabody, Mass., faces newcomer Mak Kelleher of Selden.
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