Although Pedro made a record-breaking return to action in April 2022 after injuries kept him away from the octagon for nearly four years, the fight took place in the UFC Apex. On Saturday, he gets the full experience, and he is chomping at the bit.
"I've been visualizing being in front of the fans for like, what, four years now?" he said. "I'm getting tingles thinking about it because this is what I do the fighting for. Like that moment, even when you're on the scale, you're looking at the crowd, and it just reminds me of the gladiators. That's what it's about. It's so raw that these people that come in to watch you just punch each other in the face."
Pedro expects the strong Polynesian contingent in Utah to get behind him this weekend, and his father, John, jokes about needing to temper his son's energy a little bit during fight week. It's difficult to not get excited for Pedro, though, whose three-and-a-half-year gap between fights was riddled with knee surgeries, rehab and recovery.
That journey culminated in a first-round knockout win over Ike Villanueva. Pedro fought with a surgical, subdued fury that night, picking his shots and damaging Villanueva's legs before ending the bout with a few right hands. In just five minutes of work, Pedro closed the book on his comeback.
"It was an amazing feeling," he said. "Just to win meant so much, and it was just amazing to be back in there. The feeling of being in the octagon, and there's nothing like it when you can't, so I loved it."
Although the narrative around that fight and performance circulated around injuries and the dark times that a prolonged road back to action can bring, Pedro doesn't mind talking about it. In his words, he just appreciates "the fact that people want to ask me about my life." That said, nothing beats making that walk to the octagon.
He gets to experience that fighting feeling again soon, this time with just a four-month stretch between contests. In preparation a fight with Harry Hunsucker (7-5 MMA, 0-2 UFC), Pedro 8-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC) returned to City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand – home of the likes of Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker and Kai Kara-France. There, Pedro regularly works with Eugene Bareman and fellow light heavyweight Carlos Ulberg.
When asked how his second fight camp on the CKB mats went, he stayed away from cliches like "best camp ever" and instead, plainly called it a "motherf-cker."
"I felt like a bit of an amateur because stuff that they find as fundamentals and basics, I'm picking up on the way through," Pedro said. "So picking that up on the way through camp as well as being exhausted. … Don't get me wrong, I love it like that. Being a student is why I love martial arts. Like I'm a diehard martial artist. I don't count myself as a fighter. I'm a martial artist. That's why I knew I needed to be there.
"I got to see and learn a lot of things that I didn't realize I was missing, so my fight IQ has definitely gone up, and that's what I love about this game. The reason why I love mixed martial arts is because it's so diverse, and it's always changing. You can never just stick with one path, otherwise you're going to get left behind."
Despite all the benefits of working with a high-level team, the decision to train in New Zealand hasn't come without its hardships. For the last six months, Pedro hasn't seen his daughter, who recently celebrated her first birthday.
Pedro called the last few months a mental test, but he also believes he is a "better father" because of it. All things considered, he has some extra drive brewing inside of him as he approaches fight night.
"It makes me just dislike Henry Hunsucker," Pedro said. "It's not his fault, I guess, but I really don't like him because he's kept me away from my family."
"He's going to hate Samoans after this," Pedro said with a laugh. "(Tafa) just put up a picture, and it's all three of us, so I was like, 'Man, this poor dude. Islanders are just going to be in his nightmares.' So, but I'm sure he's a nice guy, but there's a part in my mind that just hates this guy for keeping me away from the family."
Despite Hunsucker's struggles thus far, Pedro is expecting the American to look lighter on his feet and a little more athletic in his debut at 205 pounds. That said, Pedro noted the timing and range is drastically different than it is in the heavyweight division, particularly for a brawler like Hunsucker.
Technical strategies aside, Pedro feels ready as ever to compete in front of a crowd and secure back-to-back wins for the first time since his first two fights in the UFC. With a difficult chapter fully behind him, the 30-year-old feels like he has everything to play for on Saturda.
"I get so excited about that moment when all you hear is your music come on," Pedro said. "You're just behind the curtain, and you hear the crowd scream and go off. Oh, there's nothing like it. Then, you open up, and that's what I live for. That's what the fight is for, man."
This story first published at UFC.com.