When Ivo dos Santos steps foot inside the ring for Australian Fighting Championship 5 on May 10, it will mark just the third time that he has fought in a mixed martial arts bout.

Dos Santos had his first foray into MMA in 2010 when he won by submission in the second round of his debut against Rob Pryde. His second bout wasn’t until more than two years later when he pulled off a decision victory versus Callum Lewis.

Two years is a long time between fights, but there’s a good reason for his absence. The opportunity to compete for his country at an elite level was just too hard to pass up.

Dos Santos, a decorated judoka, represented Australia at the London Olympics on the back of winning the 2012 Oceania championships in judo. In order to get to that elite level, all of his time and energy had to be put into living, breathing and training judo. It’s a time of his life that he will never forget.

“It was awesome. It had been a long time coming; I had been training in judo since I was five, so it was a relief to finally make it. The layoff [from MMA] was necessary,” dos Santos explained in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “In the lead up to London, I had to find the best judo guys to train with, and I put all my time and energy into judo.

“I don’t want to go into this [MMA] half-assed, I want to give it everything. There are a lot of parallels between what I went through with judo and what I am doing now, so I think that I am mentally ready to go through it all again. There have been other successful transitions for fighters, [Ronda] Rousey is a prime example of showing it can be done. I am not comparing myself to her, but it’s certainly a benchmark.”

Although he didn’t come out of the London games with a medal, it was an experience that would never be forgotten and it prepared dos Santos for his next goal: to make it to a similar elite level in MMA.

“Judo is the ultimate amateur sport,” he laughed. “A lot of the places I trained at, I had to pay to train. It’s a very minority sport, but after going through everything with judo, I am ready for going through the same with MMA. All the training and the commitment I had to judo translates over to MMA and I understand what I need to do to succeed. My goals are set and I am ready to test myself against the best.”

A test is exactly what dos Santos has in front of him. His opponent, Rory O’Connell, has three times his fight experience and trains with some of the best ground fighters on the Australian circuit at TP Gym alongside Bernardo “Trekko” Magalhaes and Manuel Rodriguez.

“I am excited. I am a nobody in this sport, and I really have to thank the promoter,” he explained. “I am facing a guy that I don’t really deserve to face, and he’s seen by some as one of the top guys at featherweight in the country.”

Being a self-proclaimed novice in the sport, dos Santos doesn’t have a set way in mind that this fight will play out. At the end of the day, it’s all a learning experience for the former Olympian and whether the fight stays standing or hits the floor remain up in the air right until the opening bell sounds.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” he admitted. “O’Connell is a handy fighter and I haven’t had any recent footage of his fights to look over. Our styles are pretty similar though—he likes to scramble and he has a wild style just like me—so I am sure it will make for a great fight. I am looking forward to being in the ring again, but I think the cage might suit my style a little better.”

Going into the AFC 5 fight just four months after his last bout has meant that dos Santos has been able to work on his fight planning a lot more. Having his training focus turn solely to MMA certainly allows him to be in the right frame of mind.

“I am much more confident going in again so soon. It was a little nerve-racking last time, but I am much more prepared and I am ready for the new challenge. I have made some big improvements,” he said. “My goal is to be able to fight every couple of months and just keep getting better with time. I’m 27 years old now, so I know that I have a limited shelf time in the sport and I understand that I have to be totally committed to MMA to be the best.”

Reaching the pinnacle in judo has certainly been the highlight of dos Santos’ athletic career. Now he embarks on a new journey. Although the path that he treks may differ quite a lot from his progression to an elite level in judo, the end goal still remains the same: to be the best athlete that he can be and to represent his country the best way that he can.

Ivo would like to thank GrapplingStore.com, Zenith Sports Services, Evolve MMA along with his training partners and family for their continued support. Follow him on Twitter: @ivo_dos_santos

Photo: Ivo Dos Santos (Sherdog)

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