It’s been almost three years since middleweight Chris Camozzi made his UFC debut against his fellow Ultimate Fighter 11 combatant James Hammortree. Since that fight, the Coloradan has gone 6-2 inside the Octagon.

Yet, until now, Camozzi’s desire to face a top-10 opponent has fallen on deaf ears. But thanks to a willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, the 26-year-old is being rewarded with a co-main event slot at UFC on FX 8 on May 18 in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil.

In his way will be former Strikeforce and multiple-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who makes his promotional debut at the event.

“I’m planning on him coming in the best he’s ever looked,” Camozzi told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Guys making their debut are dangerous, they have a lot to prove.”

“It’s kind of like sparring at the gym with a guy whose girlfriend shows up to watch him. You know that guy’s going to be trying to kill you and put on a show,” he said with a laugh.

The path to the fight with Souza has been a bit of a roller coaster for Camozzi. The Factory X Muay Thai product originally stepped in as an injury replacement for C.B. Dollaway against TUF Brazil winner Cezar Ferreira, but that was just the beginning.

Ferreira soon suffered an injury himself and fellow Brazilian Rafael Natal was tabbed to face Camozzi. Then, with just two weeks remaining before the event, Souza’s original opponent, Constantinos Philippou, suffered a cut in training to open the door for Camozzi.

“It’s on shorter notice than we would prefer ideally, but it’s not that big of a deal,” said the fighter. “When you’re asking for opportunities, you have to take them when they come. I can’t pick and choose nor turn down fights.

“It’s fortunate that the opponent changes were all fairly similar. Jacare is on another level than the other guys I was supposed to fight, but Natal is great on the ground and has some tricky stand-up. It’s all about executing my game plan.”

In order to execute his strategy, Camozzi may need to overcome his own excitement at the prospect of fighting someone of Souza’s caliber.

“Not only is this fight a co-main event on FX, it’s against Jacare. He’s someone I’ve watched for a long time. I can remember watching jiu-jitsu videos of his since the time I started training,” explained Camozzi.

“My coaches and friends know that I’m the type of guy that wants to fight people that I get excited about, guys that I watched on TV, looked up to. Those fights excite me more than fights against guys who are trying to make their way up the ranks like myself. I was training really hard to fight Natal, but this fight has sparked me to push it to another level in the gym.”

Camozzi has worked diligently over the years to refine his physical tools as well as his mental game. Ever since an embarrassing loss to Kyle Noke in early 2011, the fighter’s outlook on fighting has changed tremendously. As he prepares for the biggest fight of his career, he’s relying on the advice of three-time UFC title challenger—and one-time training partner—Chael Sonnen.

“It’s just a fight against another human being,” Camozzi declared. “Like Chael says, he doesn’t get to bring anything to the cage that I don’t.

“Ever since [the Noke loss in] Australia I have fixed some things mentally. I just look at it as another fight. I don’t see it on TV, so it doesn’t matter if it’s co-main event, main event, whatever. I just go in when they tell me to fight.”

With his mind clear, Camozzi knows that he’s facing a difficult opponent when the cage door shuts in Brazil. Even with the tutelage of BJJ black belts J.J. Pugsley and Diego Moraes, Camozzi is aware that Souza’s grappling game is one of the best in the world. Hence, as most would expect, he’ll be looking to keep the fight upright and take advantage of his own strengths.

“I think I have the best cardio in the division,” he boldly proclaimed. “I have to push the pace, stay in his face, take the fight to him and turn it into a brawl.

“I think I’m frustrating for a lot of people on the feet. I get told that all the time. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not, but I take it that way. Awkward in fighting is always a good thing.”

Despite the fact that the fight will be his first co-main event billing with the promotion, Camozzi isn’t content just to show up and collect a paycheck on the 18th.

“I’m not signing up for this fight just to get some exposure; I’m going out there to win,” he said. “In the end, I stepped up when the UFC needed someone. I’ve always told them that I’ll fight anybody, anywhere. I’m here to fight, not find the quickest way to the title. I’ll go through anybody.”

That attitude, coupled with his current four-fight winning streak, has Camozzi on the cusp of the 185-pound division’s top-10 rankings. He’s confident that if his hand is raised on Saturday night that others will take notice.

“A win has to put me in the top 10,” said Camozzi. “Not just because it’s a win over Jacare, but that would be five in a row for me. I can’t think of anybody else in the division that has five wins in a row except for Silva and Weidman. I’m not saying I’m top three, but top 10 for sure.”

If he can get past the dangerous Brazilian, especially on just two weeks’ notice, it would be hard to argue with Camozzi’s assertion. Hopefully for his sake, Souza’s girlfriend won’t show up to watch the fight.

Chris would like to thank his coaches and teammates at Factory X Muay Thai.MMA, his management Ingrained Media, his sponsors: Venum, RevGear, Muscle Pharm, Tool King, Alien Ware, NEWSCO International Energy Services, Fight Dentist, Vecere and Little Attorney at Law and 13th Floor Haunted House. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisCamozzi