Former Chelsea goalkeeper Prasel hoping to earn UFC contract

Growing up in Brazil, Ricardo Prasel always had dreams of stardom. He wasn’t sure how he would accomplish that, but he ruled out a few things right away.

“I was not born with the gift to sing and I never had the opportunity to be an actor,” Prasel said with a laugh. “The way would be in sports.”

For his entire youth, and into early adulthood, soccer was his passion — as it is for many Brazilians. But Prasel was special. He started playing at age 5, caught on with major club teams as a teen and was signed by prestigious Chelsea of the English Premier League at 18 years old.

Prasel was gifted athletically, well over 6 feet tall, and stood out as a goalkeeper. He spent six months with Chelsea, playing with legends like Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba, before being loaned out to a team in Belgium. In total, he played three years of soccer in Europe before retiring from the sport due to a chronic hip injury.

“My problem was with the impact [in soccer],” Prasel said. “Where it hurt was exactly the region where I landed when I made saves. In MMA, I receive more blows to the thigh. … My problem is with impact and not movements.”

As a way to rehabilitate the hip injury, Prasel, back in his hometown of Guarapuava, took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu on the advice of his brother. Prasel took to the grappling art right away. In 2012, he started to win BJJ tournaments. Based on that success, he decided to take a mixed martial arts fight, which he won.

It took Prasel, now 29 years old, three more years to commit to an actual MMA career. He wanted to complete college first. The hip injury has never come back, he said, and Prasel is now a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

On Tuesday, Prasel will face Don’Tale Mayes on Dana White’s Contender Series in Las Vegas. With an impressive win in the heavyweight bout, Prasel can earn a contract with the UFC.

He believes his experience on the highest levels of soccer will help him achieve great things on the pinnacle of the MMA stage.

“Chelsea is a very powerful team and has a beautiful structure,” Prasel said. “I met many famous players that I thought would be impossible to know until the moment I was there. … I believe it should be something like fighting in the UFC.”

Prasel (10-1) started his MMA career at 9-0, mostly with finishes. He was hit with his first loss, to Ante Delija via unanimous decision last year in Japan’s Rizin promotion. Prasel rebounded with a third-round TKO of Alison Vicente on a regional card in Brazil in December.

Prasel said he still watches some soccer, mostly Champions League. After retiring, he played as an amateur on a team in his city as a hobby. He feels now that MMA was supposed to be his path all along and he does not miss professional soccer.

“I have no regrets today,” Prasel said. “If you asked me if I prefer to play on the Brazilian [soccer] team or fight for the UFC, 100 times I would choose to fight in the UFC. MMA is a sport that depends only on me and the adrenaline is much bigger. I love it. I love to fight. My time in soccer was very good, but I would not trade that for my fight career.”

Prasel has traded “The Beautiful Game” for martial arts, and he’s confident Tuesday night will bring him a UFC contract and a chance to once again ply his trade at the top of a sport.

“I want to make a beautiful presentation,” he said, “leave with the victory and performance everyone wants to have [for] a chance to sign with the UFC.”

Dana White’s Contender Series, Week 4

Heavyweight: Ricardo Prasel (10-1, Brazil, 29) vs. Don’Tale Mayes (6-2, Indiana, 27)

Middleweight: Stephen Regman (9-3, New Jersey, 27) vs. Antonio Arroyo (8-2, Brazil, 30)

Middleweight: Brendan Allen (11-3, Louisiana, 23) vs. Aaron Jeffery (6-1, Canada, 26)

Men’s featherweight: Lance Lawrence (5-0, Kentucky, 26) vs. Kevin Syler (8-0, Florida, 25)

Men’s bantamweight: Ode Osbourne (7-2, Wisconsin, 27) vs. Armando Villarreal (5-1, Texas, 29)

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