“Eli” Paulo Filho (22-4) was at one time considered the number two middleweight in the world, directly under countryman and UFC middleweight ruler “The Spider” Anderson Silva (29-4). But that was in 2008 – before his first professional loss to the Kryptonite of the MMA kings, Chael Sonnen (25-11). Prior to that loss he was in the midst of one of the longest dominating streaks in the world with 16 consecutive victories, eight by stoppage. Many believed he was the only man to prove a true challenge to “The Spider”, but as he stepped on the scale for his WEC 36 weigh-in for what would be the final middleweight fight before the promotion dropped the larger weight classes, “Eli” began losing his footing at the top of the middleweight mountain, and rumors regarding his descent swirled overhead.
It all started one year prior in December 2007 when Filho and Chael Sonnen met at WEC 31, where Filho earned a controversial submission win. A rematch was agreed upon between the promotion and both men but things unexpectedly hit a snag: Filho called off the bout after he checked himself into rehab for abuse of an undisclosed substance. Sonnen instead faced then-undefeated contender “The Beast” Bryan Baker (13-3) for the number one contendership spot and dominated Baker for three rounds to earn his right to the title shot. The Oregon native got his wish of a rematch, welcoming Filho back to the cage at WEC 36 after his stint in rehab. This time, Filho missed weight by a long shot, coming in at 192lbs. Filho was given additional time to drop the excess seven pounds but was successful in dropping only three and made it to 189lbs. The bout consequently was reduced to a three-round catchweight affair. Sonnen expressed his disappointment with the work ethic of the champion and took it out on Filho, giving him a 15-minute-long beating. Filho looked slow, sluggish, and just a shadow of the man who for so long was acclaimed as one of the top fighters in the world.
After his embrassing farewell bout in the WEC, Filho reappeared as a light heavyweight at DREAM 10 against kickboxing powerhouse Melvin Manhoef (24-8) and won by submission early in the first round. He was scheduled to face Yoon Dong-Sik (5-7) at DREAM 12 in October 2009 but was replaced after failing to show up for the event. Early in 2010, then-rising promotion Bellator Fighting Championships set up a non-title fight between Bellator Middleweight Champion “Shango” Hector Lombard (28-2) and Filho. Sadly, Filho claimed visa troubles only days before the event and was replaced by UFC veteran Jay Silva ( 7-4). Filho would return to fighting in his native Brazil under the country’s top promotion, Bitetti Combat, where he would go on to gain two wins at 205lbs. At the same time, his “personal issues” haunted the media as fans began to question the work ethic and drive of the former WEC champion.
Filho’s descent became all the more evident in July 2010 when he took on fellow PRIDE veteran Denis Kang (35-13) at Impact FC 2 in Australia. Filho experienced quite a degree of difficulty making weight and, while the fight was ruled a Draw, Kang appeared the clear winner to all but the judges. Following his match-up with Kang, Filho returned to Brazil and continued to fight in his home country, going 2-3 with one Draw. All of the fights went to the judges.
His scheduled bout with the Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) against its light heavyweight champion and occasional middleweight fighter Mamed Khalidov (16-4) at KSW 17 on November 26 never came to fruition, as just last week on October 19, the virtual world of MMA forums lit up with rumors that Filho had been hospitalized for a drug overdose. Filho’s former manager Rodrigo Riscardo released a statement detailing Filho’s struggles with drugs, money, and a steady decline in life. Filho fired back with a statement of his own saying that Riscardo made up the rumors of his substance abuse and his real reason was ingesting too much of a prescribed medication. Filho made another simple but echoing statement: “I’m choosing retirement.” He stated, “I may fight in November because I already signed the contract, after that I will retire. I don’t want this anymore.”
It is rather unfortunate that Paulo Filho, a man who in the early part of his career showed promise of being one of the sport’s greats, has fallen to the dark grasp of addiction that is slowly eating away at him. “I’m very sad in this moment,” Filho said. “If I fight in November, if I fight, I’m already saying I won’t fight anymore. I had good and horrible moments. I did what I could, it’s over. I was far from what I could have been.” Filho was called the man to defeat Anderson Silva, the future of the 185lbs. division. But now, at just 33-years-old, the Brazilian is throwing in the towel. Having such talent thrown to the wayside is nothing short of tragic in the eyes of much of the MMA community, and it’s safe to say that those same people are hoping to see Filho defeat his addiction as he did so many of his opponents and ascend the middleweight mountain once again.