In his last bout inside the Octagon, “Capoeira” dispatched welterweight prospect Curtis Millender with a rear-naked choke in less than three minutes. Unbeaten in his last seven fights with three Fight of the Night bonuses — and also flying knee and spinning hook kick finishes — Zaleski wants his name paired with a top-ranked foe.
“Fighting Jingling Li in his home country is a big test for me,” Zaleski told MMA Fighting. “He’s a strong guy with a huge heart, and it’s going to be an exciting fight. This is one of my most important fights in the UFC, and it’s gonna be one to prove I’m capable of fighting the best in my weight class.
“Every win is one step towards getting closer to my goal, which is becoming a top 5 and then fighting for the title. I’m taking this fight very seriously, even more than my previous ones. My expectation is to get to the top 5 as quick as possible.”
Zaleski joined the UFC in 2015 after winning the Jungle Fight welterweight championship in Brazil, but lost a close split decision to Nicolas Dalby in his debut. The CM System talent is on a roll since, defeating Omari Akhmedov, Keita Nakamura, Lyman Good, Max Griffin, Sean Strickland, Luigi Vendramini and Millender.
For his head coach Cristiano Marcello, who considers his protégé to be on an eight-fight winning streak since he scored the Dalby bout in his favor, Zaleski shouldn’t be far from a shot at the 170-pound gold.
“It’s a long winning streak against really tough opponents. We’re waiting for an opportunity against a big name, someone relevant, but they haven’t given us that yet,” Marcello said. “We’re fighting tough competition outside the top 15, fights that you don’t have much to gain but a lot to lose. It’s like it’s his obligation to win.”
“I thought they would give one that after that last win, but then sent us to China to fight a really tough Chinese, and we’re getting past that as well,” he continued. “I really hope that, after this one, it’s either a title shot or someone ranked that gets us in the mix for a title shot.
“We want the belt, man. He’s one fight away from the belt, in my opinion, and has to fight someone like (Santiago) Ponzinibbio, (Leon) Edwards, or the champion next.”
Santiago Ponzinibbio is also riding a seven-fight winning streak, capped of by a fourth-round knockout over Neil Magny last November. Leon Edwards, victorious in his last eight, defeated Gunnar Nelson and Rafael dos Anjos in 2019.
“Capoeira” is not looking past Li, though. Always in for an exciting brawl and hungry for devastating finishes, Zaleski plans to stand and trade with him on Saturday morning.
“He’s a complete fighter, does well on the feet and on the ground. He has a good defensive grappling with some cool attacks,” Zaleski said. “We obviously like to stay on the feet, that’s a good match-up for me, but it’s about moments in the fight. We have many different strategies, we have some plans. I want to end the fight the best way possible for me.”