Jorge Gurgel is on a mission. He's speaking in his staccato, high-paced style, which could characterize everything he does.
But his mission now is to explain the definition of the word though.
"It's not easy," he says. "I asked my teachers, I asked my friends. Nobody could tell me. I was like, 'What the (expletive) does this mean?' I just had to know. It was my dream to understand it."
That may be an underwhelming dream, say, for a kid from the Bronx. But for a kid from Fortaleza, Brazil, who was dumped in Downer's Grove, Ill. as a 15-year-old foreign exchange student in high school, it was an ambitious task.
He was never intimidated, though he was frequently frustrated. "The reason Jorge is successful as a person is because of the way he approaches everything in his life," said his close friend, mixed martial arts legend Renzo Gracie. "If he wants something, he is very focused and determined, and he's willing to do anything he has to do to get it."
And what he wanted to know as a teen in the Chicago suburb was the meaning of this word that everyone around him used so often but could not explain.
Finally, he got a break.
"My American parents couldn't explain it. My friends couldn't explain it. My English teacher gave me two or three examples, but I couldn't understand any of them," Gurgel said. "About two months later, I was playing video games with my high school buddies. It was a stupid little Atari game.
"I crashed a helicopter. I said, 'I died,' and he said, 'Yeah, but you have three or four lives, though.' And I was like, 'Aha! That's it! Though is like a but that you use at the end of a sentence.' I was so excited, because I finally had my answer."
He eventually became an English teacher and said he made it a point to teach his students how to use "but" and "though" properly.
Gurgel brings that same passion Gracie described to everything he does in his life, particularly anything to do with jiu-jitsu or mixed martial arts.
He's slated to fight at UFC 73 on Saturday at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif. against Diego Saraiva (9-4-1), who is from his hometown in Brazil.
He expects to win, but he's not sure how the bout will go. "I can't see the future," he says, although he's shown a perfect vision of what he wanted en route to becoming one of the world's elite lightweights.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a world-class kickboxer, he has the well-rounded type of game that could make him a factor in the 155-pound class.
But Gurgel, 30, who has a 13-2 MMA record, hasn't been able to stay healthy.
"He's had a ton of really serious injuries, and that's kept him from getting the fights against the kind of guys he needs to beat to get a title shot," UFC president Dana White said. "You look at him and clearly has a lot of talent and he can do a lot of things. But you have to be able to get out there and he's had a lot of injuries."
Gurgel, whose last fight was a unanimous decision victory over Danny Abbadi at UFC 63 in Anaheim last September, lists them off in a monotone, one of the few times he's not doing 85 in a 55 zone.
But he doesn't care about injuries. He appeared in the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's reality series, but fought at 170 pounds, one weight class above his, with a knee injured so badly that it required surgery after the show.
Every ligament in the knee was shredded. Gurgel jokes that he's the real-life Bionic Man.
"I was born to my mother and put together by my surgeon," Gurgel says, chuckling.
Injuries, though, are an occupational hazard and a topic Gurgel tries hard to avoid.
"Nobody wants to hear about injuries," he says. "You tell them about your injuries and their eyes glaze over. They look at you, but they don't listen. Not really. They're thinking of their girlfriend or what they're going to do later, but you know one thing: They don't give a (darn) about your injury.
"Every fighter has injuries. That's how it is. You have to fight through them. You need to want it so much that you don't even know you were injured."
Gurgel, no doubt, wants it. And he expects to make a splash on Saturday.
"I'm going to make the people go craaaaaazeeee," he says, stretching out the word for effect. "We'll have the kind of feet to make them get up and scream."
And perhaps someone will yell a word that Gurgel doesn't understand. If that happens, count on him spending the next few weeks trying to figure it out.
- Jorge Gurgel
- Dana White