Greg Rebello gave himself an ultimatum when he flew out to Vegas in July to compete on the inaugural episode of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
“I told myself, if I get outclassed and I get destroyed, then that’s it for me,” Rebello said. “There’s no need for me to continue and fight again.”
Rebello fought tooth and nail with heavyweight Azunna Anyanwu, establishing a comfortable pace until Anyanwu caught him with an overhand right that sent Rebello crashing to the canvas, ending the fight 3 minutes and 4 seconds into the second rough. A tough loss, yes, but by no means the type of overwhelming defeat that would’ve forced the 35-year-old Providence, R.I., to rethink his future in mixed martial arts.
“I was doing good. I felt like I was starting to get into a groove and felt like I was going to win that fight. It was an awesome experience until I decided to take a left step right into a right hand,” Rebello deadpanned.
The 31-fight vet stayed true to his promise and made a triumphant to the cage four months later, closing out 2017 with a convincing win over Derrick Brown. Now Rebello (23-8, 14 KOs) has his sights set on perhaps his toughest to date, a five-round championship showdown against former Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) and Bellator mainstay Travis Wiuff in the main event of “CES MMA 48” live from Twin River Casino on Friday, Feb. 2nd, 2018.
The Rebello-Wiuff fight, which will be contested for the vacant CES MMA World Heavyweight Title live on AXS TV Fights, replaces the originally-scheduled Matt Bessette-Jamall Emmers fight after Bessette withdrew from the card to compete at UFC 220 last weekend in Boston.
Wiuff (75-21, 24 KOs) boasts a wealth of experience, 96 fights to be exact, over the course of 16 years in professional MMA. In addition to the UFC and Bellator, the well-traveled Wiuff also fought for PRIDE Fighting Championships and World Victory Road in Japan and enjoyed a brief stint with the short-lived International Fight League in 2006.
Among his most notable achievements, Wiuff won three titles on the independent circuit between 2005 and 2011, outlasted seven other heavyweights with three victories in one night to capture the YAMMA Eight-Man Heavyweight Tournament Championship in 2008, and advanced to the finals of the Bellator 2012 Summer Series Light Heavyweight Tournament.
Rebello had other options for his Feb. 2nd return — some with less experience than Wiuff — but chose the toughest path in hopes of earning the type of signature victory that could put his name back in the spotlight.
“Arguably, Travis is the most well-experienced and has the most big-show experience of anyone who’s fought for CES. That’s a fact,” Rebello said.
“Travis has fought for world titles, he’s fought  times for the UFC and Bellator, he’s fought for PRIDE – he’s fought everywhere. He’s been around the block. A win over him is definitely something that will open eyes.”
Rebello almost didn’t make it this far. Following the birth of his first child, Mya, in 2012, Rebello admittedly struggled with balancing fighting and fatherhood. Eight months later, Rebello announced his retirement after a sluggish performance in a loss to Lewis Rumsey at “CES MMA 17” with a tearful goodbye to the Twin River crowd. By the end of the year, he had reversed course and returned with a vengeance, winning seven of his next nine fights to set up his date with destiny in Nevada last summer.
Life outside of the cage is a little less hectic, even with a two-year-old son, Cameron, added to the mix. Rebello is now moonlighting as a personal trainer at his wife Nicole Costa’s gym, Body Rock Fitness & Nutrition in Lincoln, which recently expanded to two floors in order to accommodate its growing clientele. The balancing act has become much easier, and Rebello is flexible with his clients, whether it’s teaching women’s self-defense boxing classes or weight-training.
The best part? He’s in the gym more than ever before, beginning a process he calls “un-fattening” himself as he wraps up his training camp for next week’s fight.
“I’ve got no excuse,” Rebello said.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Doesn’t this take time away from training?’ No, because I’ll get there first thing in the morning, train four to five people, then I work out myself, get home, eat, take care of my son and then I drop him off to the babysitter and go back to the gym to train. I actually get more training sessions in.”
His dedication is unmatched. At 35, Rebello’s aware he probably only has one more run left in him before the last grain of sand slips through the hourglass. He continues to draw motivation from anywhere he can get it. After beating Rebello in July, Anyanwu went on to face undefeated heavyweight Justin Ledet at UFC Fight Night 116, losing a controversial split decision.
“I thought [Anyanwu] won, but they gave the other guy the decision,” Rebello said. “That just tells me I can get in there and compete.”
There’s also irony in the fact Bessette got the call to compete at UFC 220 even though he, too, lost in Nevada in July after dislocating his thumb in the opening round the same night Rebello faced Anyanwu. Bessette made his UFC debut against Enrique Barzola, replacing Allen Arnold, who was forced to withdraw due to visa issues.
“If you look throughout my career, how many times have I been right on the fence? I either lost a really tough fight, or I’ve gotten on a really good win streak and the fight I needed to win, I just came up short,” Rebello said. “That’s kind of how it’s always been. It is what it is. But I’ve never been one of those guys to say, ‘I’m not good enough,’ and quit. I know I’m good enough.
“Sometimes, it’s a crazy sport. If you give one inch, it can be the end of the night for you. It was tough, it was frustrating, but I was happy for Matt. Whatever. It just means I have to step up and fight, because I don’t want to sit on the shelf.”
Wiuff is as well-rounded as it gets; in addition to his 24 knockout wins, he’s won an additional 25 fights by submission and 26 by decision. Rebello compares him to Mike Stewart, whom he faced in 2012. Rebello lost that fight by third-round submission, overwhelmed by Stewart’s size and strength, but considers himself better-equipped for that type of fight now that he’s had extensive wrestling training under at Tri-Force MMA in Pawtucket.
“When I fought Mike I wasn’t really wrestling,” Rebello said. “I wasn’t training at Tri-Force. We have a lot more wrestlers and a lot more grapplers there, so I definitely got exposed with the wrestling. I thought my wrestling was decent, but it obviously wasn’t. Since then, I’ve filled that gap training with guys like Brennan Ward, Pete Jeffrey and all of them wrestlers at Tri-Force.
“[Wiuff] kind of has that style where he puts you on defense and tries to grind you and beat you up. I’m a lot better now than I was then, so it’ll be a different story.”
Feb. 2nd is also Rebello’s second shot at the CES MMA title. He lost to Ashley Gooch with the belt on the line at “CES MMA 37.” Gooch ultimately lost his first title defense to Juliano Coutinho, who promptly retired to vacate the belt a second time. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to earn a signature and put himself back on the map.
“This is the fight we were looking for,” Rebello said. “I’m 35. It’s now or never. I’ve got to go out and get my name out there, and a win over Travis is going to do that.”
Tickets for “CES MMA 48” are priced at $47.00, $57.00, $102.00 and $127.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com, www.cagetix.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET with the televised main card following at 9.
In addition to the Rebello-Wiuff headliner, the “CES MMA 48” main card features the return of top prospects Dinis Paiva Jr. (10-6, 6 KOs) of East Providence, R.I., and Peabody, Mass., bantamweight Rico DiSciullo (8-1, 3 KOs).
Paiva Jr. faces Minneapolis veteran Kevin Barberena (5-3) in a featherweight bout. The two boast matching three-fight win streaks; Paiva’s recent run includes back-to-back wins on AXS TV, while Barberena has won three in a row — all by submission — dating back to April of 2016. DiSciullo steps up to face Jaime Hernandez (2-1) of Colorado. DiSciullo makes his eighth appearance with CES MMA and enters his bout against Hernandez on a two-fight win streak.
The “CES MMA 48” main card also features the Rhode Island and Twin River debut of three-time Bellator vet Tim Caron (8-1, 4 KOs) of Manchester, N.H., in a middleweight bout against Maryland’s Timothy Woods (7-5, 4 KOs), plus a featherweight showdown between unbeaten Dylan Lockard (3-0, 1 KO) of Hollis, N.H., and Cortland, N.Y., vet Shane Manley (3-3).
Woods also boasts an appearance with Bellator in 2014 on the preliminary card of Bellator 118, defeating Eugene Fadiora by unanimous decision, his most noteworthy win to date. Lockard returns to CES MMA for the first time since November of 2016 when he defeated Russell Campbell by first-round submission. Manley won his only bout with the promotion at “CES MMA 31” in 2015 before facing veteran former CES MMA title-challenger Chris Foster at Bellator 178.
The return of North Attleboro, Mass., native Brian Marino (5-1, 3 KOs), a former U.S. Army Sergeant, highlights the preliminary card. Marino hasn’t fought since 2010 due to his military service, but ends his layoff at “CES MMA 48” in a three-round welterweight bout against Jerome Mickle (2-3, 1 KO) of the Bronx. Marino currently boasts a three-fight win streak dating back to June of 2010.
Also on the preliminary card, light heavyweight Yorgan De Castro (1-0, 1 KO) faces JD Tyrrell of Cortland, who makes his professional debut. De Castro earned his first career win in his pro debut at “CES MMA 47” in November with a 39-second knockout against James Dysard.
Female strawweight Hilarie Rose of Norfolk, Mass., is one of five additional fighters debuting on the preliminary card. Rose faces Linsey Williams (0-2) of Coon Rapids, Mich. Middleweights Tommy Davis of Marblehead, Mass., and Armus Guyton of Ithaca, N.Y., debut against one another while light heavyweight Fabio Cherant of Wrentham, Mass., makes his pro debut against the Plattsburgh, N.Y., native Dysard (0-3). Brandon Morrotte of Hampstead, N.H., debuts in a three-round featherweight bout against Elmira, N.Y., native Quentin Gaskins (1-4).