Antonio Carlos Junior is thrilled to return to the Octagon.
More than a year after his last UFC appearance, and with three cancelled bouts in his recent history — one against Derek Brunson and two against Elias Theodorou — “Cara de Sapato” finally meets Ian Heinisch at Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night card in Rochester, NY.
Coming off five straight wins in the middleweight division, including four rear-naked choke finishes, the American Top Team talent was hoping for a top-15 opponent next, but accepted the first name thrown at him just to get back to business at UFC Rochester.
“There’s no easy fight in the UFC. The world’s best fighters are here,” Junior told MMA Fighting. “I really wanted to fight someone ranked, of course. People keep asking me about it, but they were all injured or already booked, so I would have to wait until August. I told (UFC matchmaker) Mick (Maynard) that I just wanted to fight. I’m hungry, man. All I want is to get in there and fight, and I don’t choose opponents.”
Junior may not choose opponents in terms of picking easy matchups, but he will gladly ask for fellow Brazilian middleweight Paulo Costa as his next foe if given the opportunity.
Both “Cara de Sapato” and “Borrachinha” competed in the third edition The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil in 2014, and that’s where their rivalry emerged. Junior, who ended up winning the season as a heavyweight, says that Costa told fellow TUF contestants that he had submitted the multiple-time champion in jiu-jitsu in training prior to the show.
Junior has been calling for a fight with Costa since the knockout artist emerged as a contender in the middleweight division, and believes the fight will eventually happen.
“If we continue winning and the division continues moving the way it is now, I think this fight is very likely,” Junior said. “I have to get past Heinisch, he has a big challenge in Romero, so we’ll see what happens. It’s up to the UFC to make it happen, and to whatever happens in the division.”
If they do meet inside the Octagon one day, Junior wants to give Costa a new nickname: Paulo “USADinha” Costa, in reference to his recent case with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
”It fits him better, right?” Junior said with a laugh.
Costa was booked to fight Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC Fort Lauderdale in April, but was forced out of the contest for undisclosed reasons. At the time, MMA Fighting reported that Costa had been fined by the New York State Athletic Commission for an undisclosed violation. Two weeks later, USADA announced a retroactive six-month suspension for prohibited IV use.
“First he said it wasn’t related to USADA, and then we saw it was,” Junior said. “We have to be honest, you can’t cheat the system. We have to be honest with our opponents, with the UFC, with the athletic commissions, and with USADA.
“That’s lack of character,” Junior continued. “He has shown that inside the (TUF) house when he talked trash about me, the only guy that was defending him in there since we had trained together before. He showed his lack of character once again when he lied about this situation. I knew it was an USADA issue and he kept saying it wasn’t.”
If they ever meet under the UFC banner, “Cara de Sapato” is confident that he would add Costa’s name to the list of fighters he has submitted in MMA.
”He’s explosive in the first round, but doesn’t have good distance,” Junior said. “He wouldn’t be able to find the distance against me because I move well. He would try to throw a kick, but would open himself for a takedown. I would work with my jiu-jitsu and submit him. This is how I envision this fight against him.
”Not because we have this rivalry, but, honestly, I think he’s the easiest fight of the division. He’s easier than Heinisch. Way easier. Of all top-15 fighters, he would be the easiest fight for me. That’s it.”