Junior Albini returns from a perfect night in Long Island with high hopes.
The Brazilian heavyweight stepped inside the Octagon for the first time on July 22, making quick work of Timothy Johnson en route to a first-round knockout victory, but his post-fight scrum was what captivated audiences the most.
Albini pocketed a $50,000 check for one of the best performance of the night, brought fans and media to tears with his humble story, and his life was changed forever.
“I didn’t have money to train, but I believed in this career,” Albini told MMA Fighting. “People thought this wouldn’t take me anywhere, and that fight, that bonus, it all changed everything. It gave me more peace to train and focus on this. I showed everyone that it was worthy. That’s what changed the most. My wife always believed in me, she pushed me to believe that I would get in the UFC one day, and that victory was hers as well.”
Albini’s biggest dream was to finally be able to buy toys for his daughter. In the end, she wasn’t too interested in any fancy stuff.
“She’s still young, she doesn’t pick and choose too much,” he said with a laugh. “It’s funny because we bring something cool for her, a tablet, but she prefers to play with her old hula hoop because that’s what she likes (laughs). It’s funny. That’s definitely the best thing that fight brought me.”
Albini is now slated to meet former champion Andrei Arlovski next at Saturday’s UFC Norfolk, and believes he got this “big opportunity” thanks to his work both inside the outside the Octagon.
“I left a good impression, so I expected a good fight for me next, but I never imagined that it would be against Arlovski,” Albini said. “He fought Fedor (Emelianenko) eight or nine years ago, and I never imagined fighting someone like him. I always looked up to him, so it was hard to believe.”
The 26-year-old heavyweight says he hasn’t stopped training since July, and feels even better now compared to his UFC debut.
“My camp was better overall, and I’m twice as better prepared physically now, more confident, more experienced,” he said. “The pressure I had over me before my debut is no longer here, and I’m more confident to just go there and fight.”
Riding a 10-fight winning streak with eight stoppages, Albini faces an opponent in a complete opposite situation. Arlovski has his back against the wall after losing five straight with four finishes, and the Brazilian expects this skid to affect the way “The Pitbull” competes Saturday.
“He’s not in a good moment in his career,” Albini said. “He’s coming off five losses, so he’s not that confident anymore to stand and trade. His game depends on confidence, and he’s not that confident to take risks. I expect him to fight safer, to punch and try to grapple.
“Everyone is saying that this could be his last fight depending on how he performs, so all the pressure is on him. I’m focused and ready for him. I believe I’m better prepared and with a good head, and I’m happy with this big opportunity in my career.”