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After Frustrating Layoff, Junior dos Santos a 'Fine-Tuned Machine'

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Junior dos Santos sure didn't look like a pro fighter who hasn't worked in ten months.

There was no extra flab on display in his first public appearance before his fight with Shane Carwin on Saturday night. No visible signs of torpor. Not even close.

As the Brazilian showed off his boxing skills with some tricky mitt work at Wednesday afternoon's UFC 131 open workouts, he looked as sharp as ever. Even if he were rusty from the time off, one would think that the way he swatted the focus mitts with the speed and timing of a punk rock drummer couldn't help but knock that rust right off.

Then again, that's what the mitts are there for. Lots of people look good hitting them on workout day. After nearly a year on the shelf, though, dos Santos has the distinct air of a man who is tired of hitting a target that doesn't hit back.

"I don't care about the opponent now. I want to fight," dos Santos said, after admitting that he was initially "a little bit disappointed" not to get a crack at Brock Lesnar. "My last fight was ten months ago, so [that's] too much time to sit out [of] fights."

It's also a long time to go without a paycheck, especially for a young fighter in what are supposed to be his best, most profitable years. That, said manager Ed Soares, is why they never really considered waiting for UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez to get healthy enough to give dos Santos his promised title shot.

"It would have been too long," said Soares. "He would have been inactive for over a year. He wants to fight. He's got to stay busy. He's 26 years old and he's a fine-tuned machine. It's like having a Ferrari and just leaving it in the garage."

Then again, agreeing to take the Ultimate Fighter coaching gig opposite Lesnar also put the Ferrari in the garage for a little while, which had financial implications of its own, Soares admitted.

"It does, but you know what? The UFC always finds a way to make things right."

At long last, the wait is nearly over. He may have lost the chance to trade blows with Lesnar – who dos Santos referred to as "the most popular fighter in the world" – but it didn't hurt his popularity any to have a weekly stint on reality TV where he was the smiling, gregarious counterweight to the scowling, misanthropic Lesnar.

"People recognize me more on the streets," said dos Santos. "I'm very happy with that because I lost my opportunity to fight for the title, and then comes the TUF in my life. So it was very good and God blessed me again."

Allowing fans to see his friendly, easy-going side might have even been the best thing to come out of the experience, though Soares wasn't surprised to see people take to dos Santos' warm personality as a coach, he said.

"He's just a great guy. He's an all-around good guy. He's super intelligent, very motivated. He has his goals set and he's going after them. He doesn't steer away from that."

When they heard that Lesnar was out and Carwin was likely in, Soares said, they figured it was a fight they'd have to take sooner or later, so they might as well go ahead and do it.

"Whether he fights Carwin on Saturday or eight months from now, eventually this fight was going to happen. So let the chips fall where they may. In this business, you have to be prepared for everything. This isn't the first time something like this has happened, and I guarantee you it won't be the last. Doing what we do for a living, we have to be prepared for this. His coaches have been a great influence in putting that in his head that, look, we're professional fighters. This happens. It's part of the game."

With the fight just days away, dos Santos no longer has to worry about when he'll get paid for hitting someone again. Now it's just a question of what will happen when he finally gets the chance.

Not surprisingly, "Cigano" likes his chances.

"[Carwin] has good skills in boxing, but I think I'm better than him in boxing. That's why I think he's going to try to take me down, because when he starts to feel...I know he's good and he's got heavy hands. But I think I'm faster and I've got more skills [in the] stand-up than him."

And just because he's appeared patient and understanding of all the changes and delays, don't let it fool you. Dos Santos has been just as frustrated at times with the long layoff due to other people's medical problems, Soares said, even if he didn't often complain about it.

"Or, well, at least he doesn't complain to the media," Soares added.