A longtime MMA fighter and American Top Team coach, "Jucao" was sidelined for months due to an elbow injury, but doesn’t expect the long layoff to be an issue when he steps inside the Octagon to face Derek Brunson at Sunday’s UFC Fight Night 83 card in Pittsburgh.
"I was only out because of the injury, but I was training hard since I was cleared," Carneiro told MMAFighting.com. "I was sidelined for a year before and came back with a great performance. It won’t be an issue. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m more motivated, hungrier for this fight."
Carneiro was matched up against former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi when he suffered the injury, but quickly switched his focus to Brunson.
"My mind is on Derek Brunson. I only thought about him, I trained hard for him," he said. "He’s well ranked in the division, so a win puts me back on the map, back in the mix among the top middleweights."
Brunson enters the cage with a 5-1 UFC record, capped off by back-to-back first-round knockouts over Sam Alvey and Ed Hermand. Carneiro, a 37-year-old third degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, believes his opponent will engage in a grappling exchange if he’s forced too.
"I believe he will come to strike more, stand on his feet," said the Brazilian. "He will respect my ground game, of course, but he’s a wrestler so I don’t think he will have a problem going to the ground with me. Based on his characteristics, I think he will try to keep it standing."
Carneiro, who signed with the UFC after winning a one-night, eight-man 170-pound tournament in 2014, doesn’t rule out a return to the welterweight division.
"It depends on how my next fight goes," he said. "I believe I’m doing well in this division, but I do think about going back to welterweight. I always fought at 170 pounds. Who knows? But having good performances at middleweight, I can fight at either division."
"Jucao" is also considering the intravenous rehydration ban when he decides his next move.
"That’s a factor, no doubt about it. It’s an important factor," said Carneiro. "But we have other alternatives. If you do a stricter diet, train the right way and have good hours of sleep, you won’t need IV. I don’t think that would be an issue."