Junior dos Santos headlines the UFC’s first trip to Croatia on April 10, but he’s not in the best moment of his career. Coming off his first loss in a UFC non-title bout in December, a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem, "Cigano" feels he needs the victory in Zagreb.
dos Santos, whose only previous losses in the Octagon were against fellow former champion Cain Velasquez, talked about the current state of his career during an interview with Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour.
"Yeah, for sure. I think it’s a very important fight for me," dos Santos said when asked if this is a do or die moment for him in the UFC. "Right now, I feel this fight that I have with Ben Rothwell is tougher than my last fight. I know I had a negative result in my last fight but this one now, I think if I win, and I will win this fight now, this win will put me back in the place I was before, the number one or two in the rankings and close to a title fight again. Of course I’m not thinking about title fight now, I just wanna be in the best position I can. It’s my whole life, it’s very important for me."
Even though the Brazilian has bounced between wins and losses in his previous six fights, a win over Rothwell, who enters his first UFC main event coming off a four-fight winning streak with finishes over Josh Barnett, Matt Mitrione, Alistair Overeem and Brandon Vera, could put him back in the conversation for a shot at the gold.
"I’m sure I got everything that it takes to be the champion again, so I just need to put everything in the right place, including my mind, my head, because we have to be confident," he said. "To deal with this negative moment for me has been very tough because since my debut in the UFC in 2008, I just had victories, victories and victories until I became champion of the world. Then I lost to Cain Velasquez, I started to live bad, bad moments, including with injuries, and I’m trying to go out of those moments and start living the winning moments again. That’s why I’m working so hard now."
In his most recent appearance inside the Octagon, Rothwell shocked the world with a submission over grappling expert Barnett, scoring his second straight victory with a "gogo choke". Dos Santos, a black belt in jiu-jitsu, plans on avoiding his opponent’s efficient choke.
"I think that’s very effective, right?" dos Santos said. "But yeah, I think I can defend that, but I don’t wanna try that. I wanna avoid that thing. I don’t wanna be in that position any time, any moment during the fight. As I could see, that works a lot, so I wanna avoid that choke.
"He’s doing great, especially his last fight against Barnett. Nobody ever submitted Barnett and he did that. That was impressive. He’s coming from a great moment and that’s why it’s so important for me to fight him."
Just a few months after a tough loss to Overeem, dos Santos believes that being active is one of the keys to one day getting back the UFC heavyweight title.
"I didn’t have any injuries so that’s why I asked Joe Silva and the UFC, ‘as soon as possible, I wanna fight again’," "Cigano" said. "I wanna keep a better sequence of fights because, like I told you, these last two years for me were terrible. Many, many injuries, some hard moments.
"Of course, I lived some good moments. Even with the injury and everything, I won the fight against (Stipe) Miocic, but the moment that I’m living now is not that good, I’m coming from negative results, so I want to change these things and get back to my winning streak. I believe deep in my heart that I can be champion again, and I will."