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Still young in MMA, Antonio Carlos Jr. aims to become the UFC’s next big Brazilian star

"Cara de Sapato" wants to become the next big Brazilian star in the UFC.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Antonio Carlos Junior is a multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion who became The Ultimate Fighter winner less than a year after making his MMA debut. With those credentials, the 27-year-old talent believes he has what it takes to become the next big thing in Brazil.

With wins over Eric Spicely, Marvin Vettori and Leonardo Guimaraes in his most recent bouts, “Cara de Sapato” was hoping to get a chance against someone like Derek Brunson next. He was matched up against Jack Marshman at UFC Sao Paulo instead, while Brunson headlines the card opposite Lyoto Machida.

It’s all good, Junior says. His time will come.

"I’m not in my prime yet, every time I fight I get better and stronger,” Junior told MMA Fighting. "I’m still young in this sport, I feel that I’m evolving every day. I know many idols have retired already, like ‘Minotauro’ (Nogueira), and other are about to retire, so I want to continue to represent my country with good wins as they pass the baton.”

“Cara de Sapato”, who won TUF Brazil as a heavyweight in 2014, only lost one of six bouts since cutting down to middleweight, and believes that he needs more than just wins in order to become a superstar in his country.

"I think it’s a combination of several factors,” he said. "The way fans see you, the way you win your fights, what you do inside and outside the Octagon. We have excellent athletes representing us, some of them are still fighting, like Anderson (Siva), and others have retired already, like ‘Minotauro’.

"It’s important to work hard every day, and that’s what I’m doing. I hope they feel I’m representing them in the UFC."

Marshman has less appearances under the UFC banner, but way more MMA bouts overall. That won’t matter much, Junior says, when the fight hits the ground.

"He has good boxing, heavy hands, but I trust in my striking,” he said. "My jiu-jitsu, going to the ground is where I feel more comfortable, though. I want to take him to the ground and get the submission in the first round.”

Eyeing a big opportunity in the UFC, Junior hopes to prove he’s ready for the top contenders in the middleweight division.

"I believe that the way I win will matter, and that will take me to another level,” “Cara de Sapato" said. "Outside the champions, (Michael) Bisping and (Robert) Whittaker, I have one of the longest winning streak in the division, and I know I’m ready to fight anyone — and I’m now even in my prime yet. When I get there, it will be tough to beat me."