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UFC heavyweight Junior Albini talks ‘surreal' experience of buying daughter’s first toys

Junior Albini with his daughter and wife in Brazil
Courtesy of Junior Albini

Junior Albini stole the show at UFC on FOX 25, both inside and outside the Octagon.

The Brazilian talent was just a relatively unknown UFC newcomer when he stepped into the cage to meet Timothy Johnson on July 22, and impressed with a knockout in less than three minutes. When he met the media for a post-fight scrum, his life story captivated everyone.

A 26-year-old heavyweight, who never had money to buy toys for his 2-year-old daughter Nicole, was celebrating the fact that he made $20,000 for his win, and that was before finding out he would earn a ‘Performance of the Night’ check of $50,000.

Back to Brazil, and knowing that he made $70,000 in one night, Albini was thrilled.

“(The UFC) gave me 740 dollars to stay there from Tuesday to Sunday, and a breakfast voucher,” Albini told MMA Fighting on Monday of his first experience in the UFC. "Most of the money I used to buy stuff for my daughter, clothes and toys. Since I was cutting weight, (breakfast) was good enough food for me."

Albini arrived home in Paranagua, Parana, on Monday afternoon, and his wife Lays picked him up at the airport. Nicole was there as well, and that’s when Albini gave her her first toy.

“I bought two dolls, a bear, clothes (with the 740 dollars). Everything I saw in front of me, I’d take,” he said. "We just got home now, so I only gave her the bear because I brought it with me on the plane. She’s playing with it right now.

"The actual money from the UFC (purse and post-fight bonus) didn’t come yet, so that’s what I was able to bring (from the United States).”

Despite the joy of making more money than he ever dreamed about, Albini had to deal with some criticism online.

"I’ve seen people say that my dream was kind of selfish in a way because my wife and daughter were having a hard life because I insisted on this dream,” Albini said, "but it’s hard to say anything because we went through so much together. I mentioned her toys because I’m a father and I wanted to give her that. We always gave her everything we could. My wife always believed in me and supported me. It’s surreal to be able to give back to them now."

Albini, who signed with the UFC after winning nine in a row as a heavyweight, confirmed his post-fight comments that he wasn’t paid in those bouts.

"I fought in Serbia and didn’t get paid because I went there to be a sparring partner,” he said. “The UFC was always my focus. I didn’t tell that story so people would feel sorry for me, but to show that the UFC was my goal. If I had to take 1,000 fights for free in order to get there, I wouldn’t mind. It was not for the money, it was for the dream."

When he finally signed with the UFC, Albini quit his weekend job as a security guard to focus full-time on his MMA career. At Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, “Baby" proved the journey to be worthy with a quick knockout.

“I didn’t expect to win like that,” he admits. "That guy is really tough and doesn’t give up easily, so I wasn’t expecting that. I was going there expecting a three-round war."

Finally able to make a living through the sport, Albini doesn’t consider going back down to light heavyweight.

Junior Albini in his last win as a light heavyweight, in 2011
Guilherme Cruz

Six years ago, “Baby" was just a 4-0 light heavyweight after scoring a quick TKO victory over Fernando Tressino at Max Fight. Representing CM System, he became a hot prospect on the Brazilian circuit, but that also proved to be an issue weeks later.

"After that fight, because of that knockout, I had three fights lined up and cancelled right after,” Albini said. "I was cutting weight, and the fights were always cancelled, and that messed me up. I was offered a fight on short notice and took it, but my weight cut was terrible and I suffered my first loss.

"I kept having fights canceled, and then I took another fight almost a year later and had another bad weight cut and lost, so my coach talked to me about moving up to heavyweight. I was 19 or 20 years old the last time I cut weight (for a light heavyweight fight), I was too young. When I came back a year later, I was heavier, so I adapted to the division. I felt stronger, physically better, so it was better for me."

Now a 1-0 fighter in the UFC, “Baby" believes he’s big enough to compete with every heavyweight inside the Octagon.

"I met Tim Johnson before the fight and saw that he wasn’t as big as I expected him to be, and he’s considered a big heavyweight,” Albini said. "I also saw (UFC heavyweight champion) Stipe Miocic on fight week, and he’s as tall as I am, so I’m big enough for heavyweight."

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