Junior Albini went “from heaven to hell” in four months as a UFC fighter.
Albini signed with the promotion and fought for the first time in July, taking on Timothy Johnson in the preliminary portion of UFC on FOX 25. His first-round knockout victory and post-fight interviews captivated the audience right away, and Albini, a unknown fighter coming in, suddenly became must-watch television.
The UFC immediately booked him against former champion Andrei Arlovski. “The Pitbull” had lost his previous five fights, but it didn’t go as planned for the Brazilian against Arlovski. Albini couldn’t pull the trigger, and Arlovski scored his first win in 26 months.
”Maybe I was overexcited of what was said of Arlovski and the state of his career and I thought I would finish him in the first round,” Albini told MMA Fighting. “When that didn’t happen, I was frustrated and kind of lost in there.
”It was different. I didn’t expect to knock Tim Johnson out, expected a three-round brawl, and won quickly. Against Arlovski, I thought I would finish him early and that didn’t happen. I got in there expecting the best but the worst happened, and against Tim Johnson I was expecting the worst and the best happened. For my fight with Alexey, I will be ready for the worst scenario possible.”
Albini is slated to meet Alexey Oleynik at the UFC 224 card on May 12 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and he admits that he learned important lessons after flipping from a potential star to a criticized fighter in only four months.
”A bunch of people that I had never seen in my life came to talk to me after my debut, praising me, saying, ‘You’re gonna be a champion.’ And now a lot of people are talking crap,” Albini said. “In a way, that’s good, because it keeps me with my feet on the ground and hungry to come back. I know that everything that could ever go wrong did in that fight with Arlovski, and now I did everything right. I want to prove to myself that I deserve to be there. Alexey is the best opponent possible because he’s f*cking tough, so it’s a great opportunity for me to prove where I am.”
Albini’s plans to train at American Top Team for his upcoming bout were cancelled after the UFC offered him a fight against an ATT heavyweight for May 12. He felt weird taking a fight with someone from a camp he was considering joining, but the chance to face a top-10 opponent following a disappointing loss was too good to refuse.
”Alexey is in the top 10 and wouldn’t turn down that opportunity,” Albini said. “He’s from ATT, but it’s a great opportunity for me. Despite the fact that I’m coming off a loss, I’m fighting someone ranked higher than me, especially here in Rio, so I wouldn’t let that chance go away.”
Oleynik, with his 55-11-1 record, is one of the most experienced heavyweights in the UFC today, and does things that no other heavyweight can. Albini is aware of Oleynik’s unique grappling style and ezekiel choke finishes, and admits he thought those submissions were too basic to actually work against professional athletes.
”You see white belts getting submitted with an ezekiel choke in the gym and think that’s impossible, that it would never work [in the Octagon], but he does it,” Albini said. “He caught Cro Cop with a neck crank too, tried to do it several times in the UFC. He has weird positions that you have to be careful with. It’s hard to prepare for a guy like that.
”His body type is different, he’s like ‘Toquinho’ [Rousimar Palhares]. The best scenario is not get any closer to the positions. I started grappling 12 years ago, but I can’t underestimate him. His ezekiel choke works, so I won’t underestimate any position.
”Watching his fights I was like, ‘it’s impossible to get that,’ but I asked a training partner who has a similar body type to go for those submissions,” he continued. “I let him lock in to see how I would react, what do I have to do to escape. It’s good to know how that works. He uses that in fights, so I have to be careful.”