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Former champion Rafael Carvalho no longer obsessed with Bellator belt

Rafael Carvalho lost a split decision to Lyoto Machida at Bellator’s first trip to Hawaii.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Rafael Carvalho has changed pretty much everything ahead of his Bellator 224 fight with Chidi Njokuani.

The Brazilian striker, who previously won and defended the Bellator middleweight championship training out of Curitiba’s Evolucao Thai in Brazil, decided to fulfill an old dream and move overseas after having his 15-fight winning streak snapped by back-to-back defeats to Gegard Mousasi and Lyoto Machida.

It’s been only a few weeks since he’s moved to Florida to train at American Top Team, “something I’ve always wanted to do to evolve as a person and as an athlete,” but Carvalho already knows it was the right call. No hard feelings with Andre Dida and the Evolucao Thai crew, but it’s all going as smooth as expected in his new home.

When he steps inside the cage Friday night in Thackerville, Okla., Carvalho doesn’t expect to feel any extra pressure to put an end to his first losing skid as a mixed martial artist.

“Everyone is under pressure no matter if you’re coming off a win or a loss,” Carvalho told MMA Fighting. “If you’re undefeated, there’s pressure to stay that way. If you’re coming off losses, there’s pressure to bounce back. There’s pressure on both sides, so I just have to go there and fight. In this case we’re both coming off losses, even though I don’t see my last fight as a loss.”

Carvalho, who missed weight by half a pound against Machida in Hawaii last December, only had one of the three 29-28 scorecards in his favor. He still thinks he should have been declared the winner that night, but won’t cry over spilled milk anymore.

“We have to turn the page and move on,” Carvalho said. “It’s not over yet. One or two losses don’t mean the end. We have to try to evolve and not make the same mistakes. We can’t look for excuses, say that I lost because of this or because of that. We have to analyze what happened and what we must do to get better next time.”

The middleweight landscape has changed quite a bit since Carvalho lost the Bellator gold to Mousasi 14 months ago. “The Dreamcatcher” finished Rory MacDonald months later, but then the title changed hands to Rafael Lovato Jr., Carvalho’s ex-teammate at Evolucao Thai.

Carvalho would likely need a long winning streak to convince Bellator to book a rematch with Mousasi given the way the first title fight went. With a new king in town, especially a former teammate, would that mean a shorter path back to the throne?

“Being obsessed about the belt is not something I have in my mind anymore,” Carvalho said. “I want to think and live one fight at a time. I don’t know what plans God has for me, what plans the promotion has for me, so right now I’ll just think about each fight at a time and then see what’s best for me. I’m thinking about this fight right now. We’ll think about the belt down the line.”

“I didn’t have this obsession (against Machida), I went in there to perform well and I believe I’ve done what I prepared to do in my camp,” he added. “I wasn’t thinking like, ‘Oh, I want the belt,’ I just went there to perform. I was a champion before, I know how that feels like.”

On Friday night, Carvalho expects his co-main event bout with Njokuani to “basically be like the Joe Schilling fight” in 2015. The Brazilian won that one via split decision, but foresees more of an emphatic finish this time.

“We’ll stand up and trade. It’s going to be an interesting fight,” Carvalho said. “I don’t think it will end the same way, I think I’ll win by knockout. Letting it in judges’ hands is very complicated, you never know what’s going through their heads, so it’s not easy to let them score it knowing they might interpret things a different way.”

Bellator 224 airs live on Paramount and features a featherweight championship showdown between Julia Budd and Olga Rubin in the main event.