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Antonio Carlos Jr. not relying only on jiu-jitsu ahead of UFC Vancouver bout with Uriah Hall

BJJ wizard Antonio Carlos Jr. says he performs better against strikers in MMA.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Uriah Hall is a classic grappler vs. striker match at UFC Vancouver, but not being so obsessed with submissions is one the changes “Cara de Sapato” has made in training for Saturday night’s middleweight bout in Canada.

Hall has never been submitted before as a professional fighter, while the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion used his grappling skills to secure eight of his 10 wins. At UFC Vancouver, “Cara de Sapato” promises a different mentality if or when they hit the ground.

“I’ve added more ground and pound to my game and that opens more space for submissions,” Junior told MMA Fighting. “I want to use that to my advantage. It’s important to mix things up, make him believe you wants to stand and then use your grappling and the other way around. That makes him confused. I’m always looking for openings to go for the submission, of course, but also scoring points and hurting them. That’s something I’ve added to my game and I’ll use it now.”

Whenever he had a chance to work on the ground inside the eight-sided cage, the jiu-jitsu black belt would always prioritize working on a choke instead of landing elbows and punches on the ground. After having a five-fight winning streak snapped by Ian Heinisch in May, Junior changed his mindset in the gym.

“Ground and pound helps you get more loose, the openings show up naturally,” Junior said. “Your opponent gives up a position and you see holes for submissions. That’s something I’ve noticed talking to my coaches, that I felt so comfortable on the ground and I used all my strength going for submissions, and that was a big issue in my last fight. If I had used more ground and pound like I did in this camp… I’ve adapted well to this style now, smashing and hurting my opponent. That’s something I noticed in sparring and helped me get more submissions.”

Despite the fact that he’s coming off a loss in the UFC, “Cara de Sapato” celebrates that he’s taking on someone ranked ahead of him in the middleweight division that actually won his last fight, since Hall stopped Bevon Lewis via third-round knockout back in December.

“He has a big name and it’s important to give me a boost in the UFC,” Junior said. “It’s the first time in my life I’m fighting someone ranked ahead of me [laughs] so I’m happy about that. After my last fight I talked to Mick (Maynard, UFC matchmaker), ‘Brother, give me a fight as soon as possible ‘cause I can’t wait to fight again. I haven’t swallowed this one right.’

“It’s an excellent match-up for me. He’s a big name that people like to watch and a win over him puts me in a good position.”

Winner of a The Ultimate Fighter season in Brazil as a heavyweight, Junior calls Hall “a dangerous guy, but I see some holes in his game that I think I can take advantage.”

“No matter who I fight, I’m always gonna try to take it to the ground, where I feel more comfortable,” he said. “We’ve adjusted a few things to fix mistakes I was making. I watched his fights and the feels he’s good at. He’s fast, explosive, and I’ll be alert to that.

“I’m always focusing on the grappling area because that’s where I have a great advantage over my opponents, and I’ve added new things to my game as well. I started my MMA career fighting strikers and I think it’s easier to fight strikers than grapplers because they feel uncomfortable when they go to the ground with me.”

The American Top Team middleweight is looking to put on an impressive performance to “show the UFC I’m ready to face guys ranked higher, and show them I’m ready to become champion.”

He’s interested in facing the winner of Jared Cannonier vs. Jack Hermansson next, or maybe re-booking his planned fight with Derek Brunson. For that, securing his first knockout win in the UFC against a dangerous striker like Hall would be a huge help.

“I had two knockout wins on TUF but haven’t had one in the UFC yet,” Junior said. “I would be really happy with a knockout win. I’ve evolved a lot on the feet. We have to look for openings and use my whole game. I want a knockout, yes, especially with my ground and pound.”