The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil season 3 heavyweight winner Antonio Carlos Junior was let go by the promotion after losing his third in a row in January, dropping a decision Brad Tavares in Abu Dhabi, but he chooses to see it as a blessing in disguise.
“Cara de Sapato” became the TUF heavyweight winner in 2014 and at one point of his career had a five-fight middleweight winning streak that included four rear-naked choke finishes and a decision win over Marvin Vettori. However, three straight defeats to Ian Heinisch, Uriah Hall and Tavares cost his job.
“One door closes and other doors open. This is how it is,” Junior said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “We never know what can happen. I knew that being let go by the UFC was a possibility but I wasn’t overthinking it. I was waiting for an answer and their answer came.
“You get upset at first, you had that personal goal you wanted to accomplish. I went there for the gold but it’s not only up to us. I wanted to conquer that [title], I wanted to leave as champion, but then I started seeing there are many opportunities outside, so in a way I felt a bit more free because of the negotiations and sponsorships.
“My manager and I are discussing a few ideas... In fact, I’m even feeling a bit more free, a bit more relieved actually. This change will be good for me in a way, both professionally and financially. I think it will be positive. The UFC was great for me for some time but I think it was time for a change and we’ll see what comes next.”
The relief, Junior said, comes after feeling the company wasn’t entirely happy with his services.
“In business, we have to be happy with what we have, and I felt for some time that they weren’t satisfied,” Junior said. “I think the UFC wants a type of fighter that isn’t who I am. I’m not the type of guy that talks too much, so I felt they were unhappy, and that makes me unhappy, too. Other places might have what fits better with who I am.”
Junior, who still had one bout left in his contract with the UFC, said he’s currently in negotiations with other promotions and will decide the best path for his career.
The jiu-jitsu specialist will take some time off after sustaining a trio left leg injuries during his 15-minute fight with Tavares, a fibula fracture, plus meniscus and posterior cruciate ligament injuries. “Cara de Sapato” injured the same knee in 2020, undergoing surgery to fix an ACL tear, but won’t have to go under the knife this time.
Junior has dealt with many health problems over the past three years, sidelined after hurting his pectoral, toe and knee in separate occasions, but is confident he will bounce back later this year.
In fact, the Brazilian middleweight thinks his clash with Tavares could have gone either way, disagreeing with both judges that scored it 30-27 in favor of his opponent — and still defends he deserved the win over Uriah Hall in 2019.
The former Ultimate Fighter heavyweight will continue as a middleweight going forward even though “I’m small for light heavyweight and big for middleweight,” pointing at an inexistent 195-pound weight class as the ideal home for him in MMA.
Out of the world’s premiere MMA organization now, “Cara de Sapato” expects a profitable destination in 2021, especially after the “Reebok Era” cut some of fighters’ “freedom” to pursue good sponsorship deals.
“I do believe it can be a big and positive step for my financial life,” he said. “Many fighters are unhappy with their purses in the UFC and etc. Like I said, the UFC was good to me for some time, but I think it’s time for a change.”