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PFL’s Antonio Carlos Junior expects better performances without ‘starving’ during weight cut

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Antonio Carlos Junior
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Antonio Carlos Junior felt “relieved” when he parted ways with the UFC after a seven-year run with the company, and it didn’t take too long for him to found a new home. Luckily for “Cara de Sapato,” he signed with the exact promotion he dreamed about.

Junior makes his PFL debut Thursday night in Atlantic City, N.J., taking on fellow UFC veteran Tom Lawlor in a light heavyweight bout. Junior was last seen in the octagon as a middleweight, and felt like destiny signing with a promotion that didn’t have a 185-pound class available.

“[I returned to light heavyweight because] I was starving,” Junior said with a laugh during an interview with MMA Fighting. “It sucked. I usually cut around 33 pounds, and that’s too much. I would train well on my regular weight but then I started cutting weight and felt that my performance would go down. I had to worry about my diet, so I wouldn’t perform the same.”

Junior joined the UFC after winning The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 as a heavyweight in 2014, then moved down to middleweight after losing to Patrick Cummins in his 205-pound debut. At one point of his UFC career, Cara de Sapato had won six of eight, including a decision over future contender Marvin Vettori, but then dropped three in a row against Ian Heinisch, Uriah Hall and Brad Tavares.

“I felt that [my weight cut] left me weak during the fight, I wouldn’t recover 100 percent,” he said. “Moving up in weight was excellent for me, one less thing to worry about. I performed well on TUF because I was fighting at heavyweight and didn’t need to worry about any of that.”

An easier weight cut of approximately 11 pounds is perfect for the 31-year-old, who celebrates a “new moment in my career” after “changing homes.”

“I already liked the PFL system and the way they worked when I was in the UFC,” he said. “I spoke with my manager when I left the UFC and we had some opportunities lined up, other promotions growing, but I told him I really wanted to fight for PFL.”

A multiple-time champion in jiu-jitsu, Cara de Sapato felt the UFC was looking for flashy fighters and trash-talkers, something he would never become in MMA.

“The UFC forces you to do it sometimes,” he said. “Look at Colby [Covington], for example, who was from my team and wasn’t the person he is right now. He was always respectful, but felt he had to do this otherwise he would get cut even though he’s a great fighter. PFL looks at the sportive side of MMA, and that’s what I am, an athlete.

“UFC focused on entertainment and that’s cool, I understand them,” he continued. “They are a company and want to make money and sell pay-per-views, but it’s not good for the athlete. I can’t change my fighting style. I’m a grappler — I will obviously have to stand and trade, but you’ll always see grappling in my fights. This ‘[Conor] McGregor Era,’ everybody loves trash talking, but I’m not that type of guy. That’s not the image I want to sell.”

Cara de Sapato joined the PFL 2021 season replacing Jordan Johnson, and welcomes the challenges that Lawlor presents inside the cage. “Filthy” has only fought once since leaving the UFC in 2016, losing a decision to Deron Winn in November 2018. Lawlor has been active in the pro wrestling world over the past few years.

“He’s tough, a UFC veteran who has fought many tough guys,” Junior said. “He has a strong wrestling background and is well-rounded, but he hasn’t fought in a while. I hope that makes a difference and I have an advantage in the end.”