|Antonio Carvalho won't be the only Canadian fighting at UFC 142 in Brazil, Sam Stout (left) will be going up against Thiago Tavares on the main card. (QMI files)
A couple days removed from his June 10, 2011, victory over UFC veteran Douglas Evans at the Score Fighting Series, Toronto featherweight Antonio Carvalho was attempting to open a savings account when his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
“I apologized to the lady who was talking to me and I answered it because I figured it was an emergency,” Carvalho said over the phone. “It just so happened to be my best friend telling me: ‘You’re in the UFC.’
“I kind of had that shocked look on my face. I guess she thought someone had passed away in my family and was wondering what was wrong. I told her that I had just signed with the biggest promotion in the world and what sport I (compete in). Of course the conversation went on from there. Eventually I found out her son is a huge fan and that she wanted my autograph afterwards. I thought that was kind of funny.”
But Carvalho hit a road block prior to his octagon debut. While preparing to face Yuri Alcantara at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro last August, he suffered partial tears in both his ACL and LCL, as well as a second-degree rupture of his hamstring. He had no choice but to pull out.
“I didn’t know how bad it was,” Carvalho said. “A lot of the time when fighters are injured we don’t even recognize it anymore because our bodies just compensate. We’re just so well trained like that.
“It was just one of those things where I didn’t know if I wanted to risk the opportunity and go in there and perform poorly. We don’t get any brownie points for going in there, fighting injured and not having a good performance. That’s not how the business works.”
With his injuries behind him, Carvalho now meets Brazilian prospect Felipe Arantes when the UFC returns to Rio for UFC 142 next Saturday.
Ironically, Arantes replaced Carvalho at UFC 134, losing a unanimous decision to Alcantara.
Carvalho said Arantes suffered from a bit of hero worship in the bout, but doesn’t expect him to have that problem this time around.
“Part of the issue for him was Yuri is quite well-respected,” Carvalho said. “He was the Jungle Fight lightweight champion prior to dropping to featherweight and had a devastating KO in the WEC before moving to the UFC. He’s certainly a scary guy. That sort of played into Felipe’s mind. He played more of the counter-fighter. It just didn’t work in his favour. He kind of got bullied a bit.
“I don’t think for a second that he’s going to respect me as much as Yuri. It’s my first time (in the UFC) so he might think I’m a bit nervous.”
If Arantes takes Carvalho lightly, he’ll be making a big mistake.
While fighting for the Japanese MMA organization, Shooto, a few years ago, Carvalho was ranked among the top featherweights in the world, holding wins over Takeshi Inoue and current UFC contender Hatsu Hioki.
But due to a combination of injuries and both personal and financial issues, Carvalho decided to walk away from MMA entirely.
“When I left Japan, I thought I was finished to be honest,” Carvalho said. “I had so many injuries that had piled up over the years and hadn’t healed. I was living in Japan, so I didn’t have healthcare. I just never took care of my body. Little by little I got burned out.
“When I came back, luckily I had a good friend, Justin Bruckmann, who opened his gym and asked me to come out and start teaching. I started training and helping guys in their camps, then I found a good strength and conditioning coach and a good nutritionist. They helped build up the armour again.”
Carvalho is one of two Canadians competing at UFC 142. London, Ont., native Sam Stout will meet Thiago Tavares on the main card. The last time the UFC travelled to Rio, Brazilian fighters went 7-1 against foreign competitors.
Not only does he expect to be booed heavily by the passionate fans, Carvalho feels it’s a hometown advantage for fighters.
“They’re not going to like me regardless. As soon as they hear I’m from Canada — that’s it,” Carvalho said. “It might fool them for a few seconds when they announce my name. Even though I speak fluent Portuguese I can’t fool them because I still have a Portuguese accent. I don’t speak it the Brazilian way. I don’t think there’s anything I can really do to win them over. Hopefully, I can put on a great fight and maybe they won’t hate me as much.
“If a hockey team goes away on a road trip and comes back .500, they’re like, ‘Wow, we did pretty good.’ How is it different in fighting? It’s probably even more difficult because there’s more of a psychological aspect to it. One mistake and it’s over for us.”