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UFC Rochester’s Antonio Carlos Junior ‘matured a lot’ after one-year layoff due to chest surgery

Middleweight Antonio Carlos Junior explains why he stayed one year away from the sport, analyzes his fight against Ian Heinisch at UFC Rochester.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Rochester-Weigh Ins Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2018 in which he had to undergo chest surgery, The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 champion Antonio Carlos Junior is ready to pick up right where he left off in the Octagon.

Currently on a five-fight winning streak, with four submission wins, the 29-year-old is now scheduled to take on Ian Heinisch, who most recently defeated another TUF Brazil winner in Cezar Ferreira in his UFC debut. Although Antonio does feel Ian is not the ideal opponent for his comeback, the Brazilian is just happy to finally be back.

“I’ve been away for a year. It’s been a tough period for me because of my injury,” Antonio told Bloody Elbow. “I suffered a tear in my chest, so I had to undergo a surgery and it was a little more complicated than I expected, I thought it was just a light injury. So I fought only once last year, that made me very sad, but I also matured a lot in that time. Now 100% healed, I felt really well in my training sessions. I came back even stronger, thirsty to fight again. This time off made me really miss everything, stepping into the Octagon, fighting and even dieting.”

Away from the cage since a submission win over Tim Boetsch back in April 2018, ‘Cara de Sapato’ explained he wanted a ranked opponent, or someone who would put him closer to title contention. He had to settle for Heinisch once he learned all ranked middleweights were already booked or injured, as he did not want to wait too much longer before returning to action.

“I intend to extend my win streak. Heinisch is a good fighter, no doubt about it. I really wanted to fight a ranked guy, the UFC also wanted that, everyone was either hurt or already booked. So I told Mick (Maynard) I had to fight someone, I didn’t want to get too rusty, I didn’t even care about rankings, I was just crazy to come back. They didn’t want to pair me with a nobody, so when Ian’s fight fell through in England, they matched us up. I think that the important thing is to keep fighting. My focus is on the belt. I want to beat anyone who is ahead of me, no matter who they are.”

A decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt who has World Championships titles and a Pan-American gold medal to his name, Junior could not predict a different outcome other than a submission win when asked about how he would like to finish the fight on Saturday night, but made it a point to emphasize how he has also been training his striking and mixed martial arts skills over the years.

“I really want another submission,” he said. “That’s my specialty. I feel well when I’m able to use my jiu-jitsu in a fight. I always try to be one step ahead of my opponents. I also developed my striking quite a lot, so I want to use that, too. I think it’s important to be able to mix it all up, but looking for the submission is always my goal.”

Before the Tim Boestch win, Antonio Carlos Junior (10-2-1 NC) also defeated the likes of Jack Marshman, Eric Spicely, Marvin Vettori and Leonardo Guimaraes during his recent run. His last loss happened in March 2016, when Dan Kelly bested him via TKO.

Antonio Carlos Junior is expected to take on Ian Heinisch at UFC Fight Night 152, in Rochester, New York, on May 18. The card will be headlined by a welterweight bout between former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos and Kevin Lee.