Antonio Carvalho once thought his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting career might be done.
After a very taxing run in Japan saw him lose four of six bouts against some of the best international featherweights in the world (although he still beat Hatsu Hioki during this stretch), his body was completely broken down.
"Pato" took over two years off from the sport and his body began to heal its many wounds. By the time he returned to active competition in 2010, he was a new man.
Three straight victories earned him an invite to the UFC and after a disappointing debut this past Janurary, he rose to the occasion and knocked out Daniel Pineda in just 71 seconds, competing in his home country of Canada on the big stage.
Carvalho will return to the Octagon this Saturday night (Nov. 17, 2012) against Rodrigo Damm on the UFC 154 preliminary card and he spoke with MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about making positive career decisions, the perks of an osteopath girlfriend and how he plans to beat Damm in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're undefeated in Canada. Is there just something special about fighting up north for you?
Antonio Carvalho: Oh for sure. All across the country I've got friends. It's always nice to get an opportunity to perform in front of them and it was so many years that I wasn't able to do that and when I finally got the chance again to do it, I was just very excited and the results showed. I've been fortunate enough that the UFC has been putting me on these Canadian cards and I'm hoping to keep entertaining everyone.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The expression "You're only as good as your last fight" could not be more applicable than in your first two UFC appearances. How has the response been from fans and just people around you comparing your first fight in the UFC to the second one in this past year? It must have been the most ridiculous range of highs and lows emotionally.
Antonio Carvalho: Absolutely yeah, you said it best. It's exactly like that. You're only as good as your last fight and that's what people remember. It can get difficult sometimes especially when you feel like you're on a downward spiral and things aren't going your way but that's the reality of fight sport and that's what drew me to it to begin with. It's a brutally honest sport and when I finally made my UFC debut and it didn't go my way, I knew right then, right there that I needed to change some things and I had to be honest with myself and go back to the drawing board and that's what I did. That's what I like about the sport. You evolve when you need to evolve. I got a little too complacent and as soon as that fight was done, I went back, I saw what was wrong, made the proper adjustments and you saw the results in my next performance.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What were some of the biggest things you changed heading into that second fight? I noticed there was a drastic jump in your striking, which was a bit robotic in your UFC debut in Brazil compared to you coming out much more loose in your last fight against Daniel Pineda.
Antonio Carvalho: I've been up and down. My striking, I've always felt had been pretty competent for mixed martial arts. I actually ended up hooking up with a great coach named Joseph Valtellini. He's the number one super middleweight in North America for Muay Thai. He saw a lot of things that I needed to fix. For me too, it wasn't just the technical side. My body wasn't responding well. I just had been through so many injuries and I was very lucky.
My girlfriend, this is actually how I met her, she's an athletic therapist and an osteopath and she could see right off the bat that something was really wrong with me. It was actually her work in fixing me and that's why I looked so loose in Calgary and looked more relaxed. My body was in a much better condition and it's something that I know as a young fighter I took for granted. I just went through whatever it was and didn't worry about healing. Now I spend just as much time in the gym as I do rehabbing and resting and trying to make sure I'm not broken when I get out there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): As fighters get older, I've heard they've got to give their bodies more time to recover and heal up between training sessions. You always hear about fighters "training smarter" without going into specifics but I definitely feel you've just given an actual example of training smarter.
Antonio Carvalho: Even from my last camp to this camp, there were things that went wrong. I talked to my team and my girlfriend, she knows me in and out and my schedule and we changed things up to make sure I stayed healthy for this camp.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are some of the best perks of having a girlfriend who's an athletic trainer and an osteopath?
Antonio Carvalho: (laughs) I feel very very lucky. I wouldn't be able to function without her. She's basically kept my body in alignment and I am able to perform because of her. There was a time in my career when I thought I wouldn't be able to perform at a certain level anymore because my body wasn't responding. She's constantly on me, checking to make sure everything's okay and it's a huge blessing. I'm lucky. That's why I make sure to take things one step at a time because you never know what's going to happen. That's just the way this sport is. I might find one day I wake up and just can't do it anymore.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been a guy that has always been ranked near the top of the 145 pound division going back to years ago. What was it that kept you out of the clutches of Zuffa whether it was the UFC or WEC for all those years?
Antonio Carvalho: During the WEC period, I was in Japan. I was very content to stay there because I felt we still had the best guys in the world. Then they got bought by Zuffa and they slowly merged everything together. Then there was that period where I walked away from the sport because I thought I couldn't do it anymore. My body wasn't responding. It was too many injuries and the timing, when I walked away it was when the WEC started to come up and the best featherweights were there.
By the time I decided to come back, it had been too long. Too long since I had done anything. The matchmakers knew who I was in the past and I didn't find out until recently that they were always looking to have me in the WEC. Just again, a sense of timing. It didn't work out. When they finally did get a chance to sign me, they did and I didn't realize I was closer than I thought when I came back. They just needed three fights and I made sure to win three fights. When I won that third fight, the next day I had a contract from the UFC. It was nice to know they were always waiting to see what I was gonna do and when I finally did perform, they brought me in.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent, Rodrigo Damm. You've both big time veterans, have had big fights outside the UFC and now you're on the collision course.
Antonio Carvalho: Yeah, it's interesting. I actually watched him fight in Japan when I lived there. I'd always seen him fight and I've liked seeing him fight. He eventually made his way to Strikeforce where he challenged Gilbert Melendez for the title and he did well in Japan. I always followed him. He was a good fighter and a great prospect at 155. He had a rough path to get to the UFC and the same thing happened to me. Neither of us took the easy road to get there and when the UFC offered him as a name, I was a bit surprised. Here was a guy I'd been watching for years and I'm happy to see him around and now I've got a contract with his name so I've got to deal with him now. In a way, it's nice that I knew a lot about him already because I'd been following him. He's a great fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you view this fight as if you both have extremely similar skillsets? You both have very good wrestling, very good jiu-jitsu and you're both pretty competent on the feet.
Antonio Carvalho: Yeah, I'd say we're very similar in everything and that's what's intriguing about this fight. I don't know where I'll fare better than him. There are certain aspects where I definitely feel he's ahead of me, at least in terms of his grappling and jiu-jitsu. He's competed at a higher level than I have and performed well in tournaments. I'm a black belt as well. I think I can hold my own, you never know in MMA. On the feet, he's got a lot of power, you saw that in his last fight and he does have a bit of a wrestling background in Brazil so he's a well-rounded guy. I think he's always evolving too and he's found his spot at featherweight. He's not going to be undersized anymore. It'll be fun trying to outdo each other. I'm excited for it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that Rumina Sato was your biggest hero. What was it about him and what influence has he had on your career?
Antonio Carvalho: He's just one of those guys that would go out there and go for broke. It was just amazing. At the time especially, he was a human highlight reel with flying armbars and it was the risk style that I admired so much. He had such charisma to him as well and he was always somebody when I first started watching MMA, I'd get those first VHS tapes of Shooto events in Japan and he was originally one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Shooto in the first place when I started competing. He was certainly one of the reasons why I did everything in my power when I got there.
The fact that I actually got a chance to fight him and beat him the one night I fought him was just one of the best experiences I ever had in my life and I'm just very grateful for the opportunity to fight him. I still think of him the same way. He's still one of my heroes. He's still someone I respect and when I lived in Japan, it was an honor to be able to sometimes just sit down at a venue and watch fights with him. He's just a great guy and one of those guys I'll never forget. I know there's the language barrior but I wish he knew how much he did mean to me and still does.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What goals do you have, either short term or long term, for your UFC career in this next year and perhaps even beyond?
Antonio Carvalho: For me, short terms is obviously just to hopefully get past Rodrigo. Long term, it's a title shot. That's a long way off. I know that. I'm a realist. I understand my position in the UFC among the featherweights. It's going to take incredible performances to get to that point so I'm not thinking that far ahead. That's everyone's goal. That's what we're all shooting for. We all want to be a champion in the UFC of course. I'm not thinking about it right now but that's everyone's dream. That's why we're all there. Even for one split second in our lives, we'd like to be considered the best featherweight on the planet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is a fan question from Twitter. They want to know: Does your beard give you super powers and also, since it's no-shave November, will your beard be supercharged on fight night?
Antonio Carvalho: Oh I can assure you that it will be supercharged come fight night. As far as super powers, I always like to say, I don't grow a beard, the beard grows me. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfectly for you, how would you like the fight against Rodrigo Damm to play out on Saturday?
Antonio Carvalho: Definitely a knockout or submission. Exciting for the fans, certainly the W. Either A, it's exciting, or B if it's long and drawn out it has to be exciting for the fans. Knockout or submission as long as it goes my way. For me, that would be the perfect night.
Antonio would like to thank his team Bruckmann Martial Arts, Justin Bruckmann, Richard Nancoo, Bill Boland, his wrestling coach Mike Francis, his striking coach Joseph Valtellini, Lyndon Whitlock, Tapout Training Center and his girlfriend. You can follow him on Twitter @AntonioPatoMMA.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Carvalho's beard be supercharged enough on Saturday night to give him the victory over Rodrigo Damm? Can he make a solid run in the featherweight division despite his age?
To listen to my complete conversation with Antonio Carvalho, click here (interview starts at 11:00 mark)