Brazilian happy to return to octagon, despite missing chance to battle Lesnar
The Vancouver Sun – May 17, 2011

VANCOUVER – Junior dos Santos just wants to fight.

It’s difficult to blame the 26-year-old mixed martial artist for getting antsy while not having thrown a competitive punch in more than nine months.

So when the news broke that Brock Lesnar had to drop out as his opponent for the June 11 event in Vancouver due to illness, waiting for another fight wasn’t an option.

The Brazilian didn’t hesitate when agreeing to take on a replacement, American Shane Carwin, in the main event of UFC 131 at Rogers Arena.

“It’s not important who my adversary is, but that I get back into fighting,” said dos Santos in a phone interview through an interpreter. “I haven’t had a fight since August and I’m eager to get back in the octagon.”

He enters the June 11 main event with a 12-1 overall record, and is 6-0 in UFC contests with only one of his fights lasting the full three rounds.

A pair of heavy hitters

Both dos Santos and Carwin are known as standup fighters who prefer to trade punches rather than take the fight to the mat.

“He has really heavy hands and good boxing, better than Lesnar,” said dos Santos. “They’re going to be heavy hitting on both sides.”

Carwin was preparing to fight on the undercard of the Vancouver event, but now steps up to replace Lesnar, the man who handed him his only MMA defeat in July of last year.

Carwin is 4-1 in UFC events and 12-1 in MMA bouts overall, but has been out of action since undergoing neck and back surgery near the end of 2010.

The winner of the June headliner is widely expected to get a title shot against current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.

This isn’t the first time dos Santos has fought an opponent on short notice.

He was scheduled to take on compatriot Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 108. But, like Lesnar, Gonzaga pulled out of the event five weeks before fight night because of illness.

Dos Santos knocked out Gonzaga’s replacement -Dutchmen Gilbert Yvel – in the first round of their January 2010 contest.

“You can’t predict what’s going to happen to your opponent and you can’t predict changes that the UFC is going to want to make in the fight,” he said.

“So you just have to be prepared for anything and always bring your A-game.”

Long road to title contention

Dos Santos’ rise to a UFC title contenter comes only after working his way from humble beginnings in his homeland.

He grew up alongside two brothers in Santa Catarina in southern Brazil.

His father worked as a mechanic, but left the family while dos Santos was still young.

That left his mother to support the family on the minimum wage she earned as a cleaning lady.

He sold Popsicles on the street as a 10-year-old and later worked construction and other odd jobs to help pay the bills. By the age of 17 he had to stop going to school and work full time loading cargo trucks. He left home at the age of 18, moved away from his hometown and found a  job waiting tables at a restaurant in the coastal city of Salvador.

The constant work schedule meant he never had the means to participate in sports.

He got involved in MMA for the first time after deciding to lose weight and signing up for a jiu-jitsu class at a local gym in 2005.

After earning a 6-1 record fighting in regional mixed martial arts contests in Brazil, he first fought for the American-based uFC at a 2008 in Illinois.

He’s now widely regarded as one of the top contenders for the heavyweight title.

Vancouver business

Dos Santos has never been to Canada, but said he’s looking forward to visiting Vancouver.

“Lots of Brazilians have said that it’s a beautiful city,” he said. “I’m hoping to take a couple of days to walk around and do some sightseeing. I’ve heard only good things about it.”

Otherwise, it’s strictly a business trip, and one that he expects to come home from with a win.

“The perfect result for me is one more knockout…and I think I’ll get that knockout at the beginning of the second round.”

As originally published in The Vancouver Sun