Junior dos Santos (left) has been training with Demian Maia in preparation for UFC 131. | Photo: Marcelo Alonso
Junior dos Santos has left one man after another in his wake since he made his UFC debut in October 2008: Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson. Only Nelson went the distance with him.
The once-beaten Brazilian will meet former interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin in the UFC 131 headliner on June 11 at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The bout will establish the No. 1 contender for reigning UFC heavyweight kingpin Cain Velasquez, an undefeated American Kickboxing Academy representative who continues to recover from a shoulder injury.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Dos Santos discusses his preparation for UFC 131 and weighs in on everything from a potential rematch with Werdum and the status of longtime training partner Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira to the meteoric rise of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and the opportunity to coach on Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.
Sherdog.com: After returning from “The Ultimate Fighter,” how has your preparation for the fight at UFC 131 gone?
Dos Santos: I never stopped training, but during “The Ultimate Fighter,” it was really hard to train. Now, training is already at 100 percent again. Thank God everything is going well. I’m feeling very well and think I’m in a good rhythm. I intend to follow this pace until the day of the fight.
Sherdog.com: We saw that you came to visit your friend, Demian Maia. He always visits you in Salvador. How would you describe your relationship with him?
Dos Santos: Demian is a great friend, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of his training. As everyone knows, he’s a phenom in jiu-jitsu. He’s very intelligent, dedicated and always practicing boxing. He wants to learn, just as I want to learn jiu-jitsu with him. I always try to learn a little about it, but it’s quite difficult because the guy is a phenom. He always tries to teach me what he can, and I’m always trying to learn. I’m always willing to train and improve myself. That’s always my goal.
Sherdog.com: Of the guys you have trained with so far, who are the best at ground fighting?
Dos Santos: Demian, “Minotauro,” [Ronaldo] “Jacare” [Souza], [Antonio] Rogerio [Nogueira] … I’ve trained with [Alexandre] “Xande” Ribeiro and Alexandre Peinado, who helped me recently, and many other great fighters. I like to see if I can withstand the pressure from those guys and try to survive. I try my best, and I think it’s important for me. This type of training makes me more confident. I don’t think I have excellent jiu-jitsu, but I can get a good performance out of my jiu-jitsu.
Sherdog.com: You were very upset by the cancellation of your fight with Velasquez, but afterward, you were given the chance to coach on “The Ultimate Fighter.” Though it does not compare to fighting for the belt, it, too, is a great opportunity. How did it all happen?
Dos Santos: I’m blessed. As you said, I was very upset after the Velasquez fight was cancelled, and I thought about a lot of stuff. That was the opportunity of a lifetime. All fighters know that everyone wants to get there and how hard it is to get there. I thank God I had a good run in the UFC and managed to get into position to fight for the belt. Although Velasquez got injured, I ended up getting something better. Minotauro had participated in “The Ultimate Fighter” and told me it was a great opportunity. When I received the proposal, I called him, and he gave me the incentive. He said it would be great for me, that it would be even better than fighting for the title. He told me to listen to him and take advantage of the opportunity. Many people came to me saying that, but I still have no idea how good it can be. I hope it’s the best, that I’ll become better known and the more people will want to watch my fights.
My goal is to fight for many years. It will be better if
everybody knows me.
Sherdog.com: Speaking of Velasquez, who is recovering from his injury, it seems he made a comment saying he would like to see UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones move up and face him as a heavyweight. If Jones wins one or two more fights, confirms he is the phenom he has shown himself to be and decides to move up in weight, how would a fight go between you and him?
Dos Santos: Actually, I think it would be like any other fight. Jones has shown great talent and is a dangerous guy, but nobody is unbeatable. I think there’s always a way to beat someone. There’s always a chance to win if you work hard and execute a good strategy. I Velasquez’s case, he’s said he would like to face Jones and also said he would like to face Alistair Overeem to unify the [UFC and Strikeforce] titles. He has to stop talking this nonsense, because it’s not time for him to choose his fights yet. I’m sure [his next] fight will be with me, and I’ll prove I’m the number one contender in this fight [at UFC 131]. Cain wants to fight with Jones and Alistair, but before he knows it, he will have to face me. He has to stop talking about these things and get ready to fight for the title with me. That’s what he’ll have to face. He’s talking a lot, but I think he needs to worry about defending his title first.
Sherdog.com: Fabricio Werdum recently issued a statement saying he would love to have a rematch against you. How do you feel about that possibility?
Dos Santos: I think Werdum has always been a great athlete, and he showed it again after his defeat to me. He rose up and beat Fedor [Emelianenko], one of the best fighters of all-time. I’ll probably be the UFC champion by the time Werdum wins the Strikeforce grand prix, if he wins it. If he qualifies to fight for the title, we’ll do the rematch. If he doesn’t, he’ll have to keep trying until he gets there.
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