|Posted by Mark Figula on September 22, 2012 at 2:10 PM|
By Mark Figula, The Mouth of MMA Senior Editor
If ever there was a living example of "speak softly, but carry a big stick," Junior Dos Santos is it. Poised to take a run at the UFC Heavyweight Title, Junior gained a great deal of popularity on last season's TUF, when people got to see the quality kind of person that he is. Now less than two months away from making history when he steps into the cage in the first network television live UFC event, Junior is as humble as ever. Don't let that humility fool you, though. His demeanor may be calm, but his fists pack a storm worth of hurt.
I caught up with Junior this week via e-mail and he was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions:
Mark Figula for The Mouth of MMA: You will be headlining the first ever major network UFC card on Fox, this November, How does it feel to be a part of history like that and does it add to any excitement on your part for the fight?
Junior Dos Santos: It's exciting, and I am thankful for the tremendous opportunity the UFC decided to give me. Both Cain and I are exciting fighters, and sure to keep everyone on their toes and win some new fans for the sport. It definitely gives me extra motivation to train hard, and to win. I want that belt really bad.
Mark: How - if at all - do you think that Cain's layoff from being injured will impact his abilities in the ring come fight time?
Junior Dos Santos: I don't think at all. People talk about cage rust and whatever, but Cain is a professional athlete, and the current heavyweight champion. He would not accept a fight if he couldn't give it his all. I expect to get a fierce Cain Velasquez in that octagon, and I expect he'll be my biggest challenge to date.
Mark: What do you see as his greatest strengths coming into this fight and where do you feel you have the best advantage?
Junior Dos Santos: Cain is great everywhere. He has spectacular take-downs and wrestling, vicious ground and pound, and he's a good striker. But I think his biggest strengths are his speed and his cardio. As far as advantage, that's tough, because you never know where a fight will end up. They are always unpredictable, and I will be ready for wherever this fight ends up. Everybody considers me a striker, and it doesn't escape me that a lot of people think Cain will take the advantage if we wind up on the floor, but the truth is nobody has seen my ground game yet. It might be nice to surprise people with a few takedowns or maybe a submission.
Mark: How important is it to you to bring another belt home to Brazil? Do you think in terms of this being for your country?
Junior Dos Santos: I think of this fight as a personal achievement-- to be from were I'm from, to grow up how I grew up, and to be here today, fighting on Fox for the heavyweight title, is spectacular. I am Brazilian, of course I have a sense of country and of course it would be great to bring the belt to Brazil, but this fight is about my blood sweat and tears, about working hard and never giving up. So for me, it's about my dream coming true. I think Cain and I are a lot alike. We're Latinos, from similar socio-economic backgrounds, who worked really hard to get where we are.
Mark: If you win the belt, you will face the winner of Lesnar - Overeem... I know it's hard to think past the fight right in front of you, but just as a quick thought, does it matter to you which of those two guys you face?
Junior Dos Santos: No. It doesn't matter. I will fight whoever the UFC thinks should be my next fight. For me, what matters is that I get to fight. It's what I was born to do. It's what I love to do.
Mark: With the Strikeforce Grand Prix going on, who do you think will win it?
Junior Dos Santos: I don't know. I wasn't expecting this finale. I don't think anybody was.
Mark: At this level, every fighter is tough, but who was the toughest for you to face so far?
Junior Dos Santos: I think Cain will be the toughest yet. Of those I've already fought, I'll go with the two who I didn't knock out. Roy Nelson and his chin were tough as nails and I was impressed with him. I'll also go ahead and say he is a great guy. He came and visited me when I was doing TUF, he met with my team, and it meant a lot to me, so I have respect for him as a superior athlete and as a person.
"Roy Nelson and his chin were tough as nails
and I was impressed with him."
Then, at UFC 131 against Shane Carwin, obviously like everyone else I was impressed with his ability to fight through the third round, but I was also impressed by his punching power. There was a shot in the first round that he landed to my face and I definitely felt it. I sort of went "whoah" and then decided it would be better to stay a little further out from him and jab more so I wouldn't have to take too many of his punches to the face.
Mark: Speaking as a fan of MMA instead of as a fighter, what is a dream match-up you would like to watch?
Junior Dos Santos: I would love to see Big Nog fight Fedor again.
Mark: Your nickname, "Cigano" means "gypsy" in English. How did you get that nickname?
Junior Dos Santos: When I started fighting and still had hair, I wore it long in a ponytail. People said I looked like a gypsy and the guys at training started calling me "Cigano" to mess with me. I didn't like it and asked them to stop, so... They did it more and more and it stuck. So, now I'm "Junior Cigano," which is how a lot of fans refer to me, especially in Brazil. Or just "Cigano". Even my twitter is @junior_cigano.
Mark: I think everyone got to see what a good guy you are during TUF. Can you tell us anything about being on that show that we might not already know about?
Junior Dos Santos: Thanks for that. That show was a great chance to get more exposure to American fans, and to learn more about American culture. I loved the experience and am still in touch with several of my teammates. But, it was also a really hard experience for me. My English was pretty awful, especially at the beginning and it was so difficult to communicate exactly what I wanted to tell my team. It's frustrating and I think only somebody who has been through that language barrier type of situation can really understand how frustrating it is to not be able to really express what you want. That's why I still use an interpreter sometimes. I am trying really hard to learn English, and Spanish too. I want to be able to communicate and I want people to hear ME, to know what I am saying. TUF was early 2011 and I barely spoke English. It's gotten better. I pay attention to song lyrics and tv shows, and I ask people a lot of questions -- if they use an English word I don't know, I ask what it means. I ask how it's spelled and I pay attention. In another year or two I hope to be fluent. People started interviewing me in Spanish lately too (I don't actually speak Spanish)... It's been funny. I try. I want to learn. I will learn.
Mark: Thanks for your time, Junior.
There is no doubt that Junior will learn fluent English, just like there is no doubt his MMA game will ever improve. He is soft spoken, yes. He is loathe to brag, yes. He is also a man who accomplishes what he sets out to do.
If you want to hear more from Junior, follow his Twitter @junior_cigano.
Mark "The Ezequiel" Figula is the biggest wuss to ever enter a cage... The most spindly chickenass dude to ever tap out at NAGA... The boy who was told that the pen is mightier than the sword... And thus he writes. Check out his home page of scribblings at www.markfigula.com.