by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
Canada’s Antonio “Pato” Carvalho is one of the top 143-pound fighters in the world and holds wins over Rumina Sato and Takeshi Inoue. Currently recovering from knee surgery, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt looks to rebound from a tough loss and make his way back into title contention. Antonio recently spoke to MMAWeekly about his rematch with “Lion” Takeshi Inoue as well as his recent move to Japan. “Pato” returns to competition in Shooto on May 17th against Hatsu Hioki.
MMAWeekly: For the fans that don’t know a lot about you, please tell us a little about yourself.
Antonio Carvalho: Well, I was born in Canada then moved to Portugal when I was 9 years old. So I am Canadian [laughs]. My whole family is Portuguese and I have a very Portuguese name that could be confused for a Brazilian. I also speak Portuguese fluently.
I wanted to finish school so I chose to come back to Canada at 16 years of age. In 2000, I met my current teacher Shah Franco. He was an affiliate of Sylvio Behring from Brazil. So I began to train in both BJJ and Judo for a while and eventually stuck to BJJ only. That’s when we formed the FrancoBehring team. Shah also happened to be a Shotokan Karate world champion and began training me in striking as well. So as I was training in BJJ, he would teach me about striking. So essentially, my two main styles are BJJ and Shotokan Karate. I eventually got my black belt from Prof. Sylvio Behring in BJJ after about 6 years of training.
MMAWeekly: You haven’t fought since last May. Please tell the fans what you have been up to lately.
Antonio Carvalho: After my last fight, I went back to my usual summer job. I work with kids between the ages of 10 and 17 at a summer camp. Kids from all over the world come to this camp so they can learn English. They take two periods of English and then three periods of sport related activities. I actually worked in the office and taught several periods of martial arts.
MMAWeekly: Sounds rewarding.
Antonio Carvalho: It is a fun job and I keep myself in good shape and make decent money so I can pay for my expenses in the fall. After that I just try to compete in MMA as much as possible to make ends meet.
The only problem last year was that I was really injured from my fight with “Lion” [Takeshi Inoue]. I had injured my knee about two weeks before my title fight. Then during the fight I pretty much destroyed my knee. The injury would not seem to heal after that. That summer after my fight, I just was not my usual energetic self with the kids. I was slowly becoming very unhappy. It took a while, but I was really having trouble dealing with my loss. Also the fact that I was injured and unable to train was not helping the matter. Then suddenly, I almost lost my father. He had suffered a heart attack and had double bypass surgery. Not to mention he was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, my father’s bypass was successful and he is still with me today. That incident certainly put things into perspective for me. I was all depressed over a fight I had lost, when in reality, that is nothing like losing someone who is close to you. So I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and searched for a doctor who could help me with my injury. I wanted to fight again and I wanted to go back to Japan. I eventually had surgery and have been trying to rehabilitate my injury and slowly get myself back into training again. It has been difficult, but I am about 85% healthy and I am hoping to be 100% in the next few months.
MMAWeekly: Your last fight was an unfortunate loss to “Lion” Takeshi Inoue. Could you elaborate more about that fight?
Antonio Carvalho: I wasn’t ready to be a champion that night and I lost to a better prepared fighter. I was not mentally strong enough to deal with what was happening to me at the time. Never did I ever believe that I would have a chance to fulfill my dream of becoming a Shooto champion. I got overwhelmed.
Originally, I was supposed to fight Alexandre “Pequeno” Nogueira. Ironically, he had a knee injury and could not defend his belt within the allotted time frame by the International Shooto commission. So he was stripped and the title became vacant. So they matched me up with “Lion” Takeshi again. I think for the first time in my career, I was actually the favorite to win a fight since I had beaten him before.
Besides a left high kick that I landed in the first minute, the rest of the fight was me just getting my face smashed. My guard work was awful and I was trying to go for all these loose submissions that were not there. I didn’t even attempt to block a punch. It was a disaster and I deserved to lose that fight.
One of the things that kept me safe in all my fights before was the fear I had for what my opponents can do to me. I should have respected his punching power and covered up better. I should have “weathered the storm”. Instead, my mind was telling me that he shouldn’t be doing this to me. My ego for the first time came into a fight and it cost me. Like I said, the better fighter won.
MMAWeekly: You recently relocated to Japan…
Antonio Carvalho: …Yes. I love Japan! I truly enjoy fighting in front of a Japanese audience. But what really made me want to come and live here was what happened to me after I had lost to “Lion”. As I walked out of the ring, there was a crowd of people developing. They waited until I got close and they began to cheer and thank me for everything. Many said that they had seen my previous fights and that they were fans and wanted to see me again.
MMAWeekly: Japanese fans are very passionate about the sport. They truly care for and respect all fighters.
Antonio Carvalho: Yes. It was amazing that they were not thinking that I was a “loser”. Actually, in my mind, I was a “loser”. I mean, I lost the fight, so I am a “loser,” right?
MMAWeekly: Technically speaking…
Antonio Carvalho: …Not to them. They remembered my journey up until that point and respected what I had accomplished. After being with the fans, I realized it wasn’t about winning or losing, but about me, as a personfighter, giving it my all and just never giving up. They still saw me as a skilled fighter whom they wanted to see fight again. I was honored that they appreciated all of my hard work.
MMAWeekly: So what went through your mind on the night after your loss?
Antonio Carvalho: That night, I woke up in the middle of the night in my hotel room. I had this massive headache and I was alone and confused. I looked over to the other bed to see if my instructor Shah Franco was there. He was not. So I went looking for him and managed to find him. As soon as I saw him I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe that I had failed so miserably. I wanted to win so badly for him, my team and of course myself. I just didn’t know what to do next.
Shah laughed and took me outside onto a balcony in the hotel. There we were staring at the city of Tokyo, and out of nowhere Shah says that I should come and live and train in Japan for a while. Normally something like that would sound a little crazy for most. But for some reason, it felt so right. On the plus side, living the martial arts lifestyle is very much accepted as a way of life in Japan. With the support of my family and my team, this dream that I had is now a reality. I am in Tokyo, Japan and living the lifestyle I want to live. It’s not about money or being famous. It’s just about being happy and enjoying my life and doing what I love to do. My only goal now is to train and compete in Japan.
MMAWeekly: Now that you’re in Japan, you’re currently training at the Abe Ani Combat Club. Tell us how that came about.
Antonio Carvalho: The last time I fought in Japan, my friend Yuta Takahashi took me to the AACC gym to meet Hiroyuki Abe and Megumi Fujii. They were such wonderful and kind people. As soon as I met them, I got a good vibe from them. They ran a great club and all the students were very nice and respectful towards each other. So when I had decided to come to Japan, my friend Yuta, mentioned it to Abe-san. Abe-san then offered me a spot with his team. I am so grateful to him and Fujii-san. They are one of the main reasons I am able to stay in Japan comfortably. They have helped me in every possible way. Not to mention, his students have all been very helpful as well. I am very lucky for sure and I don’t know how I will ever repay them. I am so honored to have them as friends.
MMAWeekly: It definitely sounds like you’re among good company at AACC. Speaking of Abe, you were in his corner when he recently fought “Lion”. What are your thoughts on that fight?
Antonio Carvalho: It was a great fight. I just wish it had gone in Abe’s favor in the end. The fight was going exactly how he had trained. We knew that if Abe could get inside and land some solid hooks he could pull off the upset. The trick was to angle off a little and get inside. He did it. Abe hits incredibly hard and he was the first to ever knock “Lion” off his feet. “Lion” has great stand up, but certainly has holes in his defense. However, he has an incredible chin and is tough as hell. After Abe knocked him down the second time, “Lion” recovered quickly. Abe had predicted that the fight would end early. Either he was going to knock out “Lion”, or he was going to get knocked out himself. I think Abe really wanted that knock out and tried so hard in that last exchange.
MMAWeekly: After the second knockdown, I thought he was going to pull off the upset.
Antonio Carvalho: It was heartbreaking to see him go down. Lion showed why he is a great champion with a lot of heart. He landed that counter punch that seems to be his specialty. I know a lot of people criticize “Lion” Takeshi. He does have a lot of holes in his game. But he is open about his flaws and willing to put himself out on the line. I think he is a great champion for Shooto. Also, a lot of people thought that Abe was going to be an easy fight for “Lion” and they were wrong.
MMAWeekly: I must admit I underestimated Abe’s chances against Takeshi.
Antonio Carvalho: Abe is one of the toughest guys I have ever met. His record does not do him justice. He is a great fighter and I always knew that he had a good chance against “Lion”. I was truly honored to be in his corner and a part of that amazing battle.
MMAWeekly: Recently, you’ve faced some stiff opposition in your career. Who would you say has been the toughest opponent to date?
Antonio Carvalho: I think all my opponents were tough. Brian Geraghty, Rumina Sato and Jeff Curran were all very tough opponents. But of course I have to say “Lion” Takeshi because he really beat me up and finished me off. Even in our first encounter, it was a very difficult fight. I was sore for weeks after that one. It was a very close fight, but I still believe that I deserved to win that fight and was happy the judges thought so as well.
What people don’t know was that the big gash I suffered in the third round in that fight was from a head butt in our last exchange. I landed a one-two combination and then Lion dipped his head which clashed right into my eye socket. I ended having to be stitched up after the fight. Also, about a week and a half before I fought Sato, I had stitches put in around my eye brow. In training, my partner landed a knee that cut me bad as well. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fight. Lucky for me, everything turned out okay in the end.
The journey to every fight has never been easy. That’s why for me, every fight has been difficult in some way. I am sure my opponents have the same kind of experiences. Sometimes it is your night to win and sometimes it is your night to lose. That is the harsh reality of this sport. People will see you at your most powerful and then the next time they may see you at your weakest and most vulnerable.
MMAWeekly: You’ve already competed in MFC, TKO, Ironheart Crown and Shooto. Have you ever thought about fighting in a larger organization such as Pride or the UFC?
Antonio Carvalho: I think I would only fight in the UFC if I put on about another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle. When you walk around close to 150lbs, it’s not time to fight as a lightweight just yet. However, I am getting older and if that does happen and I can still compete at a good level, then for sure I would give it a try if offered a chance. At the moment, I am happy where I am and want to see how far I can go as a 143lbs fighter.
Antonio Carvalho: I feel the same way about Pride at the moment. If I had to choose between the two organizations, I would most certainly choose Pride over the UFC though. It’s just my own personal preference and not whether I think one organization has better fighters than the other.
MMAWeekly: What do you think of the WEC’s new emphasis on the lighter weight classes?
Antonio Carvalho: I think that is awesome. There are so many talented 145 and 135 pound fighters out there. There are plenty of venues here in Japan for such fighters. However, in North America, there really are not that many options. I believe that guys like Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres deserve recognition. They are amazingly talented and virtually unknown to the mainstream audience.
MMAWeekly: I agree.
Antonio Carvalho: I just hope Zuffa does the right thing and begins to promote these new divisions in the UFC as well. I just don’t see that happening too quickly due to them just starting to promote 155 lbs fighters again. However, I applaud the WEC’S emphasis on these weight classes and the fans will be the winners because they are going to see the fastest most technical fights they have ever seen.
MMAWeekly: Akitoshi Tamura just defeated Tenkei Fujimiya to win the vacant Shooto Pac-Rim belt. What are your thoughts on a potential fight with him?
Antonio Carvalho: I would love to fight him. The one thing I never do is back out of a challenge. Even if I believe I can win or not. I was very impressed by his performance against Fujimiya. Fujimiya had defeated him by knock out the last time they had fought. So to come back and fight him again so soon and win shows a lot of heart and determination. However, I believe Shooto has other plans for him and they don’t include me.
MMAWeekly: Have you had the opportunity to roll with Ryoto Matsune?
Antonio Carvalho: I have not. Sorry (Snacks).
MMAWeekly: When can we expect you back in the ring?
Antonio Carvalho: I will be fighting in Shooto on May 17th. It will be against Hatsu Hioki. Shooto will announce the fight at the ‘Back to our Roots 2′ event.
MMAWeekly: You against the “Iron Broomstick”? That’s going to be a great fight. Tony, I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. Do you have anything you would like to say to your fans?
Antonio Carvalho: I hope I will be strong again for my next fight. Thank you for believing in me, when in many occasions, I did not truly believe in myself. The only thing I know for sure is that I will do my best win, lose or draw.