‘Everything has changed’ for Bellator 224’s Rafael Carvalho thanks to American Top Team

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Bellator 224: “Budd vs. Rubin” takes place at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., this Friday night (July 12, 2019), streaming live online via DAZN. The women’s Featherweight title is up for grabs as “The Jewel” Julia Budd (12-2) takes on the undefeated Olga Rubin (6-0) in the main event.

In addition, an intriguing Middleweight fight will be featured on the main card as former champion Rafael Carvalho (15-3) looks to bounce back from a two-fight losing streak; however, his opponent, Chidi Njokuani (18-6, 1 NC), will be just as motivated to come out on top.

Indeed, “Bang Bang” Njokuani has been in the title hunt for a while, but numerous Catchweight fights seemed to slow down his momentum despite highlight-reel knockout wins. After moving up to 185 pounds and defeating Hisaki Kato in Thackerville, he finally seemed ready for that elusive title shot — but in this same venue he lost to John Salter in the main event. Carvalho, meanwhile, has no shame in his recent losses given Gegard Mousasi and Lyoto Machida are two of the sport’s most legendary names. The pressure is on, though, because a third loss against Njokuani could permanently push him out of contention in a division that recently crowned a new world champion. Indeed, a big win makes him a player in a whole new game.

MMAmania.com recently caught up with Carvalho ahead of his first-ever appearance in Thackerville, leading off with his thoughts on last year’s Machida fight in Hawaii.

“I won the fight, I won the first two rounds, unfortunately the judges looked at a different result.”

The second round is the swing vote. Carvalho did well until Machida rocked him with a head kick that may have changed the scorecards. Nevertheless, he’s moving on to Njokuani.

“It’s a dangerous guy, a great striker, but I’ll be prepared for the best Chidi that will be in the cage.”

Like Carvalho, Njokuani will be motivated by a recent loss to come out and perform at his best, so the former champion doesn’t want to give away his preparation ahead of their showdown this weekend.

“We have similar characteristics, I cannot say what I planned for him because if he read this interview I will have problems.”

Carvalho wrote something afterward that I gather was shorthand for “LOL” in Portuguese. I’d laugh, too, in his shoes. I also asked Carvalho if he moves into contention with a win.

“Chidi is a big name in the division, after I beat him I believe I deserve to be the (next) challenger after Lyoto.”

That all depends on whether Machida wants to face Rafael Lovato Jr. or Ryan Bader. Perhaps Carvalho would like to face Machida again, though, since he believes he won the fight?

“I can fight Lyoto or (Gegard) Mousasi, I do not care, but I would like to seek the world belt again and be able to face them as champion.”

That’s an interesting situation given Mousasi may no longer want to cut to 185 pounds; therefore, a Mousasi fight at Middleweight is potentially out of the question. Either way, I wanted to know if Carvalho is feeling pressure after back-to-back losses.

“In every fight there is great pressure for victory. I did not fight well with Mousasi, (but) against Lyoto I had a great fight. Chidi is on the same level, maybe down in name (from Machida), but (he) is a dangerous opponent. I’m ready to beat him.”

Given the fluidity of the 185- and 205-pound divisions right now, I asked Carvalho if there are any names Bellator MMA should recruit … even if they are currently with other organizations.

“At the moment Israel Adesanya or Yoel Romero, are great names of this division.”

I can’t see UFC cutting either its interim champion or a former Olympian any time soon, but stranger things have happened. I asked Carvalho to name any names he wants to fight.

“I do not choose an opponent, I fight against whomever (Rich) Chou sends me, but after defeating Chidi I want my opportunity to fight for the title.”

Fair enough. I wanted to know if Carvalho had changed anything in training for this fight in Thackerville to get back to his winning ways.

“Yes, Everything has changed. I’m at American Top Team (ATT) now, I’m on my way. The guys are amazing, they really know how to form champions. I am very happy and this is the ideal place for me.”

Carvalho also says they’ve been able to replicate what Njokuani does inside the cage.

“At ATT we have several fighters with the style of Chidi. Several teammates make Chidi’s profile (in sparring) to prepare me for this challenge.”

I asked Carvalho if Njokuani has “home field advantage” given he’s taken several fights in a row in this same venue.

“Perhaps. Look, Chidi has a fighting style that pleases the fans, I would pay to see him fight. This is very good for me, because I like to attack, too. I believe fans will be very pleased with our fight.”

Given the recent notoriety of bareknuckle fighting I also asked Carvalho if he’s disappointed that it’s luring some MMA fans away to a more barbaric sport.

“No, fans can choose. But, the MMA is incredible, they will return to the MMA.”

In closing, I asked Carvalho where he sees himself five years from now.

“My goal today is to regain my title. Then I also want to fight between the Light Heavyweights and maybe even the Heavyweight.”

At 6’3” with a 78-inch reach, Carvalho could easily be competitive at 205 pounds or above. Let’s see how he performs in Thackerville first, though. Obrigado, Carvalho!

Complete coverage of “Budd vs. Rubin” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.

To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.




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