With one dream already fulfilled, Michel Pereira aims to be both UFC champion and crowd-pleaser

When Michel Pereira first talked to MMA Junkie, shortly after a Road FC display that spread through social media like wildfire, he was having a tough time grasping his newfound notoriety.

“I’m not believing it yet,” Pereira said. “I’m still processing all of it.”

At the time, as he got his first taste of international MMA fame, Pereira said he’d received offers from major promotions and turned them down. His dream was the UFC and he believed that it was well within his reach.

He was right. The contract rolled in about two weeks later. Then, on May 18, Pereira made his UFC debut. Despite being an underdog against Danny Roberts, Pereira won it emphatically. While it didn’t involve any moonsaults this time, it was still impressive enough to earn him one of UFC on ESPN+ 10’s “Performance of the Night” bonuses.

From his status as professional fighter to his bank account, a lot has changed in Pereira’s life over the past three months. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his bewilderment.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Pereira told MMA Junkie. “From one day to the next, it’s like, ‘What is going on?’ I don’t even know the magnitude of everything that’s happening yet. Little by little, it’s hitting me – the person that I’m becoming, the athlete that I’m becoming. The fans that are beginning to follow me. My Instagram blowing up. Combate channel talking to me. The biggest TV channels talking about me.”

Make no mistake, though: For all its seeming suddenness, Pereira’s success has been some time in the making.

Despite being only 25, Pereira has been fighting long enough that he needed a fake ID to make his debut. His record shows a not-too-shabby 32 fights, which took place everywhere from his native Para, Brazil, to Peru, Mongolia, Japan and Serbia.

Every step of the way, there were sacrifices. Starting with his mom, whom he had to leave early to pursue his karate training, Pereira saw himself mastering the art of letting go. Clothes, shoes and friends stayed behind each time that he moved and started anew, always in search of the next professional opportunity.

“I had to learn to live alone,” Pereira says. Any hint of self-pity is noticeably absent, though, much like it is he recalls going hungry, sleeping in places that “weren’t very nice,” getting paid 200 reais for fights, taking 34-hour bus trips to make it to them. These were just things that he had to do to get to where he is now.

Pereira now has friends, cornermen, a team behind him and a UFC deal. But if you’re wondering what was going through his mind as he made that particularly emotional octagon walkout at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, there’s your answer.

“I had to give up a lot of things for this dream of mine to come true,” Pereira said.

When Pereira uses the word “dream,” he doesn’t mean getting a bonus, or a spectacular knockout – or even getting his hand raised at all. The dream was, simply, to walk out to the octagon and hear Bruce Buffer calling his name. And while that second part didn’t get to come true, as Joe Martinez was the announcer that night, the rest will do.

For now, anyway.

“I believe my fourth fight will be for the belt – You can write that down”

As he prepared for his UFC debut, Pereira (23-9 MMA, 1-0 UFC) saw himself answering the same question many times over: Would he be able to do, against the highest level of competition, the type of stunt that first got him noticed in Asia?

“People doubted it a lot,” Pereira said.

Then again, that was really nothing new. Pereira had grown accustomed to hearing people question – or downright discredit – the viability of his unconventional style throughout his career. And his reaction then was the same as it is now.

“I always said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll show my game, I’ll do things no one has done,’” Pereira said.

Pereira only delivered flashes of his aerial antics in his debut but, in fairness, he didn’t have a lot of time. In less than two minutes, a flying knee and a right hand already had Roberts out cold.

For those left wanting more, however, here is the good news: The Brazilian welterweight has no intention of changing his jumping, flying, flipping, whatever-that-thing-is-called ways.

In fact, Pereira insists he couldn’t if he wanted to.

“It’s my style,” Pereira said. “It’s not something that I do because I want to be fancy or because I want to humiliate my opponent. If you tell me ‘Michel, don’t do this.’ I can’t. Then don’t put me in there. It’s the way I fight. I was very criticized early on – I was called a clown, they said I should go to the circle, that this razzle-dazzle is for crazy people. People always said bad things and I had to swim against the current.

“But, thankfully, I got people to understand that this is what’s cool. That this is the thing that’s missing among athletes: Wanting to put on a show. Wanting to please those who pay the tickets. Those who pay good money to attend events, or who pay every month for the channel to watch the fights.”

But what about the other, more conventional parts of his game? Sure, his style is a striker’s delight, but what happens when he meets a stand-out wrestler, or a jiu-jitsu black belt? What can he say about the parts of his game that most people haven’t had a chance to see yet?

Pereira pauses for a second. He takes a breath. And then he asks, almost solemnly, to listen close.

“People don’t understand that I train boxing,” Pereira said. “I train muay Thai. I train kickboxing. I train jiu-jitsu. I train everything. Everything that they do, I do. I just do extra things, which they don’t do. If they want to boxe, I’ll boxe with them. If they want to grapple, I’ll grapple. If they want to wrestle, I wrestle. Just because I do these other things, it doesn’t mean I don’t have boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling.

“I have them. I’ve been training since I was 12. I’ve been building my career to be ready. I believe I was being prepared by God to get to the UFC and give everyone a great show. If I get a top-10, a top-5, whomever it is, I will trade blows with him. And he can be sure: If he makes a mistake, I will jump over on top of him, I will be flashy and I will put on a show. What I do, it’s like a jab and a cross for me.”

As he’s been saying in every turn, Pereira has a goal. He wants to bring the show back into the UFC. He wants to be that person who wakes people up. He wants to make sure those who buy tickets or expensive pay-per-views feel like they got their money’s worth.

But he’s also got more tangible, rather ambitious goals for his career. And you can doubt them at your own risk.

“I signed four fights with the UFC,” Pereira said. “I believe my fourth fight will be for the belt. You can write that down.”

For more on the upcoming UFC schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

After UFC On ESPN+ 10 Win, Ian Heinisch Wants Brunson, Hermansson or Souza

Ian Heinisch (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) picked up the biggest victory of his professional MMA career last week at UFC on ESPN+ 10 when he took a clear unanimous decision over dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace, Antonio Carlos Junior (10-3 MMA, 7-3, 1 no-contest UFC).

Vs. Carlos Junior

“Shoeface” controlled Heinisch on the ground for the first round, but “The Hurricane” got the better of the final 10 minutes of the fight as he wore his opponent out.

“I had to weather the storm in the first round,” Heinisch said of his win. “He got me in a bad position very quick. I knew I couldn’t be super explosive, I had to be very technical and a little cautious of getting caught in something, especially because we weren’t slippery. I came out in the second round and told my coaches, ‘That’s all he got’ and started throwing down. Overall, the victory was good. I wish I could have finished him. He’s a tough dude and I felt like I broke him a bit.”

With a win over No. 12-ranked Carlos Junior, Heinisch is now ranked No. 11 in the UFC middleweight division–in just two fights.

“It feels amazing,” he said. “It feels surreal. My girl’s always told me I’m on the fast track to get to the belt. I feel like my last performance, I proved I deserve to be here. I want to break into the top-10 my next fight. By the end of this year, I would like to be top-5. That’s my goal.”

Next Opponent In Mind

Heinisch has three potential opponents in mind for his targeted return at the end of August. Derek Brunson (No. 9), Jack Hermansson (No. 5) or Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (No. 6).

“[Brunson] is a good fight that the fans want to see,” Heinisch said. “Hermansson has got a lot of momentum and I’d love to get a piece of that. And then also, I wouldn’t mind fighting Jacare. If he wanted to take that fight, he’s one of the best in Jiu-Jitsu, and he’s also got powerful striking.”

Heinisch has had a lot of success in taking out BJJ practitioners in his budding UFC run. His first win came over Cezar Ferreira, and the second came over Carlos Junior. Heinisch believes Souza is the only great BJJ fighter still ahead of him in the rankings.

Making Improvements

His success against grapplers comes after Heinisch really started specially preparing for them during his training camps, in particular his last one. After struggling with Ferreira, Heinisch began to focus on drilling takedown defense.

“I always invited the takedown and my teammates usually never shoot on me because they didn’t want to get into grappling exchanges with me and scramble,” he said. “I never really worked on my initial takedown defense until my last fight when I got taken down almost every round. Then I was like, ‘Okay. Cezar had really good timing. He was getting under me. I was getting very aggressive in coming forward.’ And then if I’m to face a wrestler like Derek Brunson, I want to be able to sprawl and brawl and stuff his shots.”

Heinisch notes that his biggest improvements have come in his Jiu-Jitsu defense. He intends to keep sharpening his takedown defense, while continuing to work on his preferred method: striking.

“My striking always can improve,” he said. “Finding that knockout punch. I need to set it up a little better with some touches and set up those power punches for the knockout.”

Heinisch will be ready for whatever his next opponent throws at him. But whatever fight he takes, he only wants a certain type of bout to ensue between them.

“I want to get in an exciting firefight in my next one and not just defend Jiu-Jitsu until they slow down.” 

Featured Image credit: Embed from Getty Images

The post After UFC On ESPN+ 10 Win, Ian Heinisch Wants Brunson, Hermansson or Souza appeared first on MMASucka.com.

Ian Heinisch responds to Antonio Carlos Junior’s foul complaints: ‘He was just breaking mentally’

Ian Heinisch added a big win to his resume last Saturday at UFC on ESPN+ 10, but it took weathering quite a storm from Antonio Carlos Junior early in the middleweight encounter to get the job done.

Heinisch, who was in the unfortunate position of having to fight a rear-naked choke specialist off his back, credits a few things for managing to turn things around. In wrestling, he says, he’s always good at getting people off his back. In camp, he had a slew of “long, lanky black belts” and people with strong back control helping make sure he was comfortable in the position if it came down to it.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Heinisch has been through enough challenges in his life to know how to overcome them. And he believes that, as the end of the fight approached and both fighters tired, it was that mental fortitude that helped him prevail.

“This whole thing I went through, this whole process gave me such a strong mentality, a strong mindset, that I am able to lose a round and have someone hang on my back and not let it faze me at all, because I’ve been through adversity my whole life,” Heinisch told MMA Junkie Radio on Wednesday. “And I know how to bounce back, and I feel like I’m one of the most mentally strong guys in the UFC.”

But it seems Heinisch can’t say the same about the mental fortitude displayed by his opponent in Rochester, N.Y.

The fight featured a few visible fouls, including fence grabs by Heinisch (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC), a groin shot by Junior (10-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) and a headbutt. Junior complained about both Heinisch’s fouls and the ref’s lack of action in an interview with Combate. Junior, who was coming off a layoff, said he believed that both the time away and those events in the cage threw him off.

“I lost a bit of focus, especially in moments of the fight when I was upset with the ref,” Junior said. “One was (Heinisch) grabbing the fence when I went for the takedown. I spoke to the ref before the fight, when he went to the locker room to explain the rules. I went for the takedown, he grabbed it, didn’t fall because of it, and later even elbowed me and grabbed the fence again.

“I told the ref that if it happened, it could change the path of the fight, and he said he’d deduct points. He grabbed (the fence) twice. The ref did nothing. That took my focus a bit. He even headbutted me. I complained, and the ref told me to continue. To his back, I said ‘You know you headbutted me. Be honest.’”

Well, let’s just say Heinisch isn’t exactly on the same page.

“He was just breaking mentally,” Heinisch said. “We had an accidental headbutt, and he wanted to stop the fight. It’s just like, ‘Man, we’re fighting. The ref didn’t see it. We’re going to keep fighting. You’re the one who kneed me in the nuts.’ So he can complain about whatever he wants. He was breaking mentally. When you’re breaking, you start letting little things like that affect you. Cezar Ferreira – we headbutted hard, a few times, and none of us said anything.

“If the ref doesn’t see it, I’m not going to try to wave him down and let him know. I’m just going to keep fighting. And whatever he wants to believe, I was there for a mission, and a little headbutt is not going to stop me. I’m going to keep moving forward until the ref actually pulls me off. That’s on him. That’s mental things. And if he wants to find excuses, that’s on him. I’m happy with my performance and what happened.”

Heinisch certainly has reasons to be happy with what happened. By snapping Junior’s five-fight winning streak, he added a fifth consecutive victory to his own streak. The most recent two were in the UFC after Heinisch made the most of his “Dana White’s Contender Series 7” shot. And while decisions aren’t usually how fighters prefer to get their wins, 15 minutes of cage time with a tough foe makes for some valuable experience.

A big win calls for a step up, and Heinisch made that clear right away. With his sights set on the division’s top 10, he believes Derek Brunson was both someone he could beat and someone who’d make for the type of firefight that he wants to put on for fans. Late August seems like as good a time as ever to make that one happen.

But that’s not all that Heinisch has his sights on.

“Honestly, I would love to make it 4-0 this year,” Heinisch said. “I hope I can get one in August, one in November, December. That would be my ideal. And if (Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza) needs a fight, too – and he’s coming off a loss. If he thinks I’ll be tune-up fight, I’m ready. So let him know.”

To hear from Heinisch, check out the video above.

And for complete coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 10, visit the UFC Events section of the site.

MMA Junkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio. You can also check out www.siriusxm.com/siriusxmfightnation.

USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie MMA rankings, May 14: Welcome, Ian Heinisch

A “Hurricane” is brewing in the UFC’s middleweight division.

Ian Heinisch (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) was competing on the regional stage one year ago, but he’s made quite the splash since then, knocking out Justin Sumter at Dana White’s Contender Series 15 to earn a UFC deal and then notching back-to-back octagon wins over veterans Antonio Carlos Junior and Cezar Ferreira.

The victory over “Shoeface” came at this past weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 10 event, and with the victory, Heinisch makes his debut on the USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie MMA middleweight rankings, taking over the No. 15 slot.

Felicia Spencer (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) debuted for the UFC with a win over Megan Anderson at the same event, causing some ripples in both the women’s featherweight and women’s pound-for-pound lists. Take a look at all the moves in the newest edition of the list.

UFC on ESPN+ 10: Julio Arce revels in first UFC knockout, first head-kick finish

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Julio Arce beat Julian Erosa with a highlight-reel head-kick knockout Saturday night to open the prelims at UFC on ESPN+ 10 in Rochester, N.Y.

Take a look inside the fight with Arce, who got back in the win column after a tough split-decision loss at UFC 230 in New York this past November.

Result: Julio Arce def. Julian Erosa via knockout (head kick) – Round 3, 1:49
Updated records: Arce (16-3 MMA, 3-1 UFC), Erosa (22-8 MMA, 0-3 UFC)
Key stat: Arce got his first knockout win in the UFC, and first career win by head kick.

On the fight’s key moment

“He has a very interesting style – he’s kind of like Dominick Cruz, moving a lot. I had to be very patient and also find my range for a longer fighter.”

On his first UFC knockout

“Sometimes I do it in practice, and it just happened. I noticed he took two of my head kicks before. He was coming in tough as nails. So I was like, ‘This time, let’s hit it and land it.’”

On what he wants next

“I’m not that kind of guy. Whoever wants to fight, they can come to fight. I don’t really call people out. It’s whoever’s going to be available. I’m working my way up the ranks, but I’m not in a position to call anybody out.”

To hear more from Arce, check out the video of the full post-fight interview above.

And for complete coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 10, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Triple Take: Should Felicia Spencer really fight Cris Cyborg after her UFC debut win?

Former Invicta FC champion Felicia Spencer made an impressive UFC debut this past Saturday, submitting Megan Anderson in the first round of their UFC on ESPN+ 10 main-card fight. 

Spencer, 28, was asked afterward what could be next, and she wasn’t entirely sure. Although, in a super thin division, the options are few, and the one that came up was former UFC champ Cris Cyborg, who is down to do it at July’s UFC 240 in Edmonton. But should Spencer really leap all the way to a matchup with Cyborg right after her debut? MMA Junkie’s John Morgan, Fernanda Prates and Ben Fowlkes sound off in this edition of “Triple Take.”  

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John Morgan: Spencer’s time is coming, but no need to rush it

Mark my words: Felicia Spencer will one day be the UFC women’s featherweight champion. The skills she’s shown on her way up the ranks of Invicta FC proved that she is championship caliber, and her mindset – willing to take on either Cris Cyborg or Amanda Nunes after just one fight in the UFC – is exactly what it takes to succeed at the highest level. But time is on her side.

Just seven fights into her MMA career, Spencer has shown that she’s capable of both quick finishes and grinding victories. She’s certainly not hesitant to strike with opponents, but she also possesses an ability to dominate fights on the floor. In some ways, that’s what makes a fight with Cyborg intriguing. After all, I think most of us always believed the way to beat the Brazilian slugger was to take her out of her element – that is, until Nunes did the unthinkable and knocked her out on the feet.

But Spencer doesn’t need to try and repeat that accomplishment just yet.

Sure, it’s easy to argue there aren’t really any other fights for her to take. Spencer just beat Megan Anderson, which leaves Nunes and Cyborg as the only other real featherweight options available at this time. But UFC officials seem keen to develop this weight class – and with good reason. With that in mind, I believe they’ll be able to find more opponents for Spencer, whether it be against full-time featherweights or not. That added experience would be wise.

After watching her in action for more than a decade, I can say one thing for certain: Fighting Cyborg is different.

If you watch closely enough in most of her fights, you can see the moment her opponents realize it. The way she moves, the power of her shots, the confidence in her aggression – it’s different, and that’s just what happens in the cage.

Fight week brings more attention than you’ve ever handled before. Most of it entails media asking about how you plan to deal with the unstoppable monster that will be standing on the other side of the cage. Sure, you believe in yourself, but with so many other people suggesting you might be in over your head, maybe they’re right?

The variables around a fight with Cyborg reach levels Spencer hasn’t even considered at this point, less than four minutes into her UFC career. Her time is coming. There’s no need to rush it.

Next page – Fernanda Prates: If Cyborg isn’t next, then who is?

UFC on ESPN+ 10: Zak Cummings knew he needed finish in close fight with Trevin Giles

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Zak Cummings beat Trevin Giles with a third-round guillotine choke Saturday night on the prelims at UFC on ESPN+ 10 in Rochester, N.Y.

Take a look inside the fight with Cummings, who landed a left hand to take Giles off his feet, then finished him with the guillotine choke in the final frame.

Result: Zak Cummings def. Trevin Giles via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 3, 4:01
Updated records: Cummings (23-6 MMA, 8-3 UFC), Giles (11-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC)
Key stat: Giles lost for the first time in his professional career.

On the fight’s key moment

“Trevin was really hard to hit. I saw everything he was throwing – I just could not get close enough to do anything clean, and I didn’t want to overly expose myself. … I still had that sense of urgency in the third round – like, ‘Hey, let’s go in there and get a finish.’”

On being in a close fight

“(My coaches) knew it was really close. We’re always thinking we’re winning. I was holding the center really well. I thought I was landing the harder punches, and hard kicks. But we knew it was close. … Obviously I still had to have a sense of urgency to go in there finish the fight.”

On what he wants next

“I’m thinking now at middleweight, I can kind of be a little more active. I’d really like to – your timing stays a little more sharp. … Let’s get back in there and have some fun. … I love San Antonio (Texas). I do have quite a bit of family in Texas … if the timing works out, sign me up. I’m in.”

To hear more from Cummings, check out the video of the full post-fight interview above.

And for complete coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 10, check out the UFC Events section of the site.