(Assunção is confident that he’ll be a force at 145. Photo courtesy of Eric Langley Photography)
Four years ago Junior Assunção walked out of the UFC Octagon following a disappointing loss to an up-and-comer by the name of Nate Diaz. Soon afterwards he received the dreaded phone call that every fighter hopes will never come from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva telling them to string together a handful of wins in the minor-league circuit and wait to be called back up to the big show.
6-1 in his last seven fights since losing to Diaz, Assunção (11-4) has not lost in three years. Although he says he is willing to fight anywhere the opportunity exists and reveals that he is planning a drop down to his more natural weight of 145 for his next bout, the current Xtreme Fighting Championships lightweight champion admits he is eagerly and patiently waiting for his UFC callback.
“I’m not specifically looking to go back to the UFC, but I think there would be better competition for me in the there because of the athletes they have. I was fighting at 155 and with the merger of the WEC with the UFC there were a lot of lightweights went to the UFC and it became very crowded,” he says. “My plan is to go down to 145 and I think when I do, I should get a call to fight for them anytime now.”
Having fought as high as welterweight, 5’9″Assunção says that he realized that a cut to featherweight was a necessity.
“Before I decided to fight at 145 I did a test cut just to see if I could make it down there and be professional about it. I did that and made 151, so I did it without killing myself. I wanted to make it to the low 150′s to make sure I could do it,” Assunção explains. ”I fought a few weeks ago and I made 153 without having to dehydrate and my opponent was 156 dehydrated, so it’s obvious that I can fight as a featherweight. I’m a small 155′er and I don’t know if it’s worth it for me to keep fighting against such bigger guys up there.”
In spite of his near-perfect record since being released by the UFC, Assunção would have liked to have been more active, but circumstances and life prevented him from fighting more than he did the past three years.
“I always have offers to fight, but I put a lot of time into the gym and my kids live in Brazil, so I had other commitments. I like to go to Brazil to spend time with my kids because it recharges me. I wanted to develop a solid string of wins and sometimes taking fights out of nowhere on short notice isn’t the smartest thing to do,” Assunção points out. ”You have about a five or six-year window to perform at the highest levels. I don’t want to just take any crazy fight. If the money was there to please me and it was a good fight with an opponent that has a decent name to improve my resume, sure. All of those things played a factor in me not fighting as much as I’d like to.”
One opponent Junior says he would like to face to avenge a loss close to his heart would be Eric Koch who knocked out his brother Rafael at UFC 128 last month.
“Seeing my brother lose like that is not very comforting. We know what my potential is and at 155 I can’t picture myself beating too many of the top guys in the UFC, but at 145 I don’t see anybody there who can really intimidate me, Koch included. The guy beat my brother and it’s all good, but my brother is a small 145′er and he’s going down to 135 now,” says Assunção. “That will clear the room for me to come in. If they will give me the chance, I’ll fight that guy. I don’t know what the UFC has in mind for him, but if they give me the opportunity I’ll beat him up. If not, I’ll just have to work my way up like everybody else. Either way is fine with me.”
Although the option to get back to the UFC through the back door of The Ultimate Fighter like other Octagon vets have done in the past existed, Assunção says he really didn’t pay the notion much attention.
“That’s for somebody who doesn’t have much of a name already. With me I think it’s different. I’ve been doing this a long time and my last fight with the UFC was in ’07. That’s a long time, man. The Ultimate Fighter started in ’06. My other brother Freddy did the tryouts this year and he did very well, so he might make it on the show,” he says. “That’s good for him because he only has five fights. I think it would be kind of unfair for a veteran with a lot of fights to take that opportunity away from a young guy who really needs the show. I’ve never thought about going to try out because I think I can get to the UFC from a normal door.”