Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Antonio “Pato” Carvalho interview

Antonio “Pato” Carvalho was actively fighting during Pride's heyday and the “kakutogi boom” in Japan. However, he never fought for Pride, seeing that Pride never had a featherweight belt to compete for. During that particular era, the UFC did not have a featherweight division, and the WEC was yet to be purchased by Zuffa. Regardless, Pato made a name for himself while fighting for the Shooto championship. After several ups and downs in Japan, he rebuilt his career fighting in his home country of Canada. Finally, he is on the UFC roster and awaiting a chance to fight in the Octagon on his home turf. Throughout his career, Pato raised his stock through taking on some of the most prominent names in the Japanese regional MMA scene. Known for being especially fan friendly and open to interviews, he remains active in many MMA forums around the world wide web. For this interview, I decided to focus on details about the individuals he has trained with, his unique contractual situations, his fighting style (Karate), personal hobbies, and future matches. I have tried to bring his personality to the forefront as much as possible.

-At UFC 149 on July 21st, you'll be facing George Roop, who is known for his long reach and tall frame. What are your thoughts on this specific physical advantage of his, and how are you looking to overcome this?

George is a very interesting opponent due to his physical features.It's not too often you find such a tall opponent with such reach in the featherweight division. So that alone will be a very tough challenge in itself. Not to mention, he also happens to be a very skilled and an all around tough fighter. I will need to use quick footwork, long strikes to set up my entry into a distance where I can possibly do some damage. I am also not against taking him down and trying a ground fight if I find the right opportunity. I think I can match up well from any aspect of the fight. I just need to be selective as to how long I stay within a certain range of the fight as to not give him the advantage. I think we can both look at each other and find ways to win. That is the beauty of the fight game and why I find it so intriguing; I can see myself winning in certain ways, but can also see how I might lose if I am not careful. I am never over confident when I fight. For me, it's about deciphering the puzzle that is George Roop. Hopefully, I can pull it off.

-Looking back at your career in Japan, you always seemed to be matched up with guys who were either champions, future champions, celebrities, or some other kind of notable names in the Japanese MMA community. For example, Hatsu Hioki not only became the Shooto champ,but also the Sengoku champ and is currently on a title run in the UFC. Hiroyuki Takaya has faced his share of difficulties stateside, but he still holds the Dream title. Yuji Hoshino became the Cage Force champ, but after losing to Sandro, he couldn't fight for awhile due to some political reasons. Your clash with Rumina Sato happened in what many would call the twilight of his career. Have you kept up with the career developments of your former opponents? Do you
have any thoughts as to your place in their careers as well as vice-versa?

I always follow all my past opponents. I have a deep admiration and respect for everyone that I have ever fought. They all have their place within my history of the sport. Not to mention, I am still a huge fan of the sport in general and all past opponents mentioned are very skilled and have provided me with plenty of entertainment during their fights. I am very proud and honoured to have been in the ring/cage with them and am very happy to see that many of them are still successful in their careers; whether that is competing or passing on their teaching to others at their own gyms.If I were to go down the list of fighters that you mentioned, fighters such as Hatsu Hioki are still very relevant within the Featherweight division. He should be very proud of what his has accomplished. I mean, after my very close win over him, he went through a difficult time. However, he managed to overcome those obstacles and become a champion. After we fought, Hioki asked me to please win the Shooto belt. I could see how much that title meant to him and that if I did capture that title, then his loss would not have been in vain.We all know that I never did do that which is something that I am still bothered by to a certain degree... Anyways, Hioki captured the Shooto belt and if I ever get a chance to speak with him, I will certainly remind him of what he asked of me and the fact that he did not need me to vindicate him by winning the Shooto belt. He did is all himself!Also, I would like to talk about Rumina Sato. I don't know that he ever understood how much he meant to me when I first started fighting.Rumina is still to this day, one of my heroes of this sport. So to be given the opportunity to fight him was by far the greatest moment of my MMA career. I don't know if that feeling will ever be topped. I
certainly hope to one day tell Rumina this. I know often things are lost in translation, but Rumina "Moonwolf" Sato, you are one of the reason why I am where I am in this sport and I own a ton of gratitude for your inspirational fighting style and all of the heart you have always shown in your fights. Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank You)!

-You've trained at AACC in Japan. Hiroyuki Abe rarely fights these days. Darren Uyenoyama recorded a UFC win and is now starting his own gym. Joachim Hansen can't seem to get a fight. Takafumi Otsuka is struggling in DEEP. Megumi Fujii will soon have the biggest fight of her career. Are you in touch with any of these people? What are your thoughts on their recent performance?

I am still in touch with all of those people mentioned. Hiroyuki Abe, or I prefer to call him Abesensei; Not only is he a close friend, he is also one of my mentors in this sport. Abesensei opened the doors to me at AACC and provided me with endless knowledge, not only in the
martial arts, but also in life on how to live the martial arts lifestyle. I owe Abesensei a ton and can't thank him enough. He is certainly one of the reasons why I managed to survive the amount of time I did living in Japan.Darren and I still stay in contact a lot. I actually have gone to San
Francisco to visit him. I met his wonderful family and also spent time at his gym meeting and training with his students. I am very proud of Darren since he came from a similar background to me in MMA. He certainly did not take an easy road. Darren is a very talented and a self motivated person. I have have learned a ton from him and I am very honoured to call him my friend. As far as his performance in the UFC against Kid Yamamoto, I think only myself and those that are close to him truly knew what he is capable of. I was not surprised in the least by the outcome of that fight. Although I know everyone else watching was. I can't wait to see the impact he is going to make in the flyweight division in the UFC.Hellboy is and always will be the one of the best fighters I have ever had the pleasure to train with and corner in his fights. I never knew what it took to be a champion until I met Joachim Hansen. He has created some of the most memorable fights for the fans. That night that he fought Eddie Alvarez is one night I will never forget. I mean, Joachim gave it his all. We had to carry him into the dressing room because he was completely exhausted. I have never outputted so much in any of my fights to the point that I could barely walk out of the ring. Joachim showed me this though his actions and he is one of the most honest and honorable men I have ever met and is one of my best friends. I know that he is not performing at the level he is capable of at the moment, but have faith we will see "Hellboy" rise again. I really hope to see him stateside in the UFC or Bellator. MEGUMI FUJII is by far the most talented female fighter there is. She is such a sweet, kind and humble person outside the ring, but is a complete animal when she fights. Although I mean an animal with incredible martial arts technique. She is a perfect example of what the martial arts are all about and how empowering it can be. Especially for a woman in Japan. She has crossed boundaries in Japan for women's MMA and lives her own way on her own terms. This is an incredible feat considering Japan is a very male dominant society. Anyways, in my humble opinion, MEGUMI should still be undefeated and her recent loses we're unjust. I thought she won both fights and I am very sad that judges can make such poor decisions. That said, she is still the pound for pound queen of women's MMA to me.

-After you left Japan, the WEC bantamweight and featherweight divisions were absorbed into the UFC. In Japan, Sengoku had a remarkable FW tournament. How do you look at the state of the FW division around the world, and the rising acceptance of FW fighters as they grow in popularity, particularly at this point in your career? Why did it take so long for the lighter weights to breakout?

Now that the FW's have a bigger stage to fight on, more and more talented fighters are beginning to appear. There is more of an incentive for fighters to stay in the weight class now. So many fighters that were often undersized in the lightweight division now have a proper weight class where physics don't play a factor in a 3 -5 minute round fight and there are more lucrative possibilities for them in the future. I think that is one of the main reasons why it took the lighter weight classes longer to breakout. The UFC absorbing the WEC and creating those divisions in their roster has certainly helped with exposure for the FW division. Also, Bellator has put on several incredible FW tournaments. So the casual fans are beginning to see how exciting and fast paced the FW's can be and they certainly get their moneys worth in terms of entertainment value.

-Other than those discussed in this article by Tony Loiseleur, is there anything you can think of that needs to be improved in the Japanese MMA scene?

I think the grassroots of MMA in Japan is still head and shoulders better then the rest of the world. I still believe that Shooto, DEEP and Pancrase have great systems in place where young fighters can get the experience they need before they fight on a bigger stage. I think the main problem with Japanese MMA is that it can be too centralized and the thought of fighting outside Japan can be a daunting one. I truly believe that with international experience that a lot of Japanese fighters can compete with the best out there. Japanese fighters are very used to fighting on home soil since for years, Japan was the mecca of MMA.People like Yushin Okami and Hatsu Hioki are great examples of how Japanese fighters can excel outside Japan on the world stage.

As far as revitalizing MMA in Japan, I'm not entirely sure how to do that. In my humble opinion, I think that the Japanese fans need someone to transcend the MMA subscuture; I mean, they need someone that can cross over and be a mainstream star and win fights all at the same time. I think someone like Masato is a perfect example of this. During his time in K1, he was recognized and very popular not only because of his fighting abilities, but also because of his fashion sense and his appearances on mainstream television. So Japan needs someone like that to revitalize the sport. In the meantime, as I said earlier, the grassroots scene will continue to exist and thrive because there will always be a small hardcore fanbase for MMA in Japan.

-You've had a lot of exciting fights in your career, but you've also had many injuries as well. Karate offers a counter-based conservative game plan. Of course different styles always have different pros and cons. Fighters train to maximize their advantages, while minimizing the risks. At this point in your career, how do you feel about a self-defense/martial arts-based conservative style, versus putting on an exciting show for the audience?

There is one thing I understand very well as an MMA competitor, I understand that ultimately, I am an entertainer. I am paid to go into a cage or ring and perform in front of an audience. Of course I want to succeed and win. However, I am well aware that fans are paying money to see fighters entertain them. MMA is no different then any other professional sport in that regard. I just believe that out sport is more exciting and visceral to the eyes. People go to MMA events to enjoy themselves and perhaps forget their own problems in everyday life. That said, I never compromise my principles and believes when I compete. I don't put on a "face" and try to be someone I'm not. I simply love to compete in the sport and applying my craft.

-At UFC 142, someone in the crowd tried to shoot a laser beam into your eyes. Did you realize this? Any thoughts on the need for security to check people's personal belongings at future events if such things continue to happen?

I didn't realize that actually. Only later when I watched the video of the fight. I don't know how they can stop such things. Thousands of fans go to these events and it would be impossible to check every single person. For the most part, I think the UFC does hire the best security they can find and I never felt unsafe while staying at the hotel or during my time in the cage when fighting for the UFC.

-Many people may not know this about you, but you are an old-school arcade video game fan. What is your favorite game and what specifically do you enjoy about it? Also, what about retro-gaming do you find particularly charming? The simplicity? The originality? Something else?

I have so many favourite games from my past from many different genres. I can honestly say my favourite era of gaming was definitely the late 80's to mid 90's. I still love 2d sprite based games. I always loved the artwork and creativity by the game designers, programmer and artists. I mean, I enjoyed the 8bit NES/Famicom era; However, I loved the 16 bit era best. Everything from the PC Engine (which is not really a true 16bit machine) Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Super Famicom/Super Nintendo and the Neo Geo. I always enjoyed the games made by Capcom, Konami and SNK. I was not a big RPG fan and I still prefer a more pick up and play approach to my gaming. Arcade games certainly provided this concept better. Easy to pick up and play, but hard to master. I still find myself gravitating towards those types of games even on my IOS device (Iphone/Ipad). I still own a large collection of games from each of those systems mentioned and still manage to get some gameplay time in every once and a while when I can hook them up to my old CRT television!

-You're known to often show up in forums and chat with fans. What is your favorite memory of communicating with fans?

I think just communicating with the fans in general is what I like. I don't mind bringing some insight into things that sometimes people can't know from just looking on the outside. I think a true fan can appreciate it when I come online and bring some new and exciting insight into a fight or something behind the scenes. It makes this sport so much more interesting. That all said, I am still and always will be a huge fan of the sport and love talking to others that share that same passion I have for it.

Big thanks to Dean Ryuta Adachi  (holler at scholar) for English editing.