Most young fighters don’t create much of a buzz two months before they make their UFC debut and step into the mixed martial arts spotlight for the first time. But Edson Mendes Junior (6-0) is no ordinary prospect.
With five knockouts and a submission win, the 24-year old Brazilian has seen the second round only one time in his MMA career and stopped American Top Team fighter Jose Figueroa in a mere three minutes and fifty-five seconds.
“It was a dream come true,” Junior told ProMMANow about the moment he learned of the UFC’s offer. “I had hoped that with hard work and some luck I would get the opportunity, but when I finally found out for sure, it was a great day.
“It is only the start though. Now I must live up to my potential and raise the level of my effort. The opportunity is great and so are the expectations.”
Joe Mullings, Junior’s manager and a partner at MMA Profit Advisor, said that they had plenty of options, with Bellator and Strikeforce also making intriguing offers.
“But our first goal was to have him in the UFC,” Mullings said.
When you look at what Junior brings to the table besides his 6-0 MMA record, it’s easy to understand why he had his pick of the major organizations.
Mullings doesn’t mince words, calling Junior an “unbelievable” athlete, with a 52-inch vertical and the ability to do multiple 405-pound deadlift reps.
Junior also has top-notch striking from an extensive Muay Thai background, including 28 professional fights in that discipline with 25 knockouts.
“He has devastating leg kicks and knockout power in both hands,” Mullings said, adding that you will find few, if any, other fighters in the lightweight division able to stop a fight with one punch from either hand. More importantly, Mullings said that Junior has carefully adapted his striking specifically for MMA.
“I had a great Muay Thai career in Brazil,” Junior said. “I was really blessed with a great coach, Anderson Franca. I had been training Muay Thai since I was 8 years old in Nova Friburgo. I have always wanted to fight MMA. I thought it would be a great challenge. The opportunities in Brazil for MMA fighters are very few. I knew that I would have to come to the United States to realize my dream of being a professional MMA fighter in the world’s largest event, the UFC.”
Coming to the U.S. to pursue his MMA career, Junior has had to adapt to a new culture as well as a new training regimen. But he credits his teammates and sparring partners at The Armory for helping the transition in both areas, including grappling ace Pablo Popovitch and Bellator fighter Eduardo Guedes.
“I have a very supportive team in Jupiter, Fla.,” Junior said. “Other fellow Brazilians, Eduardo Guedes, Rafael Chaves, Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, Thiago Abreu, Rodrigo Cavaca, Pablo Popovitch, Ceara … all great friends as well as teammates. We live together, work together and I have really adapted well to the United States, even with a new language and a new culture.”
Of course, great striking alone doesn’t guarantee success in MMA, but Junior has spent much of the last year-and-a-half working on his ground game.
“I also trained BJJ in Brazil in preparation for my career in MMA,” Junior said. “I would spend more time on my Muay Thai, though, when I was in Brazil, because that was the focus of my career. “Since coming to the US though, I would say that almost 70 percent of my time for the past year-and-a-half has been on my grappling and wrestling. We train everyday on the ground with some phenomenal partners.”
Popovitch, a renowned Jiu Jitsu black belt and winner of the prestigious ADCC 2009 submission grappling tournament, has high expectations for Junior.
“Edson will [very soon become] the 155lbs UFC Champion!!!” Popovitch said in a post on Junior’s Facebook page. “Mark my words.”
Mullings has worked with other accomplished mixed martial artists, such as Kurt Pellegrino, Hermes Franca, and Matt Wiman, so he has a pretty good eye for talent. But what could put Junior over the top is his ability to handle the pressure of the UFC and living up to the hype.
“Certain athletes will rise up to the pressure and other athletes will fold,” Mullings said, having no doubt that Junior will rise to the occasion. “I think Junior fights for himself. When that cage door closes, the calmness he shows is amazing.”
As for Junior, he also seems confident and composed to confront the task at hand.
“Even though I only have 6 MMA fights, I have 28 Muay Thai fights. Muay Thai fights are very tough on the body and mind, so I think I am ready for the UFC and the fans. I know the fans want a good fight, regardless of the fighter. My style is to go in there and be aggressive. I knock people out. I also hope to finish my fights with submissions. But I feel that if I go into the Octagon and stand in the middle of that cage and do what I love to do, the fans will appreciate it.”