MONTREAL — Antonio (Pato) Carvalho is one of the most humble fighters in the UFC. So it should come as no surprise that the veteran Canadian bantamweight holds no ill will at all to referee Yves Lavigne for what was considered by many to be an early stoppage in his UFC 158 fight Saturday against Darren Elkins.
In preliminary action at the Bell Centre, the Sault Ste. Marie native was rocked by a big right that caused him to buckle and appear to go unconscious as he dropped to a crouching position. However, Carvalho never fell all the way to the mat and before Elkins could follow up, Carvalho popped right back up to his feet with his hands defending his head.
Unfortunately, Lavigne had already made the decision that he was out and jumped in to call off the action. Carvalho immediately waved his hand at Lavigne to say he was okay, but the bout was already over, and Elkins was awarded the TKO victory.
Carvalho was quite dejected following the fight, but he refused to criticize or even question the decision.
“I have to agree with the stoppage," Carvalho said. "The refs always warn us, if there’s any excuse to stop it, they’ll stop it. That’s just the way the sport is. For all I know, maybe I would have survived, maybe he would have hit me again, I don’t know. By the same token, they’re trying to take care of us and make sure we’re going back to our families.
"I gave him (the ref) an excuse to stop it and people can argue whether it’s early or not but you never know what happens after, right?"
The well-liked veteran also wanted to make sure the controversy didn’t detract from the performance of his opponent, whom he felt earned the victory.
"I can’t take any credit away from my opponent either. I never do that, it’s not my style. I got hit. The reason why the sequence happened is because I got hit. I dropped my guard for a second and something happened and I gave the ref an excuse to jump in.
"I got hit with something, that’s my fault, and I have nothing but good things to say about my opponent."
Carvalho is very familiar with Lavigne, who is a veteran of the sport in Quebec and has been refereeing in Canada for many years, including the Montreal-based TKO Championship Fighting where Carvalho has fought and many Canadian fighters started their careers in the early 2000s. He was around during the early days of MMA when his home province was one of the few that sanctioned the sport, and he was one of the regular ones used at UFC events, especially in Canada.
While Lavigne does have a reputation with some to stop fights too early, he is also keenly aware of the need to protect fighters’ safety. At the same, Carvalho knows him well and has a rapport with him, and despite his initial objections in the heat of the battle, Carvalho totally supported Lavigne’s decision after he had time to reflect on the bout.
“(In the cage) I was obviously trying to tell (Yves) I was okay, but he had already made his decision; he’s not going to go back on it,” Carvalho said. “I respect Yves as a referee, he’s reffed other of my fights before. We talked about it, we laughed and I said, 'You know what? Thank you for protecting me too.' I don’t know what would have happened after that. I gave Yves an excuse to jump in and protect me.
“Things happen so fast, it’s hard being a referee. I wouldn’t want that job. You want to protect the fighter, by the same token you want to give them a chance to come back.”
Carvalho, who said he received an outpouring of support from fans after the fight, offered even more thoughts on his Facebook page on Sunday:
"UFC 158 did not go my way :) I dropped my guard for a split second. My fault. It's funny how I am so diligent with my students in keeping a good guard. I constantly remind them in class. Hopefully, this fight is an example why that is so important! ;) Anyways, the support has been overwhelming. I can't thank everyone enough for sending me many positive messages. I'll openly admit that I am heartbroken and this one is going to hurt for a bit. That said, I will move forward. Not ready to leave the sport just yet I think :)"
Carvalho, who has been fighting for over a decade but only finally made it to the UFC in January 2012, has had a couple ups and a couple downs in his four fights in the Octagon. He dropped his UFC debut in Brazil, but followed that with a spectacular knockout of Daniel Pineda at UFC 149 in Calgary last July.
He then made it two straight with a split-decision victory of Rodrigo Damm at the last event in Montreal, UFC 154 in Montreal in November. But he didn’t feel like he overly impressed in that win, so he was really coming into Saturday’s fight almost as if he had lost and feeling like he wanted to redeem himself and put on a better performance back at the same venue.
If anything, Carvalho (15-6) is more disappointed that he wasn’t able to do that to the fullest.
“Funny thing is, I felt my last performance was kind of lacklustre, so I really wanted to come down here and make it exciting,” Carvalho said. “I guess it was kind of exciting because there was some sort of finish, but we had some good exchanges and scrambles on the feet.”
Now the 33-year-old, who knows he isn't one of the youngest on the UFC's roster, hopes that the organization will give him another chance.
"I knew it was going to be a tough fight. I felt I was doing well. I felt my strategy was working, my takedown defence was good, and my team was great. I got caught. What can I do? One split second and that was it.
"Hopefully (the UFC) still wants me around and feels I’m an exciting fighter."
Carvalho said that UFC president Dana White spoke to him after his fight, and if his past results are taken into account, the UFC should give him another fight, especially considering the controversial nature of the stoppage, not to mention the fact that "Pato" does very often put on exciting fights.
On top of that, he’s just one of the good guys.
NOTES: One of Carvalho’s other claims to fame is his patented beard. But he was even humble about that during fight week, saying his was only the second best of those on the UFC 158 fight card ...
Lavigne is still highly regarded by the Quebec Athletic Commission, who gave him the honour of working the main event between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz. While he often gets the headlining duties and the Montreal shows, Lavigne, who said he was only notified a couple hours before the start of the show, admitted to me he was surprised the commission didn’t give the assignment to Marc Goddard in this particular case, considering Goddard is from the U.K. -- that is, neutral territory for the bout between the hometown favourite St-Pierre and the American Diaz, between whom there had been plenty of bad blood.
Thankfully, there were no officiating issues in that bout, as St-Pierre won a clear-cut decision, easily taking all five rounds ...
Elkins has apparently earned a big opportunity with his win Saturday over Carvalho. According to MMAjunkie.com, Elkins, who is the first fighter to win five fights in the UFC featherweight division, will replace an injured Clay Guida and take on former No. 1 contender Chad Mendes at UFC on FOX 7 in San Jose on April 20. An unbeaten 5-0 since dropping to 145 pounds, Elkins will fight in back-to-back months for the first time in his UFC career. The matchup will likely appear in the last slot of the preliminary card and could put the winner in the mix for a title shot.