For UFC debutant Carlos “Canon” Candelario, the journey to the UFC has not been without adversity.
The 30-year-old had the opportunity to join the promotion in 2017, through Dana White’s Contender Series. Despite a tremendous performance that saw Candelario defeat Ronaldo Candido via unanimous decision, “Canon” wasn’t offered a contract.
It would be just over four years until Candelario would fight professionally again.
Following a winning return, defeating Miguel Restrepo via unanimous decision at CES MMA 63, an opportunity presented itself; a second shot at Dana White’s Contender Series, as a short notice replacement, just 25 days after his first professional bout in four years.
Matching up with Victor Altamirano, it was an incredibly entertaining bout between two talented Flyweights.
Controversially, however, the judges awarded a split decision to Victor Altamirano.
Despite taking the bout on short notice, and seemingly doing enough to secure the victory, it seemed Candelario would be denied a UFC contract for a second time.
It was quite the predicament for Dana White, himself admitting “I gave Carlos round 1 and 2, and obviously Victor dominated round 3… it was an absolute dog fight”.
The situation warranted a unique solution.
As such, for the first time in Dana White’s Contender Series history, contracts were awarded to both the winning and losing fighter.
Now, Carlos Candelario is set to make his promotional debut this weekend, at UFC Vegas 53, against another debutant, Tatsuro Taira.
Courtesy of Sammy James, I had the opportunity to interview Carlos ahead of his debut this weekend:
Carlos, congratulations on your deserved UFC contract. Despite the outcome of your bout with Victor Altamirano, Dana White was primarily complementary of you, and your performance. Can you describe how it felt hearing such praise from Dana White, despite the fact that at that time, you were unaware you would be awarded a contract?
“In the moment I felt kinda special you know. There was that really nice knockout [AJ Fletcher’s flying knee], and I feel like he still was able to pick my fight out of them and make my controversial fight the whole topic of the whole series. So I thought it was really cool that he did that you know; it kinda got me out there I feel, in some way”.
In 2017, you delivered a tremendous performance on Contender Series, against Ronaldo Candido, but unfortunately wasn’t offered a UFC contract. It would be four years until you would fight again professionally. Looking back at the fighter you were in 2017, compared to yourself now, what were the biggest improvements to come out of the four years away?
“I would definitely say my whole grappling aspect. I like to wrestle; I actually started first with wrestling, but I just felt like I really brought it to my game. I showed that I’m not just a striker; I can do it all too. That’s the thing that I really tried to show in that fight”.
You’re bout with Victor Altamirano received universal acclaim throughout the MMA community for it’s entertainment. You’re now set for an exciting promotional debut against undefeated Japanese prospect Tatsuro Taira. Is it important to you to put on exciting performances, or is this just a by-product of your approach?
“Even in my amateur days back in 2012, I was still trying to kill people in a way; just go in there, look for the finish as fast as possible. Now I would say I try to be at my fight IQ a little bit more; if anything, more patience. But I feel it’s always hard when you get in there, especially if you are a fighter; you are just trying to be exciting, trying to find anything that really shows up. It’s just part of me I guess. Like Spanish fighters; anytime you put a Mexican, or a Puerto Rican in the cage, you know it’s going to be a bang out, a good fight. There’s always going to be something when we step into the cage.”
Towards the end of 2018, reports started to emerge that the Flyweight division may get dropped entirely by the UFC. Now, however, the division is thriving. Uniquely, you had the opportunity to earn a contract both before and after the UFC’s interest in the Flyweight division dwindled and resurged. Looking back, is there a difference in how you felt about potentially joining the Flyweight division in 2017, compared to how you feel about joining the division now?
“I feel really excited about it. I see this is a division where you can make a splash so quick. Your second, third fight in, you could be a household name; I’ve been feeling like that a little bit. I’ve been feeling grateful to be in this position, because there’s more Flyweights getting signed everyday pretty much. I’m really still pinching myself, I knew I belonged here, and I always knew that I would get to this level eventually if I put my mind into it, heart you know… I feel good, I actually feel active. I didn’t fight for a good four years. I was still training, but it’s different when you get in there, so I actually feel like this is a year that I’ve actually been really, really, fully training; committing to competing”.
In a post-fight interview, you once said “I don’t protect my record”. Would it be fair to say that for you, you are most motivated by competitive matchups?
“Yeah because I remember when I even went against Candido, I feel like a lot of people were writing me out for that fight. And I was like, man, this guy, he’s just a Jiu-Jitsu guy. Hype me up, compared to a lot of people who would be like “I don’t know”, you know what I mean? Even when my manager called me for the last one, he was like “there’s an opening, it’s short notice, it’s going to be for the Contender’s again against the LFA champ”, and I wasn’t like “oh man, I haven’t fought in 4 years, it’s against the best guy around”, I was nothing like that. I was always like “word, this is my opportunity, yes I’m ready”. I’m always jumping like that. I wanted to fight earlier, I wanted to jump onto some earlier opportunities but as soon as I felt good and I got this one, I was quick to jump on it, or when they told me it was an undefeated guy I get even more like, yeah I’m gonna train. It wakes me up”.
You make your promotional debut on an exciting fight card, headlined by Rob Font vs Marlon Vera, April 30th at the UFC APEX. Would you have preferred a big atmosphere in an arena for your debut, or are you indifferent to whether you’re fighting at the UFC APEX or an arena?
“Sometimes I feel like I want to fight in a big arena. I definitely want to experience that at least one time for the UFC, because I know it’s a different level. And when you fight in a big arena, you actually feel like a professional athlete. But this one, fighting in the APEX, if anything I would say it feels realer. Like somebody grabs you, calls you up and be like “hey, come over here”. The other guy and you just go into a room, like your going into a different gym, and spar; that’s how I feel, when I fight in the APEX. I like it man. I like both, but I definitely want to feel that UFC big fight card, that type of England crowd”.
Did you see any of UFC London by any chance?
“I was actually supposed to fight on that card. Yeah, I was offered Jake Hadley. But, I’m not vaccinated, so I can’t fly over there. I was so quick to jump on that one; when would I go to London man? I would love to do that stuff man, I would love stuff like travelling; I actually feel like your a fighter, going into [their] territory and fighting. Some king stuff!”
Could you explain your nickname, “The Cannon”.
“There was a time I was looking for a nickname, I like the whole nickname thing. I always just liked it, with the whole fighting and video games, the whole different character. Pretty much, one of my head coaches Russell Leak, he would think that I was really explosive. Like, I look calm, kinda chillin’, and then I’ll just explode on somebody. So he was just always like when I explode it’s a big impact. Things like that, I was always explosive, always entertaining to watch sparring, and it kinda went well with my last name. It just went well, it just stuck. And there were songs I would listen to like Lil’ Wayne, “Cannon (Remix)”, old school songs that remind me of my childhood when I would scrap with my friends. So I just went with it, and then everyone started calling me it”.
Do you have any messages for UK fight fans new to Carlos Candelario?
“Just keep a look out for me. I feel like there’s definitely a lot of Flyweights that could pop up. It’s a division that is going to keep getting more exciting, exploding just like my nickname. Just keep a look out for me, I definitely feel like my time is overdue, I’ve been putting a lot of time in, so I feel like this is my time right now. And just be ready to see a better version of me all the time, this is actually my competitive year, and I just feel like I always get better. You’ve seen my fights, there’s usually, probably 10, 20 seconds break, but then it’s right back into chaos”.