Raphael Assuncao is not angry. Upset? Yes, a little. Frustrated? Trying hard not to be.
He is currently riding a six-fight win streak, which is the longest active streak in the UFC bantamweight division, and he was the last man to beat the current champion, TJ Dillashaw. But unless something drastic happens, you won't see him in a title fight anytime soon.
Assuncao was offered a chance to fight then-champion Renan Barao at UFC 173 in May but couldn't accept due to a fractured rib and was replaced by Dillashaw. He was ready to take on the winner, but the UFC booked an immediate rematch between Barao and Dillashaw instead because of Dillashaw's shocking upset in Las Vegas.
Then at UFC 178, seven days before his scheduled bout with Caraway, Assuncao watched his title hopes take another hit as former champion Dominick Cruz returned from a near three-year injury layoff to smoke Takeya Mizugaki in 61 seconds. The UFC immediately announced Cruz would get the next title shot at 135 pounds.
What that means, presumably, is that even if Assuncao goes out and beats the brakes off of a very tough opponent in Caraway this weekend, it doesn't much matter. His number is unlikely to be called.
"I want to think there's still an opportunity [to earn a title shot]," Assuncao said. "I don't want to try and match what Dominick did, though. He was nearly perfect. He beat the No. 6 guy in one minute. I'm not trying to match that, because it puts me in a situation where I might not be as cautious.
"I'm not angry about what has happened. Being upset is different than being angry. Frustration can build up in your heart, but I'm trying not to let it. I'm just upset. Everybody gets upset."
The 32-year-old Brazilian, who lives and trains full time in Atlanta, Georgia, spoke to ESPN.com about his fight and the landscape of the division below:
ESPN: To be crystal clear, the UFC did offer you the Barao fight at UFC 173 before they offered it to Dillashaw?
Assuncao: "I was offered the fight, yes. It's funny, people forget that. I was talking to Brazilian press and they forget. Maybe it's because of my persona, people misread it. I was offered the fight on four weeks and I couldn't take it. My chest was a mess. I had talked to [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and he offered me the fight. I had just [extended] my UFC contract. Obviously, I was interested, but it didn't work out for me. One day they called, Lorenzo Fertitta was on the line, Dana White was there, and they said, 'We need this fight signed now.' I couldn't do it."
Do you think the average UFC fan is aware that you are on a six-fight win streak heading into this fight?
"Yeah, I think more people know now. My Twitter, a lot of times I'll say something and fans are retweeting it. International fans, too, are telling Dana White, 'This guy's on a six-fight win streak. Put him in a title fight.' I do think more people are aware, yes."
You had said before Cruz came back that if you beat Caraway, you would wait for a title shot and weren't interested in any other fight. Is that still the case?
"As of right now, I'm not interested in fighting anybody else except a title fight. It's not the best circumstances to wait that long, but it has been eight months since my last fight in February and I feel great. I got to heal up, and nothing took a toll on my body during that time. We'll see what happens. I just want to get this fight over with."
A Dillashaw-Cruz title fight might not happen until February at the earliest. You will have only fought twice this year. Financially, will you be all right to be that inactive?
"Yeah, if I manage my money correctly. Twice a year, I can maintain a living. I've just got to be careful going off and buying cars."
Who would you favor in a Dillashaw-Cruz fight?
"It's an interesting fight as a fan. Cruz has the footwork. Dillashaw kind of moves at different angles and goes [southpaw] sometimes. I'd probably go with Cruz, because he's my buddy."
After winning the belt and defending it once, Dillashaw has started to gain recognition as a top pound-for-pound fighter. Do you see him that way?
"No, I don't. With all due respect, I don't think so. I just don't think he should be up there. Yeah, he's a champ. He's holding a belt. But I think there are other athletes out there that should be in the pound-for-pound."
You fought Dillashaw last October in Brazil. The fight went your way via split decision. You've exchanged words since. Would a second fight between you be personal?
"Not emotionally charged at all. We just know each other's style a lot. He has used the same style in his last two fights. I will take some time off, change my style a little and wouldn't go into a second fight with the same style."