by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
After sitting out nearly half a year due to injury, Renzo Gracie BJJ product Ricardo “Big Dog” Almeida returned at UFC 111 last weekend showing little to no ill effects in a dominating performance over Matt Brown.
With the win, he now has four victories in five fights in the UFC and is positioned as a contender for Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight title.
Shortly after his triumphant return, MMAWeekly.com and Almeida discussed his injury, UFC 111, and what lays ahead as he continues on the comeback trail.
MMAWeekly: Prior to your fight with Brown, he mentioned how he’d like to test your mentor, Renzo Gracie, in his return. Was that a motivating factor for you and where does that rivalry sit today?
Ricardo Almeida: I don’t really take things personal, but if I said it wasn’t a motivating factor in my training I would be lying. I really don’t think Brown meant to disrespect Renzo in any way, but as one of Renzo’s most senior students I took it upon myself to make sure I was 100-percent ready to represent Renzo against someone who challenged him. It is still nothing personal, just competition for me. I talked to Brown after the fight and made sure he knows there are no hard feelings from my part.
MMAWeekly: Getting into the fight itself, how did your knee feel and did it play a factor in the fight at all?
Ricardo Almeida: I wanted to wear some taping around my knees, kind of like (Kazushi) Sakuraba had on all the time, but the athletic commission wouldn’t let me do it, so it was the first time I actually did anything without a brace around the knee since the injury. I was a little worried and tentative with my takedowns; I wasn’t sure if the knee would hold up without the bracing. But in the second round I got a little more confident and was able to turn on the pressure and finish the fight. Now I’ll keep doing physical therapy and strength training to make sure it is not a factor for my next fight.
MMAWeekly: It appeared your strategy was to constantly pressure Brown and force him to make a mistake. Was this the game plan you had going into the match?
Ricardo Almeida: The plan was not to spend that much time in the clinch. Renzo and Mark (Henry) wanted me to strike with Brown. I just didn’t start the fight very confident in my knees. I wanted to get in the clinch and see how it felt there. But once in clinch I felt I had the size advantage and was able to bully him from there and take away some of his natural aggression. I wasn’t happy with my takedowns in that fight, and I’m going back to training this week and come back stronger and better next time out.
MMAWeekly: In the first round it appeared you took a finger to the eye, was that any hindrance at all during the fight?
Ricardo Almeida: Yes, at one point I thought I would not be able to continue. When I sat on the bench, I complained to Renzo that I couldn’t see very well and he told me I would have to find a way to win with one eye only. Brown has a dangerous right hand and right kick, so it worried me that I could not see it coming.
MMAWeekly: Problems aside, you managed to finish the fight with a beautiful sequence of events for you by catching his kick attempt, landing a smashing elbow, and then working your way for the submission. Tell us how that sequence played out for you first hand.
Ricardo Almeida: When watching video on Brown we noticed he needs a few steps to get his strikes going. We practiced stepping back twice to lure him in and counter with the right hand as he came lunging forward. I have my boxing Coach Mark Henry to thank for that sequence. We drilled that same counter to the leg kick about 20 times the morning of the fight. Now the sequence on the ground was all Renzo as we were drilling it just last week – I even have it on video.
MMAWeekly: With the win, do you feel you are in contention for the welterweight title, or do you feel more is needed to secure your shot?
Ricardo Almeida: I’m not really thinking about the belt now. Fighting for the title is consequence of impressive performances. I just want to get back to training and keep getting better. If the wins come sooner or later it will happen. I am having a great time in training, and fighting has never been more fun for me. I am in a good position to charge toward the top of the division, and I don’t want to spoil the fun by putting too much pressure on myself.
MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time as always, Ricardo. Is there anything you want to say in conclusion?
Ricardo Almeida: I wanted to thank my team for all the support. A lot of important people in my life helped me prepare for this and I owe it all to them. There are too many to mention individual names. Also, I would like to thank my sponsors: Tokyo 5, Jaco, Dead Game, and Hayabusa. Finally, thank you to the fans, especially the Jersey fans who packed Prudential Center on Saturday and made it a memorable night.