by Mitch Gobetz – MMAWeekly.com
A couple of years ago, when The Ultimate Fighter became a hit and many new fans became enamored with the sport of mixed martial arts, not many of the new fans could tell you who Ricardo Almeida was. At the time, fighters like Rich Franklin, David Loiseau and Evan Tanner were the top dogs at middleweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Almeida was taking time off from competition in MMA.

Almeida debuted in the UFC in May of 2001 at UFC 31 where he took on Matt Lindland. That fight ended in a loss for Almeida, but he rebounded at UFC 33 where he defeated Eugene Jackson. He would lose his next fight to Andrei Semenov at UFC 35, which at the time ended his tenure with the UFC.

Almeida progressed after that by defeating tough fighters like Ikuhisa Minowa, Yuki Sasaki, Nate Marquardt, and Ryo Chonan. After his fight with Chonan, he left the sport for almost four years. In February, Almeida returned to the UFC to take on Rob Yundt, submitting him in less than 90 seconds. Now, “The Big Dog” will have his biggest opportunity yet, taking on Patrick Cote at UFC 86 in a bout that could have title implications.

“I’m very excited,” said Almeida in a recent interview with MMAWeekly Radio. “I’ve been training hard for a while now. Even before the fight in February, I’ve been training hard. It was a quick fight. I didn’t get to showcase all my skills. I’m looking forward to stepping out there with Patrick Cote. I don’t think the fight will be that short, so I’m looking forward to a tough fight.”

Almedia felt very excited when he stepped back into the Octagon in February to see how much the sport has erupted. “It felt good to step out there and see how much the sport has grown. For the weigh-in, there were a couple thousand people.”

Even though he stepped away from the sport as far as competition goes, he never really stopped training. “I think it was definitely a turning point,” he explained. “I also think it was a culmination of a bunch of things.

“Once again, Renzo never really allowed me to step away from MMA itself. He asked me to help him with fights. He asked me to help get his team ready in the IFL and I was always involved with training my students. I was always training.

“As I became more and more involved, and the sport grew further and further, all these things started popping in my head. I knew that MMA was going through a growth phase with the spectators, but also with the technical side as well. I could not miss the evolution of this sport.”

In perhaps his biggest test to date, a win over Cote could propel Almeida to stardom in the UFC. In a cleaned-out division, any fighter with a few quality wins could be on the fast track to a title shot. Although, title shots don’t faze Almeida one bit as he prepares for his opponents.

“My goal coming back to fighting is to fight for the title. Right now, that’s far away for me. That’s not even on my mind. People are saying that this fight is for a title shot. That’s something I’m not even worried about right now. I really want to stay focused on Patrick. I’m not even thinking about what I’m going to eat after the fight.”

Cote is not to be taken lightly. He has proven that he has some lethal fists, knocking out Kendall Grove and Drew McFedries recently. Almeida is well aware of this and has nothing but the utmost respect for his opponent.

“From what I know of Patrick, he’s a fighter, you know? He’s not out there to be a rock star,” he commented. “He’s not the kind of guy that will go out there bad-mouthing you and try to get in your face. He just wants to get out there and punch you as hard as possible. It’s just two guys fighting their best and may the best man win.”

Studying your opponent can be an integral role in preparing for victory. That’s why Almeida is a strong advocate of watching tapes of his opponents. “The moment I sign on to fight an opponent, I try to get my hands on every piece of tape, every piece of data that I could possibly find on my opponent and just study how they like to fight. Every chance I get to win, I want to win.”

Jiu-jitsu is Almeida’s core strength and appears to be Cote’s major weakness. Cote has been submitted in two of his four losses. While Almeida looks to exploit this, he also realizes that Cote’s jiu-jitsu is probably better than most think. “I think Patrick has been catching a lot of heat from his fight with Lutter. I think his ground game is underrated. Everyone thinks that everyone I take down, in one minute, it’s going to be over. It’s just not like that. This is the UFC. At any point it could be over.”

With the past behind him, and the future potentially very bright for Ricardo Almeida, he plans on utilizing his entire repertoire against Patrick Cote. “I want to test my skills against real fighters and Patrick is one of them. I’m looking forward to it.”