by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photos courtesy RicardoAlmeida.com)

Ricardo “Big Dog” Almeida is a man of many talents. He’s a world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, a former Middleweight King of Pancrase, and lately he’s been a part of the success of the IFL’s New York Pitbulls as an assistant under Head Coach Renzo Gracie.

With the team out to an impressive 2-0 start in the 2007 campaign, it is possible that after two seasons of frustrations the Pitbulls could very well be on the verge of their first ever IFL World Team Tournament Finals appearance.

Almeida has been something of a jack-of-all-trades for the team: studying the opposition, keeping fighters prepared, and working the corner for not only the team, but also for Renzo when he’s stepped back into action.

Taking time out from his busy schedule as Head Instructor at his own school in New Jersey, Ricardo answered some questions for MMAWeekly regarding the Pitbulls, Renzo’s recent resurgence, and his thoughts on the upcoming UFC 185lb Championship fight between Anderson Silva and Nathan Marquardt.

MMAWeekly: First off Ricardo, tell us your overall thoughts on the Pitbulls recent win over the Portland Wolfpack.

Ricardo Almeida: It felt great to be there. I think we had strong performances from every fighter. The guys who won made some mistakes and the guys who lost did some great things. Either way, knowing how Mestre Renzo is a perfectionist we go back to the drawing board, work on our shortcomings, build on our strengths and prepare the best way possible for the upcoming meeting with the Dragons.

MMAWeekly: For people who might not understand, tell us what the role of an assistant coach for an IFL team is like. What do you do in the weeks leading up to the fight, just prior to the event and during the event itself?

Ricardo Almeida: Well, I became almost a “substitute coach” since last season for two of the Pitbulls’ outings. Mestre Renzo was also fighting in the same night so he could not corner the guys. Now my role is more informal.

I watch tapes and scout the opposing teams. During fight time I roam back and forth from ringside to the locker room to make sure everyone is properly warmed up and ready to fight. With five, sometimes six, guys fighting the same night things get a little hectic, so I try to really complement the role that Master Renzo and Dr. Ze Alfredo play.

MMAWeekly: Next up for the Pitbulls is the Toronto Dragons in June in Reno, Nevada. Obviously with the Pitbulls at 2-0, you are in the driver’s seat, with the Dragons absolutely needing a win to get into the tournament. Is there any additional pressure knowing that they are going to do all they can to beat you to make the final four?

Ricardo Almeida: I don’t think so. To guarantee our moving to the semis we need to win and we want to focus on that. We don’t want to find ourselves in a position where we need to be counting wins and losses to see if we made it. We’d like to keep matters in our own hands.

MMAWeekly: Having a chance to now have seen the Dragons first hand, how do you feel the Pitbulls match up with them individually? Is there any particular fighter that you have to specifically game plan for?

Ricardo Almeida: We’d like to leave no stone unturned and have an overall game plan for each individual match up. All we can do is to show up prepared…like Mestre Renzo says, “The harder we train, the luckier we get.”

I found out the hard way that if you don’t have a plan, you become a part of your opponent’s plan, and in MMA what they have planned for you is a beating. In order to give our fighters the best chance to win we always prepare trying to adjust to each specific opponent.

MMAWeekly: Being a long-time student of Renzo Gracie’s, how does it feel to be a part of the success of his IFL team as well to see all the individual success he’s had over the past year?

Ricardo Almeida: It has been great to be a part of it; no one deserves it more. Mestre Renzo’s Pitbulls are doing great; he just had three great fights and came out victorious in all three of them. But the most amazing thing is to see everyone doing so well personally, you know.

There’s Matt Serra who just became the UFC [Welterweight] Champion and will be getting married in two months. There’s a whole lot of new talent coming out of Renzo’s camp, and the IFL is providing great opportunities for them. Also, guys like Fabio Leopoldo and Delson “Pe de Chumbo” are making their permanent moves to the US. Mestre Renzo without a doubt has made and still makes an enormous impact in all of his students. We feel privileged to have him in our lives.

MMAWeekly: Switching gears for a moment, as many people know, you were the last fighter to defeat Nathan Marquardt, and now he’s going to face Anderson Silva at UFC 73 for the their 185-pound championship. Tell us your thoughts on this fight and what each fighter has to do to win.

Ricardo Almeida: These two guys are very well-rounded. Both have great stand-up, both are Black Belts in Jiu-Jitsu. I see this fight very evenly matched. Nathan is really big guy for middleweight and Anderson is one of the most technical guys I have seen. I think we will see a long technical fight…but it’s MMA [and] anything can happen.

MMAWeekly: Before we head out, give us an update on your academy and give the fans out there an idea of what it’s all about and how they can come down and get involved themselves.

Ricardo Almeida: The RABJJ Academy is for everyone; we are not out to build champions only. You know, people watch the UFC, and it looks like a lot of fun with the remote in one hand and a beer on the other hand. I just think that more people could and should be benefiting from training in a professional academy with qualified instructors.

It has greatly and positively impacted my life to have spent the past 15 years training hard and trying to be become a better martial artist, but also a better human being. I want as many people as possible to have access to that. If they live in South Jersey they can come to Hamilton or look for one of our affiliated schools in their area. We’re going strong with over 400 amazing students at this time and in the process of opening a second location in Princeton. To find out more go to RicardoAlmeida.com.

MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time as always, Ricardo. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Ricardo Almeida: I just want to tell all the fans that if you don’t train martial arts yet, you are missing out on the real fun. Your character gets revealed to you on the mats. How you act when you have a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt trying to choke you, a wrestler trying to take you down or a Muay Thai guy kicking you in the leg, is exactly how you are going to act when you are facing the real challenges in life. Just look for a qualified, safe and clean place to train, you will never turn back.

As far as personally, all I can say right now is that I have been training really hard, as always, and I have been considering some proposals to come back into the MMA Middleweight scene. I might have some news for you guys soon enough. We’ll see how that unfolds.