by Tom Hamliin – MMAWeekly.com
Last October, jiu-jitsu ace Ricardo Almeida faced a tough decision: surgery or nature’s way.

He had injured his abdomen training to face Matt Horwich at UFC 90 and was diagnosed with a “sports hernia,” a weakening of the abdominal wall he believes was the result of a 2003 appendix surgery. It caused immense pain when he grappled.

One doctor recommended surgery, which didn’t guarantee a full recovery. Another recommended rest and physical therapy, which also didn’t guarantee a full recovery.

Almeida chose not to go under the knife, and says he’s happy with his decision.

“It’s 100-percent now, I feel really good,” he told MMAWeekly Radio.

On the bench, he had plenty of time to think about his performances in the UFC. After a four-year layoff from the sport, his return instantly put him on the radar of future contenders to Anderson Silva’s crown. He was a fighter that could possibly contend with Silva on the ground – if he could get him there. But he fell short at UFC 86 in an eliminator match with Patrick Cote, and with the injury, began re-evaluating his training.

“It’s definitely, from one perspective, forced me to look at things that perhaps I wasn’t doing well or some things I wasn’t quite focused on,” he said.

Almeida is set to make his return tomorrow at Ultimate Fight Night 18 in a re-scheduled meeting with Horwich, and says he’s paced himself more this time around.

“I try to be in fairly good shape year round, then when the fight comes, I have learned to step away a little bit more from coaching and some of my other guys fill that space,” he said.

From his days helping teacher Renzo Gracie’s International Fight League team, he’s familiar with Horwich’s awkward style, and says he’ll expect the unexpected.

“It looks like every fighter that he fights just becomes very uncomfortable with the forward pressure that he places and how well he combines his striking technique with his takedowns and his technique on the ground,” said Almeida. “The main thing is to just go out there nice and relaxed and not get frustrated if I make a mistake or if I end up in a bad position just because he has such an unorthodox game. It’s hard to prepare for a guy that’s unorthodox like that.”

His teammate and student, Dan Miller, routed the Northwesterner and gave him ideas for what to focus on.

“Watching their fight, it kind of gave me a little bit of a blueprint for what I want to do April 1 to be successful,” he said. “A big part of my training has been going from bad positions and dealing with some of the situations that we think he is going to present and just get more comfortable with that and get comfortable with turning the table back should I end up in a bad position.”

The ground ace still hasn’t given up on a title shot, but with all the ups and downs of the past year, wants to shake off the cage rust before making any proclamations about his future.

“It’s just a matter of getting back in there and getting back on track,” he said. “I am hoping that I have an impressive win… and get at least two more fights before the end of the year. But things never fall the way we exactly plan and I’ll just focus on this fight and getting back out there and see what happens after that.”

One thing is for sure, though – it feels good to be back in action.

“I’m just as excited now as I was ten years ago,” he said.