by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
After an almost four-year layoff, Renzo Gracie prodigy Ricardo Almeida returned to active mixed martial arts competition and posted an impressive submission win over Rob Yundt. He spoke to MMAWeekly.com about the fight, his future and the possibility of a rematch with Nate Marquardt, this time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

MMAWeekly.com: How did it feel to be back competing in MMA after being out for a while?

Ricardo Almeida: I felt great. I had been getting ready for this fight since August. I was in the best physical and mental shape I can remember before a fight. I promised myself that I would just go out and have fun and not think about either the magnitude or the circumstances, being Super Bowl weekend, and my first fight in almost four years and all. I just blocked it all out and focused on what I needed to do to win.

MMAWeekly.com: How did the change of opponents at the last minute affect your final preparation for the fight?

Almeida: It always throws you off, but there are tons of things that can get in the way and if you start yielding to them, pretty soon you cannot fight to your best abilities. I had little time to prepare, but so did Rob Yundt and I am grateful he stepped up on such short notice. If it weren’t for him I would probably have gone home without fighting.

MMAWeekly.com: Talk to us if you could about your decision to come back to MMA and what are your goals now that you are back?

Almeida: When I got away from MMA, in my heart, I truly felt like I would never be back. I felt it was a closed book. However, I was never able to get away from MMA completely. Between helping Master Renzo for his fights as well as his IFL team and some of my own students, I was very involved in coaching.

One day I started getting the itch to come back. We only get this life, one shot to develop yourself to your maximum potential. I would rather be in the UFC getting knocked out than sitting on my couch deluding myself into saying I could still fight. Now that I am back full-time, I would like to work myself back to the top of the division by this year’s end and with lots of hard work and some luck make a run at the title next year. I’ll have to wait and see how my first couple of fights go.

MMAWeekly.com: What do you think about the middleweight division in the UFC?

Almeida: I think it is unbelievable. You have the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world in Anderson Silva fighting multiple weight division Pride champion Dan Henderson. It doesn’t get much better than that. Perhaps it lacks the depth of contenders as we have in the other divisions, but in 2008 we should have some great match-ups that will take care of that. By the end of 2008 the middleweight division will be a fan favorite, I predict.

MMAWeekly.com: What about your longtime relationship with Renzo Gracie? It was so good to see him back at a UFC event. I know the fans would love to hear about some of the background of your friendship with him over the years.

Almeida: Master Renzo Gracie without a doubt has been the biggest influence in my adult life. I named my son after him. My life would be totally different without his guidance and support. If you asked Matt Serra, he would tell you the same thing, Renzo just has a way of bringing the best out in people. He holds you to high standards by the examples he sets, not what he tells you to do.

I remember him saying to me that Matt would be the champion in the UFC even when Matt had a couple of tough losses. Before this last fight in UFC 81, he told me, ‘Ricardo, this guy is a wrestler, but with punches you can take him down. Once you do, he will try to get back up and you will either choke him from the back or with a guillotine.’ Talk about an unbelievable coach.

MMAWeekly.com: Many fans are wondering if you would be interested in a rematch with Nathan Marquardt after the fight you had with him a few years ago and the situation after the fight?

Almeida: A lot is talked about what happened after the fight with me holding the choke too long, Nathan punching me after the fight was over and Renzo retaliating. The truth is, I got caught in the pre-fight antics. I take full responsibility for what happened. I was immature and it is something that would not happen today.

But I have talked to Nathan that same day and I think we mutual respect and admire each other. We have moved past it. I have no personal grudge with Nathan Marquardt.

He is one of the top middleweights in the world. We are both looking to fight for the UFC championship and if our paths cross again, I am sure it will be another memorable fight. Personally, I think I need to work my way back into the Top 10 before I start fighting top guys like Nathan, Franklin and others.

MMAWeekly.com: How long do you anticipate waiting until you fight again in the UFC?

Almeida: I have not been contacted by the UFC since the fight, but I imagine I should be back around May or June.

MMAWeekly.com: Anybody you wanted to thank for the last fight or going forward?

Almeida: MMA is an individual sport, but it is a team effort. There was an entire team of people who helped me tremendously and without them I would not have performed as I did on Feb. 2. I went through a lot in my personal life before this fight and there were some key people whom without their support I would not have fought UFC 81. I won’t mention their names, they know who they are. Everything I am in my life is because of the people around me and their influence. Without them I would be nothing. I just hope I carry myself in a way that justifies their continuous support, regardless of the result of my fights.