It was a bit of a stunning moment for many people late Wednesday night when they read the news that UFC welterweight Ricardo Almeida was hanging up the gloves and retiring from active MMA competition.
The 34-year old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was coming off a loss to Mike Pyle at UFC 128 in his adopted home state of New Jersey, but Almeida already had retirement on his mind when he entered 2011.
Beyond his own fighting career, Almeida runs a successful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy as well as training other top notch fighters like UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. His plan was to make one more run this year, and if things didn’t go his way he would walk away from the sport.
“I had in my mind going into this year this would probably be my last year,” Almeida told MMAWeekly Radio. “I had a lot of stuff going on in my life. Nothing specific, I just have a school to run, I have a son who was diagnosed with Autism just when I signed my initial contract with the UFC to come back to fighting. The daily family tasks that we all have.
“I came into this year with the goal of just making a push and training real hard, and this was probably going to be my last year. It just didn’t work out the way I wanted to, and sometimes you just have to be ready to adapt. You can’t just keep hammering and hope to get a different result.”
The fight with Pyle ended in a somewhat controversial fashion. Almeida lost the fight by unanimous decision, much to the chagrin of many of the fans watching in the arena and at home, as well as many of the journalists sitting cageside that night.
How much did the loss play into Almeida’s ultimate decision though? Would a win have kept him around longer?
“I can’t really tell. I’d have to be in the position that I won the fight,” Almeida admitted. “I wasn’t happy with the fight either way. I haven’t watched the fight. I’m definitely a little bummed that I lost, especially with such a close decision and so many people felt that I won, but I can’t really blame it on the judges.
“For sure the fact that I lost probably sped things up a bit, but you never know what would have happened if I had won. I had in my mind if I didn’t come out and put on a great performance and put on a great show maybe it was time to stop just because my mind wasn’t in it anymore.”
The retirement announcement was actually Almeida’s second exit from the sport. After a 2004 fight in Pride, Almeida decided to walk away from active competition and focus on his family and training his students.
He got the urge to return to competition in 2008 and he re-signed with the UFC, but with this retirement announcement he promises this is the end of the road for him, at least as a fighter.
“No, there is no chance you’ll see me back this time. I’m not 25 anymore,” said Almeida. “The last time I quit, I quit because I didn’t want to do it. If I took four years now and decide maybe I’m still tough enough, I won’t be doing it because I don’t want to, but because I can’t.”
The other key factor that Almeida points to when speaking about his retirement from MMA is not hanging around too long and becoming irrelevant. For all of his career accomplishments and big wins, he doesn’t want to tarnish that by simply sticking around too long.
“I think a lot of guys linger too long, and I didn’t want to be one of them,” said Almeida. “Guys are only getting stronger, they’re only getting faster, for me to be out there and not really feeling comfortable and thinking I should be somewhere else, that’s not the healthy thing to do.”
Almeida points to athletes like Frankie Edgar, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones as the next generation of MMA fighters that will take this sport to the next level.
Of course Almeida won’t lie and say that he may never have that hunger inside of him again. He points to athletes like Michael Jordan or Pele and says that they surely felt the need to want to have one more game or one more match.
For Almeida though the future is still very bright outside of his own fight career. As mentioned, he’s the lead trainer for Frankie Edgar and has been working with former “Ultimate Fighter” finalist Kris McCray, as well. He has an amateur team that has been doing extremely well in competition.
As far as his own fight career, Almeida has no regrets and doesn’t look back on things at this point wondering what would have happened if a decision went his way or if he would have just had one more chance to step foot in the Octagon.
It was his time to walk away, but there’s one thing for sure. Fans haven’t seen the last of Ricardo Almeida in and around MMA, he just won’t be the one strapping on the gloves anymore.
“I’m always going to be a part of the sport, whether it’s through coaching or buying every pay-per-view or instructing people,” Almeida said.
“Martial arts is my life. I’ll be training until the day I really retire, until they throw some dirt on top of me.”