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

When Ricardo “Big Dog” Almeida decided to retire in 2004 in the prime of his career, it surprised many to say the least.

Almeida had just triumphed over Ryo Chonan in his return match at the Pride Fighting Championships, which made for an impressive sixth win in a row. A streak that included claiming the middleweight King of Pancrase title from perennial champion Nate Marquardt the prior year.

It seemed he was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best 185-pound fighters in the world, when, without warning, he walked away.

Deep-seeded desires to spend more time with his growing family and blossoming jiu-jitsu academy in his adopted home of New Jersey, as well as continued work with his master, Renzo Gracie, and his team all contributed to Almeida’s desire to leave the sport.

Now, three years later, after having seen perhaps the most prosperous time in both his personal and business life, he decided to return to mixed martial arts to take one more run at glory.

Originally scheduled to be part of the Cage Fury Fighting Championships event to be held Oct. 12, Almeida’s return to the sport was derailed as the show was entirely scrapped after a key investor backed out.

Just a few days later the Ultimate Fighting Championship stepped into the picture, a six-fight contract in hand, welcoming Almeida back to the promotion he hadn’t fought for since 2002.

The return was once again on.

Shortly after the formal contract singing was made official, Almeida spoke to MMAWeekly to discuss his return to MMA, how he ended up back in the UFC, and what lays ahead for the “Big Dog.”

MMAWeekly: First off Ricardo, how disappointed were you in the fact that the CFFC event you were set to return on was ultimately cancelled?

Ricardo Almeida: I was a little disappointed. I was looking forward to fighting in New Jersey where all my students would have a chance to be part of it and come watch it live. Something unexpected is always going to happen, but I try not to lose my sleep over things that I have no control over. I remained focused on my training and getting better.

MMAWeekly: How did things come about with the UFC, and why did you ultimately decide to sign a contract with them?

Almeida: CFFC was canceled over the weekend and when we came in Monday to the Academy there were contacts from a few major organizations. Ultimately my goal was to be back in the UFC. It came down to relationships.

I already knew Dana White and Joe Silva quite well (and) they have always been great to me, so I just felt much more comfortable going back to the UFC than trying to develop a new relationship with someone I don’t know. My dream as a fighter is to be in the premier event, fighting the best fighters in the world. That’s what the UFC is right now and for a long time to come I don’t see it changing.

MMAWeekly: Do you feel that there is perhaps some unfinished business from the first time you were with the promotion?

Almeida: Not really. I am grateful for the support I got from the UFC when I told them I wanted to leave and have a chance to mature as a fighter away from the spotlight. I believe that because of my experience in the UFC I was able to be very successful in Japan, going undefeated, facing many talented fighters like (Kazuo) Misaki, (Nathan) Marquardt and (Ryo) Chonan. I really retired not thinking about coming back, I was very happy with what I had accomplished at that time.

MMAWeekly: From what we understand, you signed a six-fight contract with the UFC. Is it safe to then say that this may be the final stop for you, having such an extensive contract?

Almeida: I am happy to call the UFC home. Six fights is a long-term commitment from me towards the UFC, but also from the UFC towards me. The UFC has always made me feel like they believe in my talent and it is no different now.

I am looking forward to learning a lot and contributing to the middleweight division. I will be fully committed to training and fighting for the duration of our agreement and I don’t plan on going anywhere else.

MMAWeekly: Has there been any discussion about possible future opponents, such as Rich Franklin, Dean Lister, Yushin Okami, or perhaps rematches with Marquardt or Chonan?

Almeida: Not yet. All those names sound like great fights, but I want to earn my right to fight some of these guys, because right now I am just some guy who has been sitting on the side lines for awhile.

I am not arrogant to think that I can come back from a three-and-a-half year layoff and mix it up with the top guys in the division right away. I am looking forward to slowly, but surely, climbing my way back into the top of the division. There are some guys I would love to compete against but it would sound like a challenge, so I will keep it to myself for now.

MMAWeekly: I know it’s early, but what can the fans expect to see from you now, as opposed to before?

Almeida: I believe technically I am a far superior fighter in every aspect of the game, but the game has also evolved, so I am also curious to see how it is going to unfold. I am sure once I step into the Octagon I will find out strengths and weaknesses that I don’t even know I have. But until I get in there and get my first fight out of the way, it is all speculation.

All I can say is that you will see someone who has dedicated his life to the martial arts. Someone who loves this sport and wants to contribute and see it grow, and someone who is not afraid to get knocked out or submitted to find out what it is going to take to be at my best, however far up the ladder of the middleweight division that might take me.

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

Almeida: I would like to thank everyone who’s made my return possible. My students for the motivation, my instructors for the inspiration, my training partners for the beatings, and my school’s staff for rising to the challenge of getting things done in my absence. (Thank you to) the UFC for believing in me, the fans for not forgetting about me, and my family for all the love and support one could hope for.