But when you get the chance to talk to him, you almost immediately pick up two more things about him. First, he's quite intelligent. Second, the word "team"? in this case Team Renzo Gracie? means a lot to him.
Speaking of teams, both Almeida and his upcoming Fight Night 18 opponent Matt Horwich both come from good ones. Along with this, MMAFighting.com's Robert Rousseau was lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Almeida regarding Horwich and more.
MMAFighting.com: How's training been going?
Ricardo Almeida: Training's going really good. The hard work's over, now's the fun time.
MMAFighting.com: Have you had anyone special in to train with at your school? Did you do any traveling getting ready for Matt Horwich or anything like that?
Ricardo Almeida: Just the guys that I always get ready with, like some of the guys who are in the UFC like Frankie Edgar and Andre Gusmao. A couple of the black belts from Renzo's. Oh, actually two weeks ago I went to train in the city to take a class at Renzo's school and just work with John Danaher. Georges St. Pierre was (also) there. So we got to train a little bit, but nothing too big. Just training with our guys. We always train together, you know?
MMAFighting.com: What do you think of your upcoming opponent, Matt Horwich?
Ricardo Almeida: Matt is a tough guy to prepare for. He's very unorthodox. It looks like he tries to mimic Lindland's game a little bit with the body locks and keeps coming forward at all times. I definitely think that his strength is on the ground, that's where he finishes most of his fights, you know? I'm looking forward to a good jiu jitsu battle. It should be good.
MMAFighting.com: He's known for his cardio and desire to kind of wear down opponents, like you were saying. Because of that style, has cardio and conditioning been an even bigger part of your training leading into this fight than it might normally be?
Ricardo Almeida: Yeah, definitely. You fight a guy that pushes forward the whole time, you want to make sure that conditioning is not the reason why you lose. If I'm gonna lose, I want to get knocked out; I want to get submitted. I'm not just going to lose because I couldn't keep up with the guy fighting.
MMAFighting.com: You're the first American student that was awarded a black belt from Renzo Gracie. Obviously, it's an unbelievable honor. You've also won and placed in numerous submission and grappling tournaments. I'm kind of curious, do you prefer one to the other (grappling and submission fighting versus MMA)?
Ricardo Almeida: I think that at the time when I was only doing grappling, that was all I was doing. I was putting everything into it. Now I'm in MMA and that's all I'm doing. I'm putting everything into it, 100% of (my) focus. I don't really prefer one to the other. But I see it as an evolution. When you go from competing in submission grappling into MMA, your game has to evolve. . . I'm not saying that one is harder than the other or deserves more merit than the other. For sure, the guys who are like Abu Dhabi champions and the guys who are like Olympic wrestling champions, they have their merit. But I see MMA as an evolution from just being a specialist in your martial art or combat sport to becoming a mixed martial artist.
MMAFighting.com: What's Renzo Gracie like?
Ricardo Almeida: (Laughing) I don't know what he's like to everyone. I think that he's very well respected among all the fighters. Everyone loves Renzo, he's super nice and always has a big smile on his face. But to me he's like a half older brother, half father almost. Since I moved to the U.S. and lived at his home he's definitely taken a role of guiding me through a lot of the major things I've done in my life, whether it was in the ring or off the mats as well. He's been a tremendous influence in my adult life since I moved away from Brazil and from my parents.
MMAFighting.com: He looks like a real fun guy, actually.
Ricardo Almeida: For sure.
MMAFighting.com: Being that you're so close with Renzo, did you know Helio Gracie?
Ricardo Almeida: Yes, I met Master Helio a few times. In 2001, I was back in Brazil visiting my family and I had the chance to go the valley, he had his house up in the mountains. I had a chance to spend a whole day with him at his ranch that he had there with the horses. He made a grilled cheese and he cooked Acai with cheese for us. . . He actually put the gi on and he got on the mats with us. It was a very inspiring time. For sure, it's a tremendous loss for jiu jitsu (Helio's recent death) and for sure (he was) one of the guys that started mixed martial arts.
MMAFighting.com: You had an almost four year layoff from MMA when you came back to the UFC and defeated Rob Yundt. Other people have had some difficulty coming back to the sport after long layoffs. Were you concerned about that coming into that fight?
Ricardo Almeida: I saw all the guys coming back from Japan and getting their butts kicked. And these were guys that weren't even coming off a layoff like I did. Everyone knows the difference between fighting in Japan and other places and fighting in the UFC. Not that the fighters are better. But there's definitely a bigger amount of pressure to perform in the UFC. So coming back my main concern was just to be ready and at the same time be loose. Just trying to fight how I would normally fight if it was a wrestling tournament or if it was a mixed martial arts tournament back in the day. It felt pretty good my first fight back, very loose. I knew exactly what I needed to do to win and things ended up going my way.
MMAFighting.com: You're in the middleweight division, obviously, and defeated Nate Marquardt by guillotine several years ago. Right now he's kind of near the top of the list when it comes to the middleweight division in terms of contending in the UFC for Anderson Silva's title. From what you see, how much has he changed since you fought him?
Ricardo Almeida: I think the biggest thing with Nate, when I fought him I think he was pretty much out in Colorado training by himself. I think he was always a very talented fighter. He had very good jiu jitsu. When I fought him he had great stand up, good wrestling, but perhaps the first time we fought he didn't have the training partners. Now he's training at Greg Jackson's. He's training with Rashad and all those guys. . . Day in, day out, when guys are pushing you it's gonna show when you step out there. . .I think it's a big luxury to be a part of a strong camp.
Look at Team Renzo. Look at Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes (event). We've got Frankie Edgar on that card; we've got Dan Miller on that card; we've got Andre Gusmao. So on that card we've got like four Renzo guys. Not necessarily (do) we train week in, week out, because we are like two- three hours apart. But we do get together and we try to share.
MMAFighting.com: All those guys, that's got to push you right?
Ricardo Almeida: For sure.
MMAFighting.com: Also in the middleweight division is a fighter by the name of Demian Maia, with a great BJJ background similar to you. I know you're totally focused on Matt Horwich, but would that be a future fight that you'd be interested in? I think it has the potential to be a pretty special grappling encounter.
Ricardo Almeida: You know to be honest, I don't really think about, I would like to fight this guy or I would like to fight that guy, unless they are the champion. You know what I mean? Everyone who's in the UFC, if they don't have the goal of becoming a champion someday they don't belong? It's so competitive, if you don't have the will or the drive you're going to get sort of pushed to the sidelines a little bit.
But yeah, if the fight ever comes. . . I think that for me, it's always going to feel a little strange to fight another jiu jitsu guy. I almost going feel like I'm doing something that my parents told me not to do (laughing). . . Demian is phenomenal. I love watching him fight. I love how he uses his jiu jitsu so effortlessly. He's just been dominating guys. It's great to watch. It's nothing I really think about like, I want to fight Demian Maia to see who's the better jiu jitsu guy. I try to stay focused on what I need to do and my goal is to fight for the title. So whatever gets me there.
MMAFighting.com: What motivates you to fight and to compete in the UFC?
Ricardo Almeida: There are a couple of things. . . Being an instructor, one of them is knowledge. I want to make sure that my students coming up and my son and Renzo's kids and all the guys in our camp get more knowledge and more understanding of what's going on than I ever did. A big motivation for me is the knowledge I'll gain from it to pass onto the students.
The second is representing Team Renzo and representing jiu jitsu in a way. Being out there, being known as a Renzo Gracie black belt, and being known as a jiu jitsu guy. And trying to be a positive influence, not only in MMA, but in the jiu jitsu community.
And thirdly, I'm a pretty competitive guy. I love competing. I love measuring yourself, seeing how good you could be. Getting up there and beating guys. When you lose, let the scorecards show what happened. Just don't sit on the sidelines and be watching TV and saying, I could do this, I could do that, instead of just being there, regardless of the outcome.
MMAFighting.com: That's a great answer. Do you have a prediction for the fight?
Ricardo Almeida: If I was good at predictions, I'd be betting and not fighting, you know (laughing)? . . . He's very good on the ground. I'm predicting this to be a really good ground fight. (We'll) see what happens.
MMAFighting.com: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. I know you're extremely busy.
Ricardo Almeida: No problem, Bob.
MMAFighting.com: Good luck in the fight.
Ricardo Almeida: Thank you very much. You have a great day.