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Ricardo Almeida Talks Kendall Grove Fight, Future Move to Welterweight

Ricardo Almeida's desire to compete on the UFC 101 card in Philadelphia was so much so that he postponed immediate plans for a welterweight run.

"To be honest I would have fought at 205 to fight in Philly," Almeida said. "I really wanted the people who support me on a daily basis to have the chance to watch me fight live and be a part of it."

In this exclusive interview with FanHouse, Almeida explains his future move to welterweight, fighting a lengthier Kendall Grove and the importance of teamwork and leadership.

Ray Hui: You said after your win over Matt Horwich at UFC Fight Night 18 that you would move down to welterweight. Why did this Grove fight end up being at middleweight?

Ricardo Almeida: What happen was that when I was still in the Octagon, [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva came to congratulate me after the fight and I asked him "Could I please be in the Philadelphia show? It's kinda my backyard, I live only 40 minutes away. Like a lot of my students, some of the people from my town, people I have a relationship with, will have a chance to come watch [me fight] live." And Joe said "Yeah, Hey Ricardo, you got your wish, you get to fight Kendall." I was like, "Hey Joe, I was really looking forward to go down to 170," and he's like, "Ricardo, the card's already packed. If you'd like to fight in Philly you have to fight Kendall or you could wait and fight a little bit later September, October as welterweight."

What do you walk around at?

I walked up today below 190, so probably at [1]89 and 1/2 right now. Maybe after the Brazilian food (This interview was arranged close to lunch time.) I'll be up to [1]91 at the most. This is the weight probably guys like [Jon] Fitch and [Josh] Koscheck and maybe even Georges St-Pierre walk around at and I'm not even doing any calorie restriction. So if I followed diet with a nutritionist I could probably bring my weight to 85, a little below 85 and just do the final cut the week of the fight.

Fitch and Koscheck both come from wrestling backgrounds, so they benefit more from a familiarity with weight cutting than you do.

It's still something that I don't know how my body is going to react, but definitely if you saw me today, you'd say "Ricardo, there's no way you should be fighting at 185."

The size difference will be apparent on Saturday. Did you end up looking for sparring partners around 6-foot-6 to simulate Grove's reach?

Yeah we tried from the get-go – I was lucky I found out I was going to fight Grove the same night I fought Horwich, so we brought in tall [MMA] sparring partners. I [also] brought in some really tall boxers that are taller than me (Almeida is 6-foot) so I had to match their speed and technique in their boxing. I brought some big wrestlers that are a lot bigger and taller than me so I'm trying to fight a guy who is really good with wrestling and has that body frame, and same with jiu-jitsu. My team was able to provide me with a really good training camp, almost on a daily basis, three to four times a week with really tall jiu-jitsu guys so I feel I'm ready. It's something you never know until you step in there, but I don't think I could have had a better preparation as far as dealing with Kendall's size.

Grove is saying he doesn't want to go on the ground with you, and your fight with Patrick Cote was an example of styles that sometimes don't blend well for a fight. Do you find it frustrating that your BJJ is so good that some fighters don't want to go to the ground with you at all?

With Patrick, it definitely was an awkward fight for me because I had some health problems leading into that fight. I think that played a little more into it than anything, but the truth of the matter is that MMA nowadays they have to be prepared to win the fight wherever the fight goes. To keep moving up the ranks, and to position yourself as a top contender in your weight class, you have to step up there and make people fight your fight, and take your fight to them wherever it takes, you know?

Grove has never tapped in an MMA fight. He owns a submission loss on his record but he went unconscious. How does that play into your head when you're looking to finish with a submission?

I've been training jiu-jitsu my whole life. I haven't met a person who can resist an armlock or a choke that's fully on. You can defend, but if it's on, it's on. Either you tap or go to sleep. Either you tap or you let your arm break. I'm going to be doing my part, which is trying to submit him whether he wants to tap or not.

He's a tough guy, he's a Hawaiian guy, he's proud. I expect this to be a tough fight.

Another UFC middleweight with world-class jiu-jitsu is Demian Maia, and he's expressed interest in grappling and fighting in the UFC at the same time. Have you ever thought about returning to ADCC?

I would really love to compete but right now I'm 100% focused in the UFC. I'm the kind of guy who puts all his eggs in one basket rather than try to keep my options open. I would love to do Abu Dhabi again, I would love to compete with the gi again, but I think that's something I'm going to do after I'm done with the UFC. Right now my focus is to give me the best chance I can to climb the ladder. My dream is to fight for the title.

In your bio, you state British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shakleton as one of your heroes. What is it about him that you admire most?

I read the story of "The Endurance," which is the ship that was trapped in ice when Shakleton was [attempting to reach] the South Pole. I read that story when I was 15 years old. I grew up around the ocean, you know: sailing, surfing, scuba-diving, fishing, every activity you can possibly think. We used to have a house on the island and often we'd get rained out of outside activities, and my dad gave me the Shakleton book, and that story that stayed with me my whole life. Just the story of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. These guys stuck in a shelf of ice, no thicker than four feet, just drifting along the ocean and still being able to bring every one of the members in the expedition back. Sometimes other tragedies, human life loses its preciousness when it comes to an objective like that. In expeditions you hear of guys dying just because they want to achieve the objective, and I thought Shakleton was a phenomenal leader that he didn't [sacrifice] people's lives to support the objective of getting to the South Pole. He saw that he wasn't going to get there and he said, "You know what? I'm going to bring my guys home and I'm going to bring every one of them home." It's leadership, it's going against all odds, but more importantly a sense of a team. It's something that has stayed with me forever.

One of the reasons you returned to fight was the additional knowledge you can provide to the students in your academy. What are some things that you have passed down to your students as an active fighter that you might not have if you were still retired?

Back when I retired [in 2004], I started to watch guys like Koscheck, guys like GSP, guys like Anderson Silva. These guys they weren't just good at what they first were good at. They were good at everything. They just motivated me to want to come back and be a part of that, technically. Knowing that I can be competitive at this level, I still have to improve my takedowns. I still have a lot to improve on my boxing and even my jiu-jitsu.

From my perspective, what I love to show my students is that no matter what objective you have, if you're prepared to do the work, if you're prepared to sacrifice what it takes to be successful, you will be able to achieve at any level. I try to share that with my students. It's like knowing where your going but a lot of time it's more than where you're coming from, respecting the crew that came before you. The respect I have for my team, my teachers and the people who have helped me get to this level. These are all things that not only am I learning but I feel like I'm relearning rather than I'm just forcing them now that I am back fighting.

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