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Ricardo Almeida Talks Retirement: 'I Wanted to Leave on My Own Terms'

It wasn't any one thing that let Ricardo Almeida know it was time for him to retire. As the former UFC fighter told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, his recent losses carried a certain sting, as always, but those alone probably couldn't have driven him out of the sport.

"A big decision like that, it's usually supported by many little things," Almeida told Helwani. "It's like the straw that breaks the camel's back."

The 34-year-old Almeida was running his own gym, training himself and others for UFC bouts, and trying to spend as much time as possible with his family, he said, and eventually he came to the conclusion that something had to give. After he lost a unanimous decision to Mike Pyle at UFC 128 in March, he began to feel like his MMA career might be that something.

"I had it in my mind coming into this year that I wanted to make a push, get a couple of fights, and get like three fights before the end of the year and then see how I felt," Almeida said. "But I had it in my mind coming into 2011 that it perhaps was going to be my last year. I had that bad result in the fight. It was a close fight and they ended up giving the fight to my opponent, so I was a little bummed. But it ultimately has to do with some things that I wanted to do outside of fighting."

Almeida's decision surprised many fans, in part because he was clearly still physically capable of competing in the UFC. He was a respectable 5-3 in his most recent UFC stint, and the loss to Pyle was by no means a blowout. At the same time, Almeida said, he never had much interest in pushing his career up to the point where he had no choice but to retire.

"So many fighters stay around too long. They stay around until someone has to tell them that it's time to stop. I didn't want to be one of those guys. I didn't want to be the guy that's left to turn the lights out at the end of the party. I wanted to leave on my own terms."

Almeida walked away from the sport temporarily back in 2004. When he came back to sign a six-fight deal with the UFC in 2008, his family got some news that made him question his decision to return to the cage.

"As I am training to have my first fight back, my son was diagnosed with autism. So I almost didn't come back. I almost didn't fight to be able to deal with that and still be there for my family. To help him through his therapy and his growing process, I feel that many times I had to be absent because of fighting. Coming into 2011, I started to feel like I've been at this for four, almost five years now – maybe it's time that I walk away."

Dealing with his family responsibilities as well as his obligations to his gym and the fighters he trains – all while still finding the time to train himself – was a delicate balancing act that took its toll on him, Almeida admitted. There were times when he missed training sessions to help his son or teach a class at his gym, though whatever he did he put everything he had into it, he said.

"I have my hands full outside of fighting, so to be able to dedicate myself to it, it was a big price. As the results came on and things started to pile up, I decided it was time to move on. I'm happy with when I did it. I can look back with so many great memories. I've met some of the greatest people through martial arts and through MMA, being in the UFC, from the media to the fighters to some of the people who work behind the scenes. But I look back with no regrets, nothing but good memories."

And sure, maybe if the decision had gone his way in the Pyle fight, he might not be retiring right now, Almeida said. And, of course, some of his losses still gnaw at him, such as his loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 117 last summer.

"It was a tough loss," he admitted. "I was probably in the best shape I have ever gotten in for anything I ever attempted to do. I knew that Hughes was a real tough guy. There was the history with Renzo [Gracie], there was the history with Matt [Serra], with him not only beating Renzo, who's my teacher, but also one of my teammates.

"I did everything I could. I get out there, I feel good, I'm moving good, and all of sudden I get caught with a left hook. I try to come up and I get choked. Yeah, it's tough. That's tough to deal with. But I had to rewind, and knowing that that was already going to happen, I'd do it all over again. That's what life is about. It's about challenging yourself and getting ready for these challenges. You always walk on with all the ability that you got as you were getting ready for it."

Almeida said he told Gracie and other members of his camp about his decision only after he'd made the announcement, knowing that if he'd gone to them first they might have been successful in talking him out of it.

As it is, he's confident that he can walk away feeling good about what he did in his career, and what he'll be remembered for by his fellow fighters.

"I think any fighter that's worth his salt, ultimately he's not going to look back and, you know, for sure you look at wins and losses and records and things like that, but did you earn the respect of your peers? I think in anything that we do, the respect of our peers is something that's very important. It's always been something very important to me, to carry myself with respect, not only to my teammates, but to my fellow fighters and even my opponents. I never disrespected anyone that I fought."

And while there is "no chance" that he'll return to the cage as a pro fighter at some point in the future, Almeida said, he will continue on as a coach and a trainer – and you can forget about trying to get him out of the gym.

"I'm done fighting, but I'll be in there as a coach. Probably five years from now I'll be in here telling stories about how tough I used to be once upon a time, but I'm always going to be training. I love martial arts, and I'll retire when I expire. When I'm dead, that's the day I'll stop training."

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