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Rising star Thomas Almeida says he’d welcome fights with Urijah Faber, Bryan Caraway

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

If Thomas Almeida didn’t know that the UFC held him in the highest regard before, he found out during the festivities at UFC 194. Before the pay-per-view aired on Saturday night, the undefeated 24-year-old Brazilian found himself in the company of champions Holly Holm, Robbie Lawler, Fabricio Werdum, and TJ Dillashaw — as well as former champion Cain Velasquez, Dominick Cruz — as part of an ultimate media day.

Almeida (20-0), a bantamweight who has fought four times in the UFC since debuting in 2014, has scored finishes in his last three fights. He was soaking in the environment in Las Vegas, the same town he dropped Brad Pickett in at UFC 189 with a flying knee. To his right was the Cruz, and in front of him a few more spaces was Dillashaw, two of the names he’s gunning for in 2016.

Asked what he thought about sharing company with far more accomplished fighters than him — and why, indeed, he was part of that panel — Almeida smiled.

"Yeah, being among all these great champions it shows how much respect the UFC has and where they see me, so that motivates me a lot," he said through a translator. "It makes me want to train even harder and go even further."

In each of Almeida’s fights so far he has taken home an end-of-the-night bonus of $50,000, once for Fight of the Night (against Tim Gorman), and three times for Performance of the Night. With $200,000 in extra income it might be tempting for an up-and-coming star to spend it lavishly, but the man they call "Thominhas" said that’s not his style.

"I’m investing in myself, my training, my supplements, everything that goes has to do with me becoming a champion," he said.

Though everybody else at the media day had opponents locked in, Almeida is still waiting word on whom he’ll face next. Currently ranked No. 6 in the media-driven UFC rankings, Almeida said he wanted to test himself against a higher-ranked foe.

"I really want to fight someone that’s better ranked than I am," he said. "I like challenges, and I want to keep challenging myself to walk that road to be a champion."

With names like Raphael Assuncao, Urijah Faber, Bryan Caraway and Aljamain Sterling all candidates for such a fight, Almeida named dropped a couple.

"I think Bryan Caraway and Urijah Faber, those would be good fights," he said. "They are grapplers and they would be a good test for myself to have those fights."