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Following UFC 189 World Tour, Saul Almeida interprets the new spotlight

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Saul Almeida, Instagram

At some point in time, perhaps when it’s all just a drifting memory, Saul Almeida will look back on his fight camp for Chris Foster as the one where he shot out of a cannon and right through the roof of the circus tent.

Almeida was minding his own business in Boston, training for his April 10 fight for WSOF, when the UFC’s World Tour happened through town on March 25. Jose Aldo, one of the principals being trotted all over the globe to promote his July 11 title fight with Conor McGregor, asked Almeida to be his interpreter for the event. They had been friendly in the past, so he did. And the next thing he knew he was headed to New York, then Toronto. London. Dublin. He and the subject were being ridiculed by the imported Irish, and later the native Irish, and really just about everybody floating down the River of Guinness in between.

Aldo’s very serious looking translator guy became the vicar of vicarious, and you know something? He loved it.

"It was crazy," he says. "It was awesome. We got to travel. We forgot about time and where we were. We just lived in the moment every day. Every step of the way it was crazy. The fans were crazy. You just had to deal with it, but it was definitely fun. Aldo enjoyed it too."

Almeida found himself translating words -- for the best featherweight mixed martial artist the world has yet known -- that wouldn’t be suitable for bathroom walls. And just as suddenly the sound of his own voice was enough to incite pandemonium. By the last leg in Dublin, he was just another part of the theater. If looks could kill, Almeida would have offed McGregor long before the World Tour reached his native land. It was clear he didn’t care for the Irishman’s behavior, and he didn’t hide the fact behind those daggers.

All of this couldn’t have been ideal with a fight just two weeks out. Then again, it was perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to the 25-year-old Almeida in his professional career. It became a global training camp.

"I was able to train as we traveled, like in Toronto, we had the Muay Thai gym," Almeida says. "Aldo’s friendly with those guys so we went over there and got to train. In London, we trained at the hotel. We were able to train on the go."

He was also able to make acquaintances with key UFC personnel, too, such as Dana White, who mediated at each port along the way. And now his WSOF bout with the fellow New Englander Foster might become a showcase for what Almeida hopes will become his future boss.

Suddenly the stakes a little higher, and people are paying a little more attention.

"It’s cool to get this fight with WSOF…but at the end of the day I took it because it’ll be at Foxwoods, which is an hour away," he says. "I’m fighting a guy that I wanted to fight locally anyway, so it worked out. It’s a one-fight deal. So I’ll go in there, and I’ll do what I got to do, finish this, and then give Uncle Dana a call. I’ll be calling him personally after the fight."

A featherweight himself, Almeida trains these days with Carlos Neto BJJ in Boston, with forays at American Top Team as time permits. At one time "The Spider," as he’s called because of his long limbs, trained with Team Noguiera. He’s riding a four-fight winning streak, which kicked off at Bellator 110 when he scored a unanimous decision over Andrew Fisher.

As a fighter, there were moments during the World Tour when he wanted to do away with ceremony and inflict bodily harm on McGregor.

"I wanted to go and slap Conor myself," he says. "Maybe one day. When he snatched [Aldo’s] belt [in Dublin] I should have been quicker. When he went for it, I should have grabbed it and kept it."

How things would have played out if he had will forever be locked in imagination. Almeida was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and moved to the Boston area at age eight. It was there that he took up karate, eventually working his way to a black belt. By ten, he was doing jiu-jitsu and could already speak fluent English. He wrestled for his high school team, and he took up boxing. He went piecemeal through the martial arts before he began to mix them.

In other words, he wouldn’t have been afraid to mix it up with McGregor.

But he was a little afraid of translating some of the messages being sent to Aldo from the open mic moments at these World Tour events.

"Some things I didn’t translate to him, I didn’t pass it down," he says. "I told him the important stuff. When somebody is yelling, ‘Hey Aldo, I got something for you…you’re a b*tch, you’re a p*ssy,’ I’m not going to turn to him and tell him that. That’s the greatest featherweight of all time. You can’t be disrespectful like that. He doesn’t know what they’re saying, so I just don’t pass it down. He would tell me what he wanted to get across, what he wanted to say and I would. That’s it."

And it was Almeida who told Aldo he should greet the crowd in Ireland with a message that he was the "king of Dublin," the sentiment that nearly tipped the whole thing into hysteria and ended with McGregor snatching the belt.

"We were up in the room before we came down, and we were talking," Almeida says. "I was like, man, you’re the king. Why don’t you just say you’re the king of Dublin? And [Aldo] was talking about how it always rains in Dublin, and when he came he brought the sunshine, because the sun came out a little bit. But when we go down there, the first question goes to him. And he starts out by saying he’s the king of Dublin and the thing about the sun and rain. Then everybody goes crazy, and Conor jumps up...it was a little bit crazy there from that point."

No matter what happens after his fight with Foster, Almeida isn’t done assisting Aldo. In May he will head down to Rio de Janeiro, to Aldo’s camp at Nova Uniao, and help the featherweight champion prepare to defend his belt.

How?

By emulating McGregor, the larger-than-life figure who, inadvertently, gave him a share of the spotlight to begin with.

"I have a style like Conor, I can spar like that, I can train like that," he says. 
"So, that’ll be pretty cool."

As will the memory of this strange moment in time when training for Chris Foster became translating the public crossfire between Ireland and Brazil.