Marcus Almeida is in search of new worlds to conquer.
The 30-year-old Brazilian—more popularly known as Marcus Buchecha—was officially announced as a member of the ONE Championship roster in July, signalling his first foray into mixed martial arts after piling up countless accolades as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor.
Over the past decade, Buchecha has won multiple gold medals at both the Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championship and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Championship, cementing his legacy as an all-time great grappler. The path back to BJJ is always clear, but right now Buchecha is entirely focused on MMA.
“I did so much in jiu-jitsu,” Buchecha said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting. “My plan always was to do something that nobody ever done and I did it. I won 13 world titles in jiu-jitsu, so I broke the record. I don’t feel, like, challenged, like a real motivation anymore to do something. I did what I wanted to do, so I think it’s time for no more challenges [in jiu-jitsu] because I don’t have the same motivation that I did to train.
“Of course, always when I fight it’s going to be challenging, and people are always going after me, I have a big target on my back. … But now I feel I have this [motivation] for MMA because it’s something new for me, it’s a new sport, so that motivation starts from zero again. I don’t have anything more to prove in jiu-jitsu, but I’m not retired, because jiu-jitsu is something that I did my whole life. If maybe I feel like I’m missing it, I want to fight a fight, I’m not saying that I hang up my gi. But that’s not my focus anymore right now.”
One can’t blame Buchecha for feeling that his time in BJJ competition is done for now. His grappling conquests include a murderer’s row of fighters who have had success in both BJJ and MMA, including Antonio Braga Neto, Rafael Lovato Jr., Eliot Marshall, Rodolfo Vieira, Garry Tonon, Dean Lister, and Kron Gracie.
Combat sports glory wasn’t what Buchecha (Portuguese for “big cheeks”) saw for himself in his early days. Hailing from the city of Santos in Sao Paulo, Buchecha was like most Brazilian youths. He loved soccer (though he admits that he wasn’t very good), as well as surfing and swimming, which he credits with helping him build his 6-foot-3 heavyweight frame. It was actually his sister Anakelly and father Clayton who brought him into the world of jiu-jitsu.
Buchecha, 30, saw his interest in MMA sparked a decade ago when he was training in Florida where he crossed paths with several famous UFC fighters. He formed a strong bond with the cagefighting crowd even as he pursued his own destiny on the mats.
“I remember Edson Barboza was there and Luiz Cane, who used to fight in the UFC, they were there so that was the first time that I really got contact with MMA,” Buchecha said. “Then 2011, I went to help a little bit with the grappling at one camp with Vitor Belfort.
“And then in 2013 was the first time I went to (the American Kickboxing Academy) to train wrestling and train with the guys. After that I really liked it. I started going more and more, that’s how I got closer to (Daniel Cormier), Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, and Javier Mendez, and all the other guys. After that, as much as I can, I go to AKA—even before I decided to go to MMA—to train a little bit of wrestling, train something different.”
Currently, Buchecha is training in California, but he plans to do part of his fight camps in Singapore, the home of ONE Championship. The expectation is that he will serve not just as a top contender for the organization, but an ambassador as well, an opportunity that he describes as “priceless.”
As for Buchecha’s own expectations, he’s not going out of his way to emulate any other BJJ convert’s path, though he is inspired by the success that Tonon and Roger Gracie have had with ONE, Lovato with Bellator, and Vieiera with the UFC. Gracie and Vieira are two of Buchecha’s greatest rivals.
Buchecha and Gracie fought to a draw in their first meeting at a Metamoris show in in 2012 (at that particular event, all bouts that went to the time limit were declared a draw) and Gracie won by submission in their rematch five years later. As a ONE heavyweight, Gracie won championship gold, but retired in 2017. If a third bout between the two were to happen, Buchecha expects it to take place in a BJJ contest again as opposed to MMA.
“That’s something that I never really wanted,” Buchecha said when asked if he wanted to fight Gracie in MMA. “People say, I want to see you fight Roger, I want to see you fight Rodolfo. I think it might be better in a few years to do a jiu-jitsu match against them than in MMA. Right now, they’re not guys that I really want to fight. I never really thought about that.
“[Gracie and I] fought twice, but I think this one deserves a trilogy because two fights is always weird and one fight I did better, the other fight he did better. It was only two fights, so if we have to fight again, I would say it would be a jiu-jitsu fight and not in the cage. That’s how I feel.”
Numerous factors will go into deciding when Buchecha makes his UFC debut. He’ll discuss it with his coaches and management. ONE will have to find him an appropriate matchup. And it remains to be seen how long it will take him to recover from a knee injury that knocked him out of an upcoming grappling bout with former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum.
Regardless, the plan was always for Buchecha to take things slow.
“It’s a new world for me,” Buchecha said. “It’s of course different from jiu-jitsu because that’s something that I’ve been doing my whole life. Competition is always something I want to do, but it’s a new world, it’s a new sport. I need to learn striking, my striking’s not good yet. My wrestling needs to get better. Even the jiu-jitsu, it’s a different game, it’s not going to be the same game so I need to fix that.
“The end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021 will be plenty of time. I won’t be ready for a big challenge, but it’s a beginning, so I think I’ll be prepared to do the debut and just like in jiu-jitsu, after the fight, ‘Okay, I need to get better at this, I need to get better at that.’ I think this is a good window to start and then from there I will see if I have to change this, if I have to change that, then I need to fix this thing, I need to learn this more. It’s always an endless pursuit of learning and getting better. That’s how I see it.”
With a plethora of gold on his mantle already, does Buchecha put any pressure on himself to follow in the footsteps of Gracie and become a two-sport champion? It’s a feat that he’s approaching with a level head and a little perspective.
“My goal right now is the debut,” Buchecha said. “When I was younger, when I was a blue belt, people would ask, ‘What’s your dream? Is it to be a black belt world champion?’ I would say, ‘No, my dream is to be a blue belt world champion.’
“That’s my dream right now. My focus right now is 100 percent on the debut and after that if I do a good fight, I want to fight right away. If I see that I need to fix mistakes and need to learn more of the game then I’m going to take a while, but my goal is to fight as much as I can as fast as I can.”