Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida is widely considered one of the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners of all time but after claiming his 13th gold medal at the IBJJF World Championships in 2018, he started to feel like it was time for a change.
While the now 31-year-old competitor always appreciated the adoration he received from the grappling community, he admits that his passion for jiu-jitsu started to wane in recent years, which is why his attention has now fully shifted to mixed martial arts.
“I don’t feel like competing in jiu-jitsu anymore,” Almeida told MMA Fighting ahead of his second pro fight in ONE Championship on Friday. “I did what I had to do there. I proved myself. I don’t have the challenge and the desire to compete in jiu-jitsu anymore. Because I have accomplished so much. MMA is a new challenge. It’s something that brings the fire inside me again. I really feel like motivation to do that right now, not jiu-jitsu anymore.
“Jit-jitsu is always something that I’m never going to leave behind but I don’t see any fights there that I’m interested in doing it.”
His last major tournament took place in 2019 and from there “Buchecha” knew that he had to make a change in his career.
“I remember the ADCC was really hard to find motivation to train for,” Almeida explained. “I was burned out already. I don’t want to compete feeling like that.
“With MMA, I don’t feel like that anymore. Everyday, I go to the gym and it’s not a sacrifice. It’s joy. I enjoy it. I get beat up and I’m learning everyday. It’s something that’s bringing me so much joy and I feel like the most important thing is the motivation. I found that again. To be honest, I lost that with jiu-jitsu.”
As he made the transition into MMA, Almeida decided to call Florida home where he trains at the famed American Top Team academy, which houses dozens of top fighters from around the world including a number of athletes in his own division at heavyweight.
The move paid off with Buchecha pulling off an impressive debut in his first fight back in September as he needed less than three minutes to choke out his opponent, Anderson “Braddock” Silva.
His next fight will come against undefeated South Korean fighter Ji Won Kang, who is coming off a stunning first-round knockout of former Olympic wrestler Amir Aliakbari in his first appearance with ONE Championship.
It’s a big step up in competition for only his second fight but Almeida knew that the promotion wasn’t going to spoon-feed him easy opponents just so he could get some experience.
“ONE Championship heavyweight division, there is no easy fight,” Almeida said. “So I knew every fight would be tough since the first one. This is not the kind of event where you can pick fights and build a record. I knew since when I signed, it would be big challenges and not the fights to get experience.
“I was ready for that since I signed. I knew it. I don’t pick fights. The organization sends me the name and I just accept. There is nowhere to go here. Just huge names and we have to fight each other.”
Because he’s so well-known for his grappling game, Almeida is aware that every opponent is going to do just about anything possible to avoid going to the ground with him, which makes his job that much harder.
That’s why he’s spent so much time learning every other facet of MMA so he won’t be a one-dimensional fighter even if his best weapon with grappling is likely better than anyone he’ll face in the sport.
“Of course, if I can use my jiu-jitsu in a fight, it’s the best plan,” Almeida said. “But I know sometimes it’s going to be hard to take the fight where I want. It’s going to be the ground. I’m training as much striking as I do jiu-jitsu. I do the same. Everyday, I train both striking and jiu-jitsu.
“Of course, I don’t want to lose my jiu-jitsu and become a striker and of course, I don’t want to be those jiu-jitsu guys if they’re not able to take somebody down, they get beat up really bad. I want to be as complete as I can as a fighter.”
The most important factor to Almeida’s development from a grappling legend to a MMA prospect has been his own confidence that’s grown with each training session.
That’s why these days Almeida considers himself a full-fledged MMA fighter rather than just a Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert testing himself inside the cage.
“Being honest, I feel [like an MMA fighter] but not because of the fight, mostly because of the training,” Almeida said. “I can say that because the fight, I couldn’t actually show much. Because of course I’m glad I got the submission fast. Two minutes wasn’t enough to show everything I was training for but during the camp, during the training, I felt like that. Like an MMA fighter.
“It’s been one year and a half since I’ve been training [at American Top Team] and I’m seeing a lot of improvements. Of course, I’m still brand new in the game but I’m feeling the changes. I watch my first fight and my last sparring session and it’s like a completely different guy. Little by little, I can see the change.”