When UFC 111: "St. Pierre vs. Hardy" comes to Newark, New Jersey, there's one hometown hero you can bet would be on the card. Ricardo Almeida (11-3) - who's called the Bon Jovi state home for 13 years - looks to make his welterweight debut after a successful 3-1 run at middleweight since his 2008 return to MMA.
The third-degree blackbelt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Renzo Gracie gets a tough opponent for his debut party in the Team Gurgel product, Matt Brown (11-7). "The Immortal" has posted an impressive 4-1 record since his days in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 7 house.
Almeida will look to steal that momentum when the two meet up at the Prudential Center on Saturday, March 27. While the main card airs on pay-per-view (PPV), the Almeida vs. Brown match-up kicks off the Spike TV televised preliminary portion of the card, which also features a welterweight fight between Nate Diaz and Rory Markham.
We recently chatted it up with "Big Dog" and he shed some light on his move to 170 lbs, his thoughts on going toe-to-toe with Brown, and his unanimous decision win over Kendall Grove, which nearly ended with Almeida seeing stars.
He also comments on teammate Frankie Edgar's new sparring partner, Eddie Alvarez, who is helping prepare him for his upcoming lightweight title fight opposite BJ Penn.
Let's get to it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I wanted to ask you about the transition from middleweight to welterweight. As a fighter, you're sole focus was on competing to earn a title shot against Anderson Silva. Now that focus has switched to a different fighter, Georges St. Pierre. What's it like switching that mental focus to a new division and a different champion at the end of that road?
Ricardo Almeida: It is a new beginning. I took four years off and when I came back the size of fighters was probably the biggest difference. Guys are cutting a lot of weight. You have to adapt or be left behind. I am very excited about fighting in a smaller weight class.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): In your last fight, you beat Kendall Grove largely by taking him down and grinding it out. You also showed a decent chin. What do you take away from that fight, your last as a middleweight?
Ricardo Almeida: Kendall is a very tough guy to fight. If you stay outside he can pick you apart; if you close the distance he has very dangerous clinch; when you finally take him down he is dangerous off his back. It was a fight that forced me to fight out of my natural style of staying relaxed and waiting for things to happen.
I took a big uppercut and knee at the end of the second round, and I was actually out on my feet until probably mid-third round. I don't really remember much, but I was hurting. If Kendall hit me with one more shot then I probably would have been done. I learned a lot from that fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What steps did you take or are you taking to cut the weight down to 170? What has the experience been like for you?
Ricardo Almeida: I brought in a nutritionist, Corey Coopersmith, who is really making a real difference in my training. I actually gained a few pounds since the Kendall fight. I will be actually heavier when I step into the Octagon Saturday night than when I fought back in August.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You've shown improvement in your last couple of fights in your wrestling and standup. Can you talk a bit about how the training has gone, who you've been working with, etc.? I know, for example, that you had worked with the wrestling team at Rutgers University and boxing with Mark Henry. Are you still with them? Are you working with anyone else?
Ricardo Almeida: Man, I will never change coaches. I feel like we have a great team down here in South Jersey. Mark Henry is helping me with the boxing, and Frankie with the wrestling. I do get to go to Rutgers often, but Frankie is the one major factor in the improvements of my takedowns. For this fight I also brought in a Thai boxing coach.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You next fight Matt Brown at UFC 111 in Newark, New Jersey. How do you feel heading into this fight in front of your home crowd, and against a fighter who is known for exciting fights like Matt Brown?
Ricardo Almeida: I couldn't have gotten a better matchup if I had asked for one. Brown is a very exciting fighter, this fight is on Spike TV and I get to fight in my home state. It made me train harder for this fight than anything I have ever done before.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Matt Brown is known to push the pace in his fights. He's a hard charger. What advantages do you see heading into this fight, based on his style as a fighter?
Ricardo Almeida: I feel I am the more experienced fighter, and I have shown that I can win big fights against bigger and stronger opponents.
But each fight is a new fight. The pace at 170 is a little faster than at 185, and Brown is a fast-pace guy in this new division for me. I am going to fight how I always fight and trust my skills. The result sometimes falls out of our hands.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What's your cardio program like? Do you take measures to ensure that you still have gas in the tank against a guy who can push the pace, especially when you now will be cutting weight?
Ricardo Almeida: I have been doing some new things, but I will wait till after the fight to talk about it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You're 3-1 in the UFC since your return to competition. A win over Matt Brown starts you off on a good foot in the welterweight division. Where do you think a win puts you?
Ricardo Almeida: I have pushed my body to new levels of performance for this fight. I trained my butt off to get the win Saturday night, and that is all I have in my mind right now.
Brown is a fan favorite. A dominant performance over him will put me in a very good place in the division.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You train with Frankie Edgar, who has a tough fight ahead against the lightweight champion BJ Penn. Have you worked with him as he prepares for Penn? How is he dealing with the mental and physical challenges ahead?
Ricardo Almeida: We train together a few days a week. Frankie is the kind of guy who needs to feel the heat so he can grow. I think the fact that we are fighting two weeks apart is helping both of us. We are sparring and grappling each other a lot.
He has also been going to Phil Nurse's, and in the past few weeks Eddie Alvarez has been gracious enough to come help Frankie for his title match. Eddie is a great guy and their sparring sessions are classic. I could charge admission just for that.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Georges St. Pierre will face Dan Hardy in New Jersey the same night as your fight. Hardy is the huge underdog, but he has power in his strikes. What do you think are Hardy's chances for an upset? How do you see the fight going? Do you think Hardy will be on his feet long enough for his punching power to be a factor? Do you think GSP will attempt to stand with him?
Ricardo Almeida: Hardy is a very tough guy, but I don't know him much other than the past few fights. We all know GSP and what he is capable of.
I really believe Georges will win this fight. Not because Hardy is not good enough, but because GSP is freak right now. I had a chance to train with him, and from what I've seen and felt, he is at the top of his game and ready to keep his title.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Ricardo, thanks again for the time and good luck at UFC 111. Would you like to thank any sponsors or do you have any final thoughts for your fans?
Ricardo Almeida: I want to thank my team for helping me get ready. There are the key players, but many more anonymous guys who I could not do this without.
Want to also thank the fans for making this the greatest sport. I am a fan first, so I really appreciate how much support we get from you guys.