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Hang 10: exclusive UFC Fight Night 18 interview with Ricardo Almeida

You can’t always get what you want. And if you know the rest of the lyrics, you know a thing or two about overcoming adversity. Such is the case with Ricardo Almeida.

Riding a six-fight wave, Almeida temporarily retired from the sport of mixed martial arts in 2004 in order to open the Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Hamilton, N.J., and to concentrate on his family. But the desire to compete was always there — especially since the sport experienced unprecedented growth during the same time.

It’s kinda hard to sit on the sidelines when so many great athletes deserve to be armbarred.

UFC 81 was set for the big return to MMA competition from a three-and-a-half-year hiatus. And "Cachorrao" marked the occasion by making quick work (68 seconds, to be exact) of previously unbeaten Rob Yundt, who took the fight on very short notice.

It wasn’t long before a UFC 86 matchup with Patrick Cote was scheduled with talk of a potential title shot opportunity. Unfortunately, that’s where the train falls off the tracks.

Cote squeaked out a hard-fought split decision victory (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), earning a title shot against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva along the way. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But Almeida says that loss might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He now seems more focused than ever to get back to his winning ways in his quest for middleweight gold.

Almeida (9-3) next faces the dangerous Matt Horwich (22-11-1) at UFC Fight Night 18: "Condit vs. Kampmann" on Wednesday, April 1. The event serves as the prelude that kicks off the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 9: "U.S. vs. U.K." It all gets underway live from the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn., and airs on Spike TV.

We recently caught up with Almeida via email as he was preparing for the fight. We asked him about everything from Patrick Cote and boxing, to surfing and fighting jiu-jitsu guys. Almeida set the record straight on a number of things, including bouncing back from his recent loss to Cote, being misquoted by the press, and realizing his commitment to returning to the sport of mixed martial arts.

Let’s get after it:

Adam Wagner ( You last fought Patrick Cote at UFC 86 to a close split decision that didn’t go your way. Give us your thoughts on the fight. Did you agree with the decision?

Ricardo Almeida: At the risk of sounding biased, I still feel I won the fight. I have had many people tell me I should have won that decision. When I come to think of it, they were all my friends though.

When it comes down to it, when people talk about either me or Cote, that will not be the fight they remember. Patrick went on to fight for the title and will have a very successful career by any standards.

I am also looking ahead toward many fights to come. May be that point they took away from me at the Cote fight will come back at a more opportune time, who knows.

Adam Wagner ( I read a story that appeared on Setanta Sports that you were bored with the fight and that that might have cost you the victory. Can you comment on that?

Ricardo Almeida: Just to be sure I re-watched the post-fight video on ESPN, and I never said, "I was bored." I said that I felt it had been a boring fight. From the second round on not much happened, and when at the end of the third round I got a takedown, I felt I should push toward the finish. I ended up moving to side control, and Cote turned to his knees, I went for the guillotine but missed.

My point is that I didn’t want to end the fight throwing hammer fists from the guard, I went for the finish. Next time the reporter from Setanta might want to take better notes, especially if they are going to quote fighters.

Adam Wagner ( Between the first and second rounds, the fight was stopped to repair your torn glove. When it resumed, there seemed to be a marked difference in the fight — you seemed to have dominated the first round, but after the glove incident, Cote won the final two rounds, according to a majority of the judges. Did the glove incident break your focus? Did you think it was necessary to halt the fight (was the glove damaged that badly)?

Ricardo Almeida: I can’t really blame my loss on the cutting of the gloves, it was my fight to win or lose. I knew Cote had good submission defense, so I wanted to ground and pound him before moving in for the finish in the second or third round. At the end of the first round he had a bloody nose and everything was going according to the game plan.

I just never fully recovered from the first to the second round. My body got real stiff and I got real tired. The whole second round was the most physically challenging thing I ever had to do. I felt like throwing up every second of that round.

During the third round I loosened up again and was beginning to find my distance again and wasn’t as tired. The challenge in MMA with the five minute rounds is that you have little time to adapt and change strategy.

But overall I am happy I had such a tough time during that fight. I have learned a lot, and it has prepared me to better deal with similar situations in my future fights.

Adam Wagner ( This was the first time you’ve tasted defeat in more than six years. How do you bounce back from that, especially since you were potentially so close to a title shot?

Ricardo Almeida: Losing, especially in MMA, never tastes good. You throw in the title shot and the fact I was on a 7-fight winning streak and it becomes even worse.

But I believe I needed that loss. It was a transitional year for me, coming back from retirement and all. I needed to experience a setback in order to test my commitment. Everyone wants to be a fighter when they are winning, but pushing through your own failures and shortcomings is the mark of a real fighter.

Adam Wagner ( You’re now set to face Matt Horwich at Fight Night 18. This fight was originally slated to occur at UFC 90; however, an injury forced you off the card. Do you care to disclose what the injury was, and are you all healed up now?

Ricardo Almeida: I was diagnosed with a sports hernia, which is a tear on your lower abdomen region. It is a pretty scary diagnosis because even surgery is not guaranteed to solve the problem. I spoke to a real good friend of mine who is a doctor in Brazil, and he told me it has forced many professional soccer players to retire. Luckily with therapy and some changes in my training, I have been able to fully recover.

Adam Wagner ( Horwich is a tough fighter and the first ever IFC middleweight champion. What are your thoughts on Horwich? How do you feel the two of your fighting styles measure up?

Ricardo Almeida: Horwich is a very tough guy to prepare for and fight because he is so unorthodox. He comes forward every second of every round, and that throws a lot of fighters off. He has a well-rounded game, but I believe his biggest strength is on the ground. He is probably the best ground fighter I have ever fought in MMA. I hope it becomes a super high-paced ground battle.

Adam Wagner ( How have you prepared for this fight? Have you changed anything up from your normal camp?

Ricardo Almeida: I feel last year I was perhaps doing more coaching than I should have leading up to my fights. This time around I am focusing 100 percent on my own training and preparation.

Renzo Gracie has been running almost every training session and overlooking everyone. It has been great to have someone with his knowledge on the sidelines, not only for the fight but the entire preparation. I believe we are all improving twice as much in half the time.

Adam Wagner ( How have you been working on developing your striking? Are you still working with Bo Lattimere?

Ricardo Almeida: I have been diligently working on my boxing week in and week out. Each fight I feel more comfortable. I felt my defense was not bad last fight. Cote is one of the hardest punchers at 185 lbs.

I am now working with boxing coach Mark Henry. He has been training Frankie Edgar and Chris Liguori for the past few years. I still work with Bo as well.

Adam Wagner ( There are a lot of jiu-jitsu practitioners who also have a love of surfing, as you do. Can you talk a bit about the relationship between the martial art and surfing?

Ricardo Almeida: I believe any man’s finest hour is when he is working single-mindedly toward a goal, without any thought other than achieving that goal, whatever the goal may be.

Jiu Jitsu in the physical sense is decoding the signals of an ever-changing environment. Your objective is simply to submit your opponent or training partner.

Surfing is essentially the same. The waves are generated thousands of miles away by wind and travel toward the coast. When they get close to shore, they break. At that moment you have to be in perfect position to be able to safely ride it.

For both though you need a partner or opponent, depending on how you look at it: in Jiu Jitsu’s case, another trained person who has dedicated their life to the development of their skills; in surfing, the perfect conditions of swell size and direction, wind, tide etc.

Because of the specific skills/conditions required for perfect practice, they become an almost spiritual experience.

Adam Wagner ( The UFC’s middleweight division has some of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world. Would you be interested in putting your own jiu-jitsu skills up against guys like Demian Maia and Rousimar Palhares?

Ricardo Almeida: It will always feel somewhat wrong for me to fight another Jiu Jitsu guy in MMA. Sort of like when you do something your parents told you never to do. However, with the growth of the UFC and so many Jiu Jitsu fighters doing well, it will become inevitable.

Adam Wagner ( I appreciate your time in answering our questions, and I wish you luck in your upcoming fight with Horwich. Lastly, would you like to thank any sponsors, or do you have any parting words for your fans?

Ricardo Almeida: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with I want to thank the fans for making the UFC the greatest sport there is. I would also like to thank all of the people who support me on a daily basis. I couldn’t do this without your help.

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