Chute Boxe representative, Thomas Almeida, is set to scrap with fellow knockout artist, Cody Garbrandt, this Sunday (May 29, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 88 inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In just about 1.5 years, Almeida has moved from unknown Brazilian on the prelims to feared knockout artist in the main event. He's won four straight fights in that time, earning a performance bonus with each victory. Just 24 years old, Almeida has already earned a position inside the Top 10. Now, he's looking to take the next step and potentially earn a title eliminator match up by defeating another rising star.
Let's take a closer look at his skill set:
As one would expect of someone out of the Chute Boxe camp, Almeida is a highly aggressive Muay Thai fighter. With 16 wins via knockout, it's clear that the Brazilian is doing something right. On the whole, Almeida's approach is fairly interesting. He's a pretty average-sized Bantamweight and fits the build of a distance kickboxer, but Almeida instead pressures forward into the pocket to throw hands like he's a musclebound slugger with one-punch power.
Despite all those knockouts, he doesn't really fit that description.
Instead, Almeida capitalizes on his build by coming with insane conditioning. The Brazilian can fire off punches at an insane pace -- even while taking hard shots -- without batting an eye. Since he does hit hard, that's a deadly threat that's present for however long the fight is standing.
To get more detailed, Almeida usually starts the bout with some inside low kicks from range. He likes to establish these kicks in an attempt to bait his opponent in, as Almeida is at his best as a counter striker. While drawing his opponent into the counter worked pretty flawless on the regional scene, more experienced opponents in UFC are not about to walk into counters. That's when Almeida is forced to initiate exchanges, and part of the reason he has the reputation of being hittable.
More than anything else, it's a consequence of being in so many exchanges, which is precisely what the young Brazilian wants.
While pushing forward, Almeida doesn't rely on the jab much. Instead, he looks to smash his opponent with a left hook, cross, or tight right hook. One of the double threats that Almeida plays with at this range of the game is to change levels before throwing his hook, which allows him to dig low or spring hard into a hook high.
The .GIF below isn't really an example of this, but it does show the effectiveness of his beloved hook to the liver and the reason it must be respected.
Once Almeida has gotten close enough to land, his opponent has a couple of options. He can either retreat -- possibly having already eaten some shots -- and reset, or he can look to land his own shots. Almeida is counting on his foe to eventually chose the second.
After that happens, Almeida is in his element. Once in the pocket, Almeida is excellent at rolling and slipping punches before returning with a hard combination. Plus, he really thrives at moving his head off the center line while counter punching, which gives him far better odds of landing the cleaner blows.
One of Almeida's best counter strikes is his right elbow. If he notices his opponent over-committing -- essentially leaning forward into his punches -- then Almeida will slip his head off the line and throw his elbow down the middle. The elbow is a large weapon and the whole face is a large target, so it's a very accurate weapon for him.
Additionally, Almeida does very nice work with the cross counter. Since his opponents commonly rely on desperation jabs to keep him away, this is a pretty high percentage technique for the Brazilian as well.
It's also worth mentioning that Almeida will continue his combination even if he's hit clean. Many times in his recent fights, his opponents thought they successfully interrupted his attack with a strong punch. While it definitely landed hard, Almeida would simply continue his combination undeterred and land hard shots anyway.
As mentioned, Almeida's opponent also has the option of retreating. In that case, Almeida often looks to follow up with a kick. Alternatively, Almeida also likes to attack with step knees or flying knees if his opponent backs away ducking or with their guard very tight (GIF).
Whether his opponent backs himself into the fence or is simply tired and looking to rest, it's a really, really bad position to be in against Almeida. Since his opponent cannot easily move away from his strikes, Almeida is able to tee off and string together long combinations. Worse still for his opponent, Almeida expertly uses kicks and body punches to keep his foe trapped in that precarious position (GIF).
Almeida may not be the most technical wrestler in the world at this point in his career, but he's got strong fundamentals and great athleticism. So far, that's been enough to keep the striker on his feet. At distance, Almeida does a very nice job interrupting his opponent's attempts to shoot. Unless it's a well-timed shot, Almeida very nicely uses his forearms to block the shot and will return to a hard knee or uppercut to deter future attempts.
That said, Almeida is weakest when his opponent's get in on his hips. In that scenario -- which usually happens when he's pushing forward aggressively or misses a big counter punch -- Almeida usually ends up on his back.
Luckily, Almeida is very quick to scramble up. He often immediately turns away and frames his opponent's face/shoulder, which relies quite a bit on his athleticism. Alternatively, Almeida will use his butterfly hooks to create space, grab and underhook, and quickly stand.
Almeida is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, but really hasn't spent much time on the mat. That said, he does have a few submission wins to his name and has never been tapped out, so that's certainly a positive sign.
In the Octagon, Almeida has showcased an aggressive jiu-jitsu attack in the few moments he's grappled. For example, Almeida repeatedly jumped on a guillotine choke variation against Tim Gorman but was not able to land it. More recently, he tried to roll into a d'arce choke on Anthony Birchak but slipped and landed on his back.
In terms of effectiveness, the most important grappling moment of Almeida's UFC career came against Brad Pickett. After being dropped, Almeida used the threat of a heel hook from his back to push Pickett away and return to his feet.
Almeida is one of the fastest rising prospects in UFC history. While he hasn't reached a similar level of "Notoriety," he could definitely be compared to Conor McGregor's early showings inside the Octagon. To take another running leap up the ladder, Almeida needs to take out Garbrandt and assert himself as a title contender rather than prospect.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.