07-28-2010, 04:46 PM
1st Four to Final Four
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Basketball Capital of the World
Ricardo's a really classy guy. It'll be fun to watch this fight.
The welterweight bout between Matt Hughes and Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117 on Aug. 7 in Oakland, Calif., is a study in contrasts.
In one corner you have Hughes, recognized as arguably the most dominant welterweight champion in UFC history and a recent inductee into the promotion's Hall of Fame.
In the other you have Almeida, who owns an impressive pedigree of his own but has escaped the notice of the casual MMA fan, despite being a veteran of Pride, UFC and a former middleweight King of Pancrase.
"I'm someone that's hovered outside the limelight a little bit because I fought in the UFC, and then I went to Japan -- and I won a title in Japan, and just kind of retired right before MMA got a lot bigger in the U.S.," Almeida said.
The main-card bout will mark Almeida's second fight at 170 pounds in the UFC since moving down a class from middleweight, and as part of a card filled with intriguing matchups, it's an opportunity to gain some exposure while establishing a foothold in a new division.
The story that promises to be analyzed ad nauseum right up until the fight is that of the pupil avenging the loss of his teacher. Almeida is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie and a loyal member of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu team. When Hughes earned a TKO victory in his most recent fight against Gracie at UFC 112 in April, Almeida was quick to step in and request the Illinois native as his next opponent.
"It was definitely an emotional moment for me," he said of his mentor's loss in Abu Dhabi. "I was in there... it was just my competitive juices. You know, 'I've got to get this one back for the team,' so I asked to fight Matt.
"He's someone that I respect and I've watched put on tremendous performances over the years. I hadn't really thought about fighting him until that moment there."
The revenge angle is a bit overblown. The two combatants have not engaged in any type of bitter pre-fight banter. Fights need storylines, however, and Almeida realizes that the hype comes with the territory.
"Sometimes it's required of us. It's part of being entertainment. I'm not gonna be the guy who's going to come in and disrespect a UFC Hall of Famer," he said. "I'm going to beat him with my technique, with my right hand, with my jiu-jitsu and my kicks. I'm not gonna try to beat him with my talk by trash-talking."
Some of the more prominent members of Almeida's camp are UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and UFC middleweight veteran Nick Catone. In preparation for Hughes, a former two-time Division I All-American wrestler, Catone has been especially useful.
"He's a phenomenal wrestler, he took Mark Munoz down a bunch of times and Mark's probably one of the better wrestlers in the UFC right now. Nick is my go-to guy as far as emulating Hughes' style," Almeida said.
While the former Miletich Fighting Systems product has slowed down a bit in recent years, Hughes remains one of only two men to have defeated current welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. His resume is littered with impressive victories throughout a 12-year career. He has rebounded from one-sided losses to St. Pierre and Thiago Alves to post consecutive wins, besting rival Matt Serra at UFC 98 along with Gracie. Almeida dismisses the notion that Hughes may be past his prime.
"To me I'm getting ready to fight a legend. I'm getting ready to fight the guy from the Frank Trigg fight, the guy who beat Georges St. Pierre, the guy who beat BJ Penn, the guy who dominated the welterweight division for a few years. That's the guy that I'm getting ready to fight," he said.
Almeida boasts notable wins over Nate Marquardt and Kazuo Misaki from his time in Pancrase. Since returning to the UFC in 2008, he has won four of five fights. His 170-pound debut came in March, when he earned a victory via rear-naked choke over Matt Brown at UFC 111.
For Almeida, despite having suffered only one defeat in a professional bout since 2002, it's the setbacks that burn brightest in his memory.
"I remember my losses more than my wins. Each fight has a special place for me," he said.
With a win over a former champion, UFC 117 could earn a coveted spot in Almeida's heart: the night he won one for his mentor while becoming a top 170-pound contender in the process.
"This is one of the biggest fights that I've ever been in my career. I know that if I win, I'll definitely be in a good position. But I don't just want to win, I want to establish myself as a top welterweight in the sport," he said.