Just one mile into a 28 mile race around the island of Manhattan, UFC welterweight Ricardo Almeida (12-4) began to realize just what he signed up for.
The Brazilian, who fights out of Hamilton, NJ, was just one week removed from UFC 117, where he suffered a first round submission loss at the hands of Matt Hughes, and here he was in the middle of the Hudson River, paddling against headstrong winds.
“I wanted to quit after just one mile, and I had 27 more to go,” says Almeida. “The winds on the Hudson were brutal, and the currents going down the East River were rough. I didn’t know what I got myself into,” he said.
What he got himself into was the Surfer’s Environmental Alliance (SEA) Paddle NYC – a benefit to raise money and awareness for autism non-profits.
“My son was diagnosed with autism in 2008,” says Almeida, who said he had to convince organizers to let him participate because he wasn’t an experienced racer.
“It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “In the Octagon there is a guy who wants to knock your head off. There is a sense of urgency. You have to fight to survive. But out there, there was nothing stopping me from quitting, paddling back to the boat and going home,” he said.
Nothing but heart, anyway.
Almeida finished the race, helping to raise over 300 thousand dollars for autism awareness, and he says despite the experience, he’ll do it again next year. That’s the kind of guy TJ Grant (16-4) will be facing December 11 in Montreal when the two Jiu-Jitsu aces square off at UFC 124.
“I think the story of the fight will be the grappling,” says Almeida. “He’s a brown belt and he’s known for being a very good grappler. It will be interesting to see how we match up on the ground. He’s a good wrestler and a good striker. My wrestling is always improving and I think our striking matches up pretty evenly so we’ll see how it goes.”
Almeida has had plenty of opportunity of late to improve on his wrestling and his striking, what with lightweight champion Frankie Edgar - a daily presence at his school as he readies for his second title defense against Gray Maynard - bringing in a steady array of high quality training partners like Eddie Alvarez and the entire Rutgers University wrestling team to help him prepare.
Almeida is not remiss of that fact.
“Having Frankie and Eddie in is a huge benefit, for sure,” he says. “They push me every day. It’s always easier to get your camp bigger, but getting it better is the hard part. I’ve been very fortunate to have those guys plus Renzo’s guys coming down from New York City,” he said.
And although very good on the ground, TJ Grant is no slouch on his feet. He’s got knockout power, and while Almeida believes that whoever wins the ground game will come out victorious, he’s not overlooking the standup.
“He’s knocked guys out,” says Almeida of Grant. “I’ve been studying his fights, and he has a dangerous overhand right. You know, Matt Hughes threw a perfect punch and I got knocked down, I made the mistake of trying to get up too soon and I got choked out, but we’re using four ounce gloves, so any punch that gets through is going to put you down. Matt threw a perfect punch and that’s that. TJ has the capability of doing the same thing, so I have to be careful for sure,” he said.
Almeida is looking to get back to his winning ways to end an otherwise great year on a high note. The loss to Hughes snapped a three fight win streak against the likes of Matt Horwich, Kendall Grove and Matt Brown, and a victory over TJ Grant will put him back into the title picture, although with the return of BJ Penn to welterweight and the addition of Jake Shields, the waters in the 170lb division are certainly deeper than they were when he first dropped from 185 back in March.
“With every fight in the UFC you’re fighting for your career,” he said. “I try not to think about it but try to put on a great performance every time out. I love training, I love fighting and competing, and as long as I keep having fun and keep getting better from fight to fight, I’ll keep on going.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
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The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
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Almeida’s Heart Defines A UFC Fighter
“With every fight in the UFC you’re fighting for your career. I try not to think about it but try to put on a great performance every time out."