Marcus Almeida is a 17-time Brazilian Jiujitsu World Champion and with six of those titles he has won in the open weight category, "Buchecha" (meaning "cheek") is undoubtedly a record-breaking icon in the sport.
After dominating BJJ for over a decade, the 32-year-old signed with ONE Championship in 2020 to kickstart his MMA career and will look to improve on his already impressive 3-0-0 record when he takes on Kirill Grishenko (5-) starts. 1-0) during the much-anticipated return of action to Amazon Prime Video.
Marcus Almeida sat down with M&F to talk about the injury that delayed his MMA debut, how it made him a better fighter in the long run and why he's enjoying life in a new sport.
Courtesy of ONE Championship
Congratulations on how it went at ONE. How are you feeling right now?
I really feel great. I'm going into my fourth fight and I got the job done from the previous fight (against Simon Carson) so I'm really comfortable in the new sport now. I'm really enjoying the ride.
They first talked about moving to MMA in 2015, but it wasn't until 2021 that they finally debuted with ONE Championship. I guess life had other plans, right?
Yes, in 2015 I was planning to do my last (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) championship but unfortunately I got injured and I tore my left knee and I had to do it [have] surgery and it was a year before I came back. So all my plans changed because of the surgery and in my mind I had to come back and fight Jiu-Jitsu again because leaving the arena wasn't the last memory I wanted in Jiu-Jitsu. I came back, I fought, I won in 2016, but I wasn't that dominant [and I thought], You know what? I can squeeze in another year. Then another year and another year until 2019, so finally I broke all the records and became the greatest champion (of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship). In 2020 I felt that my mission in Jiu-Jitsu sport and competition was accomplished so I have nothing left to prove and it's time to move on, it's time to go into MMA because I always wanted to , and here we are.
Do you think you continued with BJJ to assess how the knee injury was healing and did the process actually help make you a better fighter?
Oh yes, totally, because the injury changed me so much. After the injury it changes the person, the athlete, everything because it made me look at everything from a different angle. Of course, I wouldn't dare kick my left leg (in MMA) right after surgery, so staying in Jiu-Jitsu gave me the confidence I needed. w when I train I don't even think about it.
Courtesy of ONE Championship
Has the injury forced you to learn how to become a more defensive fighter?
Yes, my game has changed so much. Before the surgery I was always walking, loved attacking with leg locks and foot locks, but every time you attack someone's foot you kind of expose your foot. So after the surgery I played a much safer game to protect my knee but then again I passed everyone because I had so much control. I learned how to use my bodyweight so much better and that's when my passing game and my pressure game got better and I started banning everyone's arms (laughs). I think 2016 was the year I won almost every fight by submission from an armbar.
Learning not to expose yourself so much must be an important lesson for your career in MMA?
You don't want to be exposed and really hurt, so I think that mindset kind of helped with that. The way I've used the jiujitsu (after an injury) is what I'm trying to apply to MMA because I like to use the pressure. I want to use my weight.
What do you love most about MMA?
I've been doing (BJJ) since I was 13 years old. It's been almost 20 years so there's not much change or excitement aside from learning. MMA is like something new to me every day. Every day I learn faster, so I see the difference after each workout [session]. MMA makes me feel like a white belt in a new sport. There's that fire to try something new.
In MMA you have to hit your opponent, unlike in BJJ where most of the time it's not allowed. How did you experience this transition?
When I got into MMA I was doing zero shots. I had some wrestling [experience] but now everything is like starting over.
How do you work on increasing the power of your shots?
Almeida: To be honest, the training that I like so much is the sparring. Of course, as a heavyweight, you have to be careful during the sparring sessions. I train with bagwork and pads, but what I really enjoy doing is putting on the gloves and doing a sparring session with another big guy like me.
Her old BJJ rival Gordon Ryan has reportedly signed with ONE Championship but has not yet fought. Would you be interested in fighting Ryan in an MMA setting if it was offered?
Yes. To be honest I don't even know if he still fights there but of course I would fight him for MMA and it would be a fun match because we both come from Jiujitsu backgrounds. But now I have more experience than him. I'm going into my fourth MMA fight and he doesn't have one so I don't think it would be the best debut for him but it would be a fun fight and of course I would fight him. I'm looking for higher level opponents who can put me in a better position to fight for the belt. That is the goal.
It's an exciting time to be a part of ONE Championship as the events are streamed to Amazon Prime Video. How do you feel about fighting Grischenko on this platform?
This is a big step for the ONE organization, for the athletes and a great opportunity, in my opinion [Amazon Prime Video] is one of the biggest platforms in the world and is therefore only going to get bigger, especially for US audiences. We can show how we see martial arts. We go out there and try to show our skills with a lot of respect. That's the spirit of the organization and one of the reasons I love ONE Championship so much.
I'm always confident when I step out there. i have the skills [Grishenko] is really hard. He'll be the first wrestler I fight. People think I'm not going to go out there and try to take him down, but I'm an MMA fighter now. I know I have to strike, I have to do everything and that's why I train so much. I know he's ready for me and I'm ready for him.
Marcus Almeida will fight Grishenko on the Main Card under Moraes vs. Johnson II live from Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26 from 10:00pm EDT via Amazon Prime Video 1. The Main Card begins at 8:00pm EDT. Visit www.onefc.com for more information.