When the name “Renzo Gracie” is spoken, it resonates gameness—the innate burn to fight anyone at anytime. That’s why when Renzo’s first black belt, Ricardo Almeida, walked away from mixed martial arts as one of the world’s best middleweights at 24 years old, the fight world was shocked a natural fighter like Almeida could trade in fighting for anything.
Almeida’s “Big Dog” nickname says it all—the kid on the block who grew into a humble but fierce competitor. The two-time ADCC silver medalist got his feet wet on the sport’s biggest stages, starting at PRIDE 12 in 2000 and moving to the UFC immediately afterward. Almeida fought at 205 pounds because his regular weight of 185 pounds didn’t have a weight division yet. He went on to win eight of his first 10 bouts.
With a second child on the way, the lifelong martial artist hung up his gloves in 2004 to be a father, husband, and teacher to 400 students at his BJJ academy in Hamilton, New Jersey. However, the Harlem-born fighter kept his competitive pulse alive. He trained with the Gracie Barra Combat Team alongside Renzo and Roger Gracie. The gi was back, but so were the MMA gloves. Almeida never regretted walking away, but the thrill of competition was too strong to ignore.
The Big Dog no longer wanted to watch the sport pass him by on television after 2005’s Bonnar-Griffin boom. In fact, he couldn’t watch the sport on TV—he’d order UFC pay-per-views and turn away with love sickness. Almeida asserts it wasn’t about seeing if he could catch up and still compete—it was about evolving.
Almeida returned to the Octagon for UFC 81 in February 2008 to face Rob Yundt. The third degree black belt had a dream showing, forcing Yundt to tap via guillotine choke in 68 seconds. Six years removed from the Octagon and four years away from the ring, Almeida proved he still had the skills.
The impressive submission prompted contender speculation for Almeida, while hardcore fans said “told you so.” Those who weren’t familiar with Almeida sought out his infamous bout with Nate Marquardt in 2003, which Almeida won via guillotine to seize the King of Pancrase Middleweight Championship. The signature victory was overshadowed by post-fight controversy as Almeida held the choke too long, causing Marquardt to swipe at Almeida. Renzo retaliated by kicking Marquardt in the face for crossing his student.
Excitement surrounding the avid surfer crashed on the rocks after an underwhelming split decision loss to Patrick Cote in July 2008. However, Almeida quietly rebounded with two wins over Matt Horwich and Kendall Grove. The Big Dog decided to drop to 170 pounds to face Matt Brown at UFC 111 on March 27, where expectations are rising like the waves he surfs. Now, Almeida is smaller, but as they say: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”