Thomas Almeida: The Forgotten Hope Of The Bantamweight Division
By James Lee
As Thomas Almeida is set to break a two-and-a-half-year hiatus this weekend, all the fighting community can do is wonder about what might have been for his career, but most importantly, where he goes from this point onwards.
It cannot be argued the global pandemic has had an instrumental impact on global sport, but for mixed martial arts and the UFC specifically, it could be said they are the only major sporting outlet to have benefited from it.
Crucially, viewership has never consistently been higher and as fighters such as Khamzat Chimaev have emerged from the unknown, it can be said that this current climate presents the perfect showcase for developing talent.
For Thomas Almeida, he has become the forgotten figure of the UFC’s bantamweight division and a chance to re-emerge back to his once standing is necessary.
After his scheduled contest last weekend with Alejandro Perez was cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test, it was accepted his opportunity to reclaim his bantamweight importance had gone. However, a short-notice replacement against Jonathan Martinez poses an opportunity to make a statement, much like those have had in the past months.
In looking back to 2015, Thomas Almeida was arguably the biggest prospect in the sport as a certain Irish fighter was turning the once widely proclaimed ‘bloodsport’ into a mainstream outlet.
It seemed that he would not only take over the historic South American fighting mantra, but establish himself as the figurehead of the bantamweight division promptly. However, as the 135 lbs division and those who occupy it are thriving like never before, Almeida is well away from that pact and has become the dreaded forgotten man.
For over a decade, the UFC’s bantamweight division and WEC prior had featured a roundabout of championship and contenders as the names of Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, Mike Brown, Renan Barao and TJ Dillashaw were deemed well ahead of the rest of those competing.
Because of that, the division could not quite attract the attention that those heavier weight classes could, despite amassing a similar level of skill, if not greater.
Though as we remember the bantamweight circuit of 2015, those who had simultaneously occupied the pinnacle for years were either coming to the end of their career or fan fatigue of repetitive matchmaking had made a new change of talent necessary.
That is exactly where Thomas Almeida fit in.
After an almost unmatched regional record of 16-0 with a 100% finish rate coming into the sport’s premier promotion, Almeida quickly replicated his prior success with wins over Tim Gorman and Yves Jabouin.
That though ultimately led him onto a main card spot in the biggest UFC event in history against veteran Brad Pickett. As the night was the coming-out party for Conor McGregor, Almeida similarly copied that mantra and delivered an iconic performance to open an iconic night.
The instant classic saw the tough Brit Brad Pickett eventually falter to a devastating flying knee of his counterpart, despite ensuring the Brazilian was forced to show his durability alongside his unpredictability.
Despite that, Almeida undoubtedly fit the rare mould the UFC are continuously searching for. As the smaller weight classes were excluded from earlier competition due to a perceived lack of excitement, the Brazilian condemned that claim entirely with knockouts and unorthodox technique being instrumental to his combat persona. Moreover, he was the modern prospect, being a young, exciting and risk-taking fighter, willing to compete within the promotion’s requirements without hesitation.
Consequently, Almeida continued to be pushed forward and found himself in a rare unbeaten vs unbeaten fight with the relatively unknown Cody Garbrandt. Few categorised Garbrandt as the favourite, yet the American dismantled Almeida in under three minutes and stole every single conviction of championship capability he had.
Sadly, Almeida has yet to bounce back and establish not least championship contender status, but anything alike. An impressive, but competitive win over Albert Morales afterwards was quickly interrupted by two back-by-losses to Jimmie Rivera and Rob Font.
Therefore, as we are now close to four years removed from his last victory, we are left wondering whether his success was over-thought of at the time. However, few can dispute how exciting he looked five years ago though as he administered one of the year’s best knockouts of the year.
Ultimately, success on Saturday and an increased level of activity afterwards is a must. The old cliché of now or never is truly prominent in his current situation, as a position of complete irrelevance lingers over the forgotten hope of the bantamweight division.
Though defeat will spell the end to his championship ambition, an impressive win could completely reignite his previous fighting notion and ensure he remains slightly amongst the bantamweight pact where he was once expected to be.