On Nov. 8, 2002, Chute Boxe was born. Well, with all due respect to the founders of Chute Boxe Academy, it was founded in 1978. However, Nov. 8, 2002 was the day that Mauricio “Shogun” Rua made his MMA debut and destroyed a man named Rafael Freitas. In doing so, he officially joined Wanderlei Silva as the engine behind one of the most violent runs ever seen in MMA history.
The full run lasted from August 2000, when Wanderlei Silva knocked out Guy Mezger at Pride 10, to pretty much the end of the Priden era in 2007. In that time, Silva knocked out 13 men, and so did Rua. And it was murderer’s row that was getting murdered: the aforementioned Mezger, Kazushi Sakuraba, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ricardo Arona and Alistair Overeem. They both fought them all, and if one didn’t get them, the other did. It wasn’t just that they won, either. It was how they fought. Silva and Shogun used everything at their disposal to finish fighters and wouldn’t rest until they made it happen. They had power in both hands, a vicious clinch game and kicks to the head, body and even downed opponents (which was legal according to Pride rules).
That was then. Thomas Almeida is now.
Almeida is stating his case to be included amongst the gods of Chute Boxe. His resume is filled with finishes, and he’s been finishing from the very beginning. Just like Shogun. Almeida fought 12 men before a fight went past the first round and 17 before he went the distance. The first fight he had that went to the cards was in the UFC, and it was a “Fight of the Night” winner against Tim Gorman.
Almeida was 23 at the time of his victory over Gorman. When Shogun was 23, he stomped out Hiromitsu Kanehara and then, later in the year, went on to defeat Rampage, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and the aforementioned Overeem and Arona all on the way to being crowned the winner of the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, which may be the greatest tournament in mixed martial arts history. Silva hit his stride a little later. At 23, he was recovering still from getting blasted by Vitor Belfort at UFC Brazil and was working his way through the International Vale Tudo Championship (IVC), picked up a win in the UFC and taking part in his first fights in the Pride ring. He was still about a year or so from the epic run he would go on where he was viewed as the pound-for-pound best and the most vicious fighter in the world. He wasn’t yet the “Axe Murderer” in full bloom, but he was getting there.
The point of this history lesson is not necessarily to stack Almeida up against these guys (despite how it may sound). Silva and Rua have resumes that few can match. Plus, the landscape was different back then. When fighters were young, they were fed to the lions. Those who survived and flourished became legends, particularly in Pride. The irony in fact of the name Pride is that when it was rolling, it was full of young lions, all looking to be the dominant one. The comparison here with those legends is more to understand what comparable things Almeida has done to see if he is the man fit to carry on the storied tradition of violence from Chute Boxe. So far, he seems up to the challenge.
Every time along the way that the degree of difficulty has increased, Almeida has risen to the occasion, just like his iron-fisted predecessors. In Almeida’s first fight outside of Brazil, which took place at Legacy Fighting Championship 15 in Houston, he delivered a first-round knockout. It might not seem like a big deal, but not everyone’s skills “travel.” There is a long list of fighters who only fight well in their home country. Don’t even get Chael Sonnen started on the Asian fighters, outside of Yushin Okami, who couldn’t make it happen in the United States despite massive success in Asia (see: Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto). He fought and won six more fights, including one additional bout under the Legacy banner, before taking part in his first title fight, which took place at MMA Super Heroes 3. Almeida won the belt. It went four rounds, but Almeida found an opening and finished Vinicius Zani. His very next fight was for the Legacy bantamweight belt. This time he took his opponent, Caio Machado, out with a punch to the body in the first round to claim the title. It was enough to prompt the UFC to come calling.
One thing that is common of all of Almeida’s fights so far in the UFC is that they have all made his pockets fatter. Almeida has received a performance bonus in each of his four fights inside the Octagon. He has scored a decision win, a TKO victory and two knockouts.
More importantly, each fight has shown a different challenge for Almeida to overcome, and he has always come through. His first fight with Gorman showed that Almeida could go the distance in the highest promotion and put on a good performance. His fight with Yves Jabouin, which resulted in a TKO victory and a “Performance of the Night” bonus, showed that Almeida could handle some adversity and still get the finish. The fight with Brad Pickett, where Almeida connected with a flying knee for the knockout, showed that the Brazilian could beat a name who has seen it all and been in there with the best in the world. Not only did Almeida beat Pickett, but he finished him in the first with a highlight-reel knockout.
This brings us to last weekend. Almeida’s fight was with Anthony Birchak, who may not be the prospect that Almeida is, but Birchak did knock out Joe Soto, who went into the fifth round with champion T.J. Dillashaw before he was finished. Now, that’s MMA math and it can’t always be trusted, but the larger issue was the pressure. The pre-fight build for Almeida was the first where big things were expected of him on such a high level. These are things that mean a lot, but don’t always get mentioned, like UFC broadcast analyst Joe Rogan talking about Almeida in the intro, Almeida’s status as the favorite in the fight, his home-field edge, and the fact that while the division has depth, there aren’t a lot of dynamic young fighters (Raphael Assuncao and Aljamain Sterling may be as good as Almeida, but it would be hard to make the argument that they are as exciting). Almeida took all that pressure — pressure he had never faced before — and channeled it all and put it right on Birchak’s chin. Almeida knocked him out cold, just like Shogun did to Arona and Silva did to Sakuraba.
There are some MMA fans, the purists, who watch the present fights always with an eye to the past. These fans are always looking to see if the next thing will be as great as the best thing they have ever seen. What Shogun and Silva did in their time at Chute Boxe may never be seen again, but if there is anyone who seems able and willing to carry on the great and storied Chute Boxe name, that man is Thomas Almeida.