For Brazilian jiu-jitsu superstar Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida, his switch from being a grappling superstar to mixed martial arts prospect isn't about the money. It's about reigniting the dwindling embers in a competitive fire that made him a 13-time BJJ world champion.
For some combat athletes, there is a serious financial upside in switching sports and pursuing a career in MMA. For Almeida, 31, his change in sports isn't about the zeroes on his new ONE Championship contract. He lives a comfortable life and could continue that trend as he dominates his way to a fourteenth or fifteenth BJJ world title. However, that doesn't really motivate the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club gold medalist at this point. But the challenge of a new sport, and having to start from the bottom up, has certainly awakened his championship competitiveness
MMA has awakened the athlete beast in Marcus Buchecha
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"I can't complain about my life, of course, but the reason I'm going [into MMA] is not because of money. I'm comfortable, but it's something bigger. I'm a 13-time world champion. I broke records. I did something that nobodies ever done in this sport, so I don't have the same fire, the same desire to go after the fourteenth and fifteenth titles," Almeida told MixedMartialArts.com. "I can go there [and] maybe I win, maybe I lose but [it 's not] going to change anything in my life at this point. So I don't have the same motivation. I want to test myself in MMA. That's the biggest challenge for me. I think a real fighter needs to test himself in every scenario. I test myself with the Gi, no-Gi, now MMA."
The Brazilian's decision to become a professional prizefighter actually dates back six years, well before he became one of the biggest names in his industry. In 2015, he had designs on taking his talents to cage fighting, but an injury derailed those plans. Once healthy and back on the mats, he saw a building momentum and instead went back to raising his status in the grappling world. Several world titles later and his plans to fight were completely on the back burner.
That is until a former coach invited him to come train at ONE Championship's Evolve MMA gym in 2020. During his visit, he was impressed with how the organization treated the talent there, and a conversation with ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong awakened the MMA bug in his mind. Negotiations quickly ensued, and all of a sudden "Buchecha" found himself branded an MMA fighter and competing for the organization he was most interested in.
"ONE was always the organization I really wanted to fight [for] because my first instructor teaches [at Evolve], and I had the opportunity to go to Evolve and train there a little bit. That's where, and when I met Chatri, the CEO of ONE Championship. And the way that they treat their athletes was something so different than any other organization. After that, I spoke with my manager [about signing with ONE], he thought that was a great idea too and we made it happen fast," says Almeida.
Fighter treatment and mutual friends were certainly key in the talented grappler joining ONE Championship. However, the organization's strategy to promote its brand based on traditional tenets of martial arts like respect, and honor appealed to Almeida. It's a stark contrast to the UFC's brand strategy of building fights around dislike and hate, something Almeida wants nothing to do with.
"Trash talking, beef on the internet; I'm a martial artist and that's how ONE treats me. I'm not like a guy that talks crap, talks sh*t about somebody to get better fights. No, I don't care about that," he says. "I just want to go there, do my job, and that's it. I respect my opponent. I always did in jiu-jitsu, grappling, and MMA will be the same thing. ... I don't need to go there and disrespect anyone just to get followers and likes on Instagram. And that's something I don't like jiu-jitsu has become too. I just like to be out of the drama."
"Buchecha" signed with ONE Championship in July of 2020, and was set to make his promotional debut in February of this year. However, a knee injury curtailed those plans. Then two different opponents were booked for April, but both matchups never came to fruition. Although three different bouts falling through has been frustrating, Almeida admits getting 14 months of preparation, instead of seven or nine, has been beneficial in the lead up to his September 24 debut at ONE: Revolution.
"I can feel I'm a completely different person. I'm enjoying the process [and] the game even more now. Everything happens for a reason," Almeida said.
However, that doesn't mean MMA has come easy for the superstar grappler. When your training at a world-class gym like American Top Team, and against an all-star group of sparring partners, even the most gifted combat talents are going to have a rough day.
"Some days were really hard. [In] sparring you can't [input] your gameplan during training. So, it's not frustrating, but you see there's a lot to improve on. I never [became] the kind of guy that cries after you get beat up," Almeida said with a laugh. "It is what it is. I'm improving. Every day I feel I'm getting better. Some days you feel more tired than the other days, but at the end of the day, I'm training with high-level guys from UFC, [and] Bellator. My coaches are being phenomenal with me."
Almeida is currently bunking up with 2021 PFL light heavyweight finalist Antonio Carlos, Jr. and views to ATT wrestling coach Steve Mocco and former Strikeforce 205-pound champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal as key influences in his daily growth as a fighter. Matched with his considerable grappling acumen, he seems on the right path to at least early success in his new combat venture. However, he is humble about his chances at ONE: Revolution, and facing Norwegian giant Thomas Narmo and his 83-inch reach.
"Everyone has two arms and two legs, so it's going to be hard. It doesn't matter who it's going to be in front of me, it's going to be a challenge," Almedia says. "He's tall but we have one guy here that's even taller than [Narmo]. So it's been good to use to the distance and the body [type]. For sure it's something different, but that's not going to be something that I've never seen."