On Saturday, Almeida continued his dominant run through the UFC’s heavyweight division, taking a unanimous decision victory over Derrick Lewis in the main event of UFC Sao Paulo. The win was Almeida’s sixth straight since joining the UFC in 2022, and though it was the first time he failed to finish his opponent in the octagon, Almeida did put on a grappling clinic, sweeping the judges’ scorecards and even earning a few 10-8 rounds in the process, and outcome he’s pleased with.
“Overall, I’m pretty happy with the performance,” Almeida told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour through his translator. “Derrick is a tough opponent and if I didn’t get a finish it’s because of how good he is defensively. It was great to show the work that I made to fight five rounds at a high pace. I think that, for a heavyweight, is a big deal.”
Undefeated since entering the UFC off off the Contender Series, Almeida has already risen to No. 9 in the UFC’s heavyweight rankings, and was originally set to face No. 5-ranked Curtis Blaydes at UFC Sao Paulo until an injury forced Blaydes out of the matchup. Now with this win over Lewis, Almeida says he’s targeting bigger game than the lost Blaydes matchup, interim champion Ciryl Gane.
“Honestly, right now, I don’t see much of an advantage for me to fight against Blaydes, because Blaydes already lost to Lewis,” Almeida said. “He got knocked out by Lewis. I was able to beat Lewis the way that I did. Although Blaydes is going to push me a little bit higher in the rankings, I don’t think a big win against him will get me a title shot. Meanwhile, beating Gane well probably gets me a title shot. I think that’s the path that I want to take. We’ll see what the UFC has in mind, but right now, I think Blaydes is not as interesting as Gane, that’s for sure.”
Gane won an interim heavyweight title by beating Lewis at UFC 265 in 2021. He then lost his title unification bout against Francis Ngannou in 2022, and again fell short in his vacant title shot Jon Jones in March of this year, getting submitted in just over two minutes at UFC 285. Gane was able to rebound with a knockout win over Sergei Spivac in September and remains the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the UFC’s rankings. That’s a big step up in competition for a man who hasn’t even been in the UFC two years, but Almeida has even bigger dreams down the line.
“I only have two years in the organization, so things are going pretty fast,” Almeida said. “If I’m able to fight Gane next, I think by this time [next year], hopefully I’m going to be close to fighting for a title. If I beat him. Overall, my biggest dream is to fight Jon Jones. I’m a huge fan. The man is one of the best that ever was, and to be able to share the cage with him would be amazing. Hopefully, eventually, if I do get a title shot, I could eventually fight him. But right now, let’s focus one step at a time. I want Gane next, and let’s see what happens.”