That was a reflection of Almeida’s performance in that domination position. Although the Brazilian phenom appeared to be in perfect position to pound out a finish, Lewis survived until the final bell on Saturday in Brazil.
“It was a tough fight,” Almeida said via translator on the UFC Sao Paulo post-fight show. “I was surprised that he never backed down. Derrick fought all the way. Although he fought last minute, he really put on a good fight. But I managed to fight a good fight.
“I was happy with my performance, even though I didn’t knock him out, I’m ready for any fights. I’m ready to fight five rounds for any opponent.”
Almeida’s colleagues were considerably less happy with his performance, bemoaning a lack of action over 25 minutes. When post-fight bonuses were dealt out, the main event wasn’t honored, and feedback online from fans pointed to a lackluster showing.
Almeida said he certainly intended to finish Lewis, the reigning UFC knockout king and the biggest name of his octagon career. It wasn’t that easy in practice,.
“The strategy was to control him on grappling,” he said. ‘But he’s very strong, and his hand is twice as big as mine. My forearm is quite thin, and he was able to grab ahold my forearm and really control the blows that I was trying to give out.”
Even with that, Almeida pointed to his ability to put the big man on his back on several occasions throughout the fight. No matter how much Lewis resisted a trip to the canvas, he always wound up there.
“I was surprised by my strength,” Almeida said. “Although Derrick Lewis was much heavier than me, I was able to throw him down and control. So I’m very happy with that.”
Whether the UFC brass will share Almeida’s enthusiasm remains an open question. This week, Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich face off for the interim title at UFC 295, a booking that came together after champ Jon Jones injured himself preparing to headline the event against ex-champ Stipe Miocic.
Almeida may have gone 25 minutes, but he said he’d be open to serving as a backup in case something happened to either challenger on Saturday in New York. Given the last-second dropouts at UFC Sao Paulo, his stance doesn’t seem like a bad bet.
“I’m going to ask [UFC CEO] Dana [White], give me a pair of tickets for me and my wife so we can go to New York,” Almeida said. “But yeah, I want to sit front row. I do want to watch the fight. Who knows, maybe I can be on reserve if they need me.”
Below is Almeida’s full interview.