For Thomas Almeida, The Sky’s the Limit

For a card with eight finishes, the final four of which were all knockouts, this past weekend’s Fight Night event sure felt slow. With commercials before and after every fight, along with ad breaks between rounds, this event felt tailor-made for DVR appointment viewing.

Fans on the east coast had to stay up past midnight to catch a glimpse of Dan Henderson’s second knockout loss to Vitor Belfort, while the Irish faithful had to call it quits around 4am.

Lost somewhere in the middle of it all was a 24-year-old with the potential for greatness.

Thomas Almeida picked up his 16th knockout win on Saturday night, improving his professional record to a perfect 20-0. He also pocketed a cool $50,000 Performance of the Night check for his trouble, his fourth consecutive bonus in the UFC.

Using footwork and combinations, the young Brazilian made quick work of a very game Anthony Birchak, eventually finishing him with a straight right late in the first round that dropped Birchak like all the potato sacks in the world.

For those in the know, it was expected. Only once in his career has Almeida gone the full fifteen minutes, and that was more than a year ago. He fights hard, technically, and fast.

Afterwards Almeida celebrated the win, but he did so with the calm of a man who expected the result long before the opening bell. He knows he can knock these guys out, and his confidence builds with every violent explosion he unleashes on his opponents.

Now, at 4-0 in the UFC, fans and pundits alike are clamoring for bigger name competition for Almeida. Of his 20 victims, only three have Wikipedia pages (a completely unofficial metric for quality of opponents faced), and none have been ranked in the top ten.

However, the slow burn approach might be best for Almeida. Not even 25 yet, a few more winnable fights would give the Brazilian more Octagon experience, while simultaneously allowing fans to get to know the fighter better.

Low-hanging fruit can only be harvested for so long, though, before critics start to complain about “easy” fights. The UFC’s angle with Paige Van Zant has been criticized for the same reason; fans can only sit through so much before they start to feel like the company is protecting its potential stars from an embarrassing loss.

And Thomas Almeida has “potential star” written all over him. He’s handsome, he’s learning English, he commands a massive fan following out of his native Brazil, and, most importantly, he knocks dudes out cold. Imagining him holding the bantamweight belt gets guys like Dana White salivating.

We have to be careful, though. This isn’t uncharted territory; MMA has a bad habit of building stars up only to dismiss them after their inevitable first UFC loss.

The true litmus test of any burgeoning star is the “wrestler question”. If Almeida can get past a Raphael Assuncao or Urijah Faber with the same relative ease he’s managed thus far, then it will be time to start clamoring for a title fight against whoever’s holding the belt.

The danger, of course, in giving Almeida a fight against a tough vet like Faber or Assuncao is the chance he could lose. As fans, we should almost prepare ourselves for an Almeida loss, if only to temper our disappointment afterwards. Losing is a fact of life in MMA, and few, if any, manage to escape with their perfect record intact.

In the meantime, though, let’s just sit back and enjoy the artistic violence that Almeida embodies; it’s not every day we get to see a talent such as his in its prime.

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