Jailton Almeida arrives at his second straight UFC main event looking to make a statement in Brazil.
“Malhadinho” has so far looked unstoppable inside the octagon, outstriking his five previous UFC opponents by a mark of 114-2 en route to finishes. Fresh off a first-round domination of Jairzinho Rozenstruik in May, Almeida on Saturday headlines UFC Sao Paulo against one-time title challenger Derrick Lewis, who steps on short notice for an injured Curtis Blaydes.
Almeida said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that “nothing has changed in preparation” for Lewis compared to his previous strategy, and he’s fully aware of the knockout power that “The Black Beast” possesses.
“Everybody knows that Derrick Lewis is extremely dangerous, and hair doesn’t grow anymore where his hand connects,” Almeida said. “The good thing about this matchup is that he’s a bit slower than Jairzinho and Curtis Blaydes, but his hands are dangerous. If his hand lands, we all know it’s fatal. But I believe in God and in my training, and we’ll be able to block that.”
Blaydes is the No. 4 heavyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings and represented a chance for Almeida to test himself against the elite of the UFC heavyweight division.
On the other hand, Lewis brings more eyeballs to Almeida’s second-ever UFC main event.
“Derrick Lewis has more than two million [Instagram] followers, he’s quite popular for the things he does, like taking off his shorts and all that,” said Almeida, the No. 6 heavyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings. “He’s fought for the belt twice, he’s known worldwide. Blaydes could be a great fight for me, beating him would make people see me differently, but I want to climb the stairs step by step. Things happened so fast for me, I’m a top-10 in less than two years. I don’t think any heavyweight was able to do that. But this is going to be a good fight for everybody. It’s going to be funny.”
Asked on what aspect of a fight with UFC’s knockout king is “funny,” a man who just dispatched Marcos Rogerio de Lima with a flying knee in 33 seconds, Almeida responded, “It’s a secret you’ll see Saturday [laughs]. It’s going to be good.”
“MMA is unpredictable,” Almeida continued. “There are fights he fakes he’s hurt, or what he did last time against [de Lima]. We have to stay alert. I don’t know how he’s coming this time. We’ll have to dance whichever music is playing, there’s no other way. When that cage closes we have to be smart all the time, watching his hands and trying to impose our game to win this fight.”
A win Saturday will boost Almeida’s UFC record to 6-0. But it might not be enough to grant him a shot at the belt, especially now that an interim title bout between Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall is set for the following week at UFC 295. With that in mind, Almeida aims at another top-ranked foe for 2024.
“The UFC gave me the No. 5 heavyweight [Blaydes], and with faith in God, I’ll get past Derrick Lewis, I won’t ask for the No. 5 again,” Almeida said. “I’ll ask for the No. 4, No. 3. I think Ciryl Gane and I would be a good fight, a man that once had the interim belt.”
Gane has only lost twice as a professional, coming up short in UFC title matches against Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou. But the French fighter rebounded recently with a flawless TKO victory over Serghei Spivac. His UFC record also includes wins over Junior dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alexander Volkov, Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa.
“After I saw his face-off with Jon Jones…I think Ciryl Gane respected Jon Jones too much,” Almeida said. “Man, if you don’t go there all-in against him… I know everybody in the fight world has Jon Jones as an inspiration — I mean inside the cage, not outside the cage —, and you won’t lose that respect when you fight an idol. I think he was too nervous and Jon Jones walked over him.
“You see the difference in the Spivac fight. Spivac couldn’t do anything to him. He came in different against Jon Jones, who ran over him like a truck and submitted him with a guillotine choke, something nobody expected.”
Watch Almeida’s UFC Sao Paulo media scrum below.