July 6, 2016

UFC 200: International Fight Week Kicks Off A Big July For Team Ricardo Almeida

By Raphael Garcia

“Iron sharpens iron” is a phrase that is found in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. The basic understanding of that verse is that a person with knowledge strengthens and is strengthened by another individual with his or her own knowledge. With that definition in mind, the men and women that gather in Ricardo Almeida’s gym in New Jersey are some of the sharpest athletes in mixed martial arts. And as International Fight Week begins, now is the time for the rest of the sport to learn what they, their fans, and many opponents already know.

Sherdog.com recently posted a Top Ten list of the best teams in MMA, and groups such as American Kickboxing Academy and Nova Uniao were featured on the list. One group that was clearly missing, however, is the team led by former UFC contender Almeida and highly sought-after Coach Mark Henry. This duo has built a strong team around them that has quietly put itself in a position to make 2016 a year of reckoning for the rest of the sport.

The unofficial leader of the core is Frankie Edgar. The former UFC Lightweight Champion is due to face Jose Aldo for the interim featherweight title at UFC 200. Since their first matchup in 2013, Edgar has gone through a career resurgence of sorts, as he’s put forth arguably his best performances to date. Not only is he riding a five-fight win streak, but he’s stopped three of those men and pushed his way into the number-one contender’s slot for the 145-pound title.

A victory for Edgar on Saturday cements him in a place of history as only the third fighter to win titles in two different divisions. Quite the resume for an athlete that fans called “boring” or “fluke champion” back in 2010.

Two days before Edgar steps into the Octagon, his teammate, Eddie Alvarez, has a shot at making history in his own way. Alvarez faces Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night 90 for the lightweight title. A victory for Alvarez would make him the first fighter to hold titles in both the UFC and Bellator MMA. Even though his UFC run got off to a rough start against Donald Cerrone at UFC 178, he’s been able to pull out key wins against Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.

MMA Oddsbreaker lists Alvarez as a +275 underdog, but this isn’t a fight to count him out of entirely. Dos Anjos has shown a “weakness” of sorts against men who can actively push for takedowns while mixing in strikes. In looking at his five defeats since joining the UFC, four of those came against men who were considered “wrestle-first” fighters. Alvarez has shown that he’s most effective when he’s able to score multiple takedowns, which will be a key part of the strategy for Thursday’s main event.

The roster for Team Almeida doesn’t stop there. Top-10-ranked lightweight Edson Barboza is fighting Gilbert Melendez on July 23, and he’s a name that shouldn’t be forgotten within the deepest division in the sport. Undefeated women’s bantamweight standout Katlyn Chookagain is making her promotional debut against Lauren Murphy at UFC Fight Night 91 on July 13. Corey Anderson is coming off of a loss, but he is still a relevant member of the UFC’s light heavyweight division. And Frankie Perez and Jonavin Webb will soon be returning to active competition after time away from the sport.

Between those fighters and Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, Tom DeBlass, Nick Catone, and Dante Rivera, the list of athletes affiliated with this team in the Northeast is staggering. All the while, they’ve flown quietly under the radar. But once International Fight Week and the month of July is over, keeping this team off of Top Ten lists might be quite difficult to do.


UFC Fight Night 90: Dos Anjos vs. Alvarez takes place on July 7, 2016 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC Fight Night 90 will be.

UFC 200: Tate vs. Nunes (formerly UFC 200: Cormier vs. Jones 2, UFC 200: Lesnar vs. Hunt) takes place on July 9, 2016 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 200 will be.

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