thomas-almeida.jpgAt just 21 years old, undefeated Brazilian bantamweight prospect Thomas Almeida has his sights set on a UFC bid. And with five years of combat-sports experience already under his belt, “Thominhas” looks well on his way.

“I started training muay Thai only at 13 years old,” Almeida told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) in his native Portuguese. “Around 16, I started competing, and I haven’t stopped since.

“I’ve often competed in tournaments, since that’s so common in muay Thai. I would fight two or three times in one evening. I’ve been doing that since I was 16. Then, in early 2011, I had my first professional MMA fight. Ever since then I’ve only fought MMA.”

Almeida’s story isn’t unlike many Brazilian youth. With a passionate fanbase for combat sports, Brazilians kids are often drawn to MMA, jiu-jitsu or muay Thai. But while de Almeida’s parents supported his training, they never expected him to be an active competitor.

“They always voiced opposition to it,” Almeida said. “My father would pay my monthly dues because he’s always been involved in sports. But he was never in favor of me participating in combat competitions.

“As time went by, my family realized it was something I loved, to which I showed dedication, something that kept me from distractions. Now they give me their full support. They certainly didn’t like it at first, but now they’re my biggest fans.”

Almeida’s success probably has something to do with his parents’ support. In 10 professional fights, he has yet to fight into the second round, finishing every one of his opponents in the opening round.

The sport’s growing popularity in Brazil also means there’s not such a stigma associated with its competitors like existed in times past.

“The rules have improved since the early days,” Almeida said. “Now MMA is less shocking to the casual viewer. Old PRIDE bouts, with head stomps and piledrivers, that was a bit shocking. With today’s rules, the sport is more ‘professional.’ It’s truly a sport now.

“People see MMA with different eyes now. The Unified Rules were a great improvement. That even helped my family understand MMA, though, as I said, they primarily changed their minds after they understood my passion and dedication.”

Almeida currently lives in Sao Paulo and splits his training time between Diego Lima’s Chute Boxe and Jorge Patino‘s ‘Macaco’ Gold Team. He dropped out of college to pursue his passion, and while he hopes to return for his degree sometime in the future, a shot in the octagon is his current focus.

“Ever since I was a child I enjoyed this,” Almeida said. “I wake up early and feel happy to be able to train. I would very much like to finish college. I do not enjoy leaving things undone. But my greater dream is to make a living from fighting, make it to the UFC and be a top-ranked fighter. I would love to accomplish both, but fighting takes priority now.

“I have this dream. I don’t know why I have this dream. But to achieve excellence, a championship belt, to be one of the top fighters in the world, that keeps me going – to be the best.”

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