‘100%, it’s possible’
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida sits surrounded by friends and family. Home in his native Brazil, the legendary BJJ competitor is far removed from his emphatic first-round TKO victory against Simon Carsen at ONE Championship 158 in Kallang, Singapore. Reclining in his chair during an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow, he gave insights into his latest fight, his thoughts on the recent IBJJF Worlds and possibly returning to BJJ for more matches. “I definitely want to go again,” he said.
First entering the ONE Championship cage in 2021, Buchecha traded in his long-worn gi for four ounce gloves. Exiting BJJ with two ADCC titles and a remarkable 13 IBJJF titles, taking his talents to Singapore was an easy decision. “My mission in jiu-jitsu is done,” the 32-year-old said. “‘Mission Accomplished’ is how I view my career in the gi.”
Of the professional MMA organizations to join, ONE Championship fit the most with his outlook on martial arts, and competition as a whole. “ONE Championship is my home. I’m so happy and glad to be a part of this organization,” Buchecha explained. “When I met Chatri [Sityodtong] and learned how ONE works, It fit for me perfectly. It’s not about the show business part, it’s about being a true martial artist. That’s what I am.”
Two wins, 10 months and many scrapped bouts later, the Brazilian found a third opponent and a fellow black belt in Carsen. “To be honest, the fights kept changing. First it was a wrestler, then they changed it to a striker, then a wrestler again,” Buchecha said of his changing opponents. “I know I have to be ready for any situation.
He certainly lived up to that idea. An explosive takedown early in round one brought the match into his realm, letting him showcase dominant top control combined with his newfound striking against the Australian journeyman. Finishing Carsen inside three minutes, Buchecha collected the first of a hopeful many TKO finishes in his new sport. Despite his opponent’s grappling pedigree, the Checkmat grappler made no change to his established fight camp.
“I don’t really train thinking about one opponent, because in the end, my strategy will be the same. Get the fight to the ground,” he said. Despite exiting all three of his matches practically unscathed, a lack of willing opponents has left Buchecha at a slight plateau. “I want to fight two more times this year. But opponents have been hard to find, so I hope they find some people for me to fight,” he added. “I don’t care about who.”
As he awaits his next bout, Buchecha took time to enjoy the 2022 IBJJF World Championships earlier this month. Like Larry Bird catching a Celtics game, the former champion watched old rivals and new challengers face off in the gi from the comfort of his couch.
“I watched the whole tournament. There were some crazy fights!” he enthused.“I think I’ll watch jiu-jitsu my whole life. I’m not a competitor any more, but I’ll be a spectator forever.”
The event saw several standout showings from BJJ’s best and brightest. Buchecha caught all of the matches over the two-day tournament, and gave special mention to the fights he enjoyed the most. “I saw Tainan [Dalpra] win the medium, I like watching this kid fight. And seeing Mica [Galvao] and Tye Ruotolo compete, and Thailson [Soares] win the roosterweight.”
Commenting on any regrets in his new place on the sidelines, Buchecha expressed no love lost. “I was busy preparing for my third MMA fight, so there was no regret. I was feeling good,” he said.
But there was one event Buchecha wished he could have caught live. “I only wished I could be there to see my good friend Leandro Lo win his eighth world title,” he admitted. “That was the only thing I missed.”
Lo, a longtime rival and occasional training partner to Buchecha, took home his eighth title from the 2022 worlds in a dominant showing against top shelf medium-heavyweights. “I knew he would win. I was nervous, but I knew he would win.” Buchecha said. “He was my rival for a long time, him and Rodolfo [Viera ]were the biggest rivals of my career. But I don’t see him like a rival, he’s my friend and my brother. I was so happy to see him win one more world title in his career,” he added. “For me, he’s the best pound-for-pound in the gi.”
From his start in professional BJJ to his end, Buchecha has seen dozens of new grappling promotions rise and fall. With more money being made available to competitors in different organizations, many athletes now place a bigger focus away from IBJJF competition, and away from the gi as well. In response, the IBJJF instituted new rules for 2022 that strip prize money from teammates who closeout tournaments instead of competing. Despite famously gifting an injured Lo the open weight title in 2018, Buchecha views the new rule as a positive.
“I think the gi will always be popular, but the IBJJF needs to change the rules because it’s so boring to watch,” Buchecha said. “I think the gi will never die, but they need to watch out and change the rules as soon as possible. They did a really good job fixing when teammates fight each other. I did a lot of closeouts, so I can’t judge people. I don’t mind fighting Leandro, and I know he doesn’t mind fighting me. But why are we fighting for people to watch? If there’s a good prize and we can make money, then we’ll fight. I don’t blame people that don’t want to fight their teammates, but if there’s money involved, you should fight.”
Retiring from grappling in 2020, the sport has yet to fill the void Buchecha left in his wake. But we may be seeing him put on the rashguard for a match under the ONE banner. Working to expand it’s submission grappling presence, ONE Championship has featured grappling matches with BJJ royalty like Garry Tonon, the Ruotolo brothers, Mikey Musumeci and more. Easily overqualified for any matchup, Buchecha expressed a desire to take a bout after some more MMA matches.
“It’s not in my future right now, but yea, one hundred percent it’s possible. I may want a title in MMA and another in jiu-jitsu.” he said. “To be honest, I’ve been training a lot in the gi this week! My grips are not the same, but I train in the gi as much as possible.”
But, whether we see Buchecha face off in the gi again, or he rides out his career with punches and kicks, he has no intention to stop competing any time soon.
“I feel just like a white belt, so there’s a lot to go yet. But until I’m 40 years old, I’ll be fighting. I’m taking better care of my body, my head and my financial situation is better too so I can worry just about training. It’s different when you have to hustle, train and work. A lot of people have asked when I’ll retire. But if I retire, then I’ll have to work! I don’t feel like I’m working right now.”