When Saul Almeida looks at his upcoming opponent, Manny Bermudez, he sees a younger version of himself, a confident, borderline cocky, up-and-comer with an aura of invincibility due to his early success.
Almeida (18-7, 1 KO), the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist who fights and trains out of Framingham, Mass., also won his first seven pro fights, just like the 22-year-old Bermudez (7-0, 1 KO) has done since turning pro last summer.
The parallels are striking; Almeida was 21 at the time, undefeated and untested, until he stepped into the cage with wiry, 33-year-old vet Pete Jeffrey on the undercard of CES MMA's inaugural event in 2010. It was a humbling experience for Almeida, who got submitted via guillotine choke in the third and final round for the first loss of his pro career.
Almeida is now 27 as he enters his 26th pro fight next Friday at Memorial Hall in Plymouth, Mass., on the main card of "CES MMA 39," but he's arguably more experienced now than Jeffrey was when they faced one another six years ago. Will history repeat itself Nov. 4th? Will the young, brash Bermudez get humbled by the cagey veteran Almeida?
"Why not?" Almeida said. "If he's feeling like he's the next big thing, he better be ready for that train to fall soon. He's not going to go undefeated his whole life."
The Almeida-Bermudez fight, one of the more compelling bouts on the "CES MMA 39" main card, is one of seven fights airing live on AXS TV's AXS TV Fights telecast, which begins at 9 p.m. ET and is promoted by CES MMA in association with Cage Titans FC.
Almeida returns to the CES MMA cage for the first time in more than two years, but for the ninth time in his pro career. The lanky, 6-foot-3 featherweight, nicknamed "The Spider," is one of the region's most polarizing fighters; though seemingly soft-spoken and well-liked by his peers, Almeida has drawn the ire of others in the northeast for his frustrating method of overwhelming opponents, a simple, yet effective, style in which he relies more on his ground game than his striking.
Often categorized as "lay and pray," Almeida's approach unnerves his opponents to the point where they attempt to take his head off before he even has a chance to get them to the ground, but it typically backfires. Almeida is adept at drawing his opponents into his web -- perhaps explaining the nickname -- while controlling the pace of the fight on his terms.
History notwithstanding, "The Spider" suggests his style is more than just "lay and pray" -- "I like to get in a fight," he says -- which is why he's even tried his hand at pro boxing eight times and has gone the distance in seven of those fights.
Regardless, Almeida remains the one guy everyone wants to fight. Why? Almeida says it could be a number of things, including his relationship with Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) Interim Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, who's become one of his top training partners. Almeida tagged along on Aldo's world tour in advance of his title bout against Conor McGregor at UFC 194 and even served as his translator with the media.
"These guys all want to fight me for some reason. I guess if they fight me they get a little more attention because I've fought everywhere," says Almeida, a veteran of Bellator and the World Series of Fighting (WSOF).
"They don't like me for the stuff I do. Even if I lose, I still win, so they hate on that. They don't want to see people doing well. They think, 'I'm fighting Jose Aldo's training partner,' so they want to get a little bit of the shine. It is what it is. I'm here. I'll fight anyone if it makes sense."
The bout makes perfect sense for both sides, especially since the high-flying Bermudez is coming off a win over one of Almeida's other training partners, Rodrigo Almeida, in August. A post-fight scuffle in the cage between Bermudez and Almeida's cornerman, Bruno Dias -- a "misunderstanding," according to both parties -- has set the stage for what could be the most memorable bout on the "CES MMA 39" main card.
Bermudez has finished six of his seven opponents, all in the first round, and isn't worried about Almeida's experience playing a factor once the bell rings next Friday.
"All this talk about experience, the pace he puts up isn't a fighting pace," said the Abington, Mass., native. "It's a sparring pace and it'll work against him.
"I'll give it to him, he's trained with Aldo, who's one of the best in the world, and he's fought everyone -- [Calvin] Kattar, [Matt] Bessette, [Chris] Foster, a lot of really good guys locally -- but I'm just not a fan of how he fights. That's my biggest gripe. He's doesn't have any punching power, no finishing ability. He's just a grinder."
Thankful for the lessons he's learned from traveling with Aldo, "The Spider" considers himself a more well-rounded fighter and remains unfazed by Bermudez's record and bravado.
"Just getting to train with him and stay with him for a while, seeing the mentality of a UFC champion -- how they train, how they think, the lifestyle -- has helped me a lot," Almeida said. "In Brazil, it's like a jungle. Sparring is pretty much like a fight, so I'll be ready."
The opposing styles make for an interesting dynamic. The outcome will likely hinge on whichever fighter can impose his will. Almeida is a veteran of network television, but this will be just the second fight for Bermudez on AXS TV. He exceled in his TV debut at "CES MMA 32," submitting Evan Parker in 1 minute, 43 seconds via rear-naked choke.
"After I fought for CES, I had a ton of people who wanted to friend me on Facebook and talk to me about the fight," Bermudez said. "A lot more people know me now than before. It's kind of crazy."
His popularity will continue to skyrocket if he can avoid falling into the same trap Almeida fell into six years ago and score another big win against an established veteran.
"I feel like he thinks he's going to grab onto me and I'm going to freak and gas myself out and then he'll out-point me," Bermudez said. "That can't be your game plan. Clearly, it's been working for him, but I just don't think it'll play out that way against me."
Added Almeida: "He really hasn't been in a tough fight yet. It's just going to be me against him in the middle of the cage."
Tickets for "CES MMA 39" are priced at $45.00, $55.00, $75.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.cagetix.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
"CES MMA 39" features eight action-packed bouts, including the main event showdown between East Bridgewater, Mass., middleweight Chuck O'Neil (17-8, 6 KOs) and Lawrence, Mass., vet Wilfredo Santiago (6-3, 5 KOs).
Also on the main card, Quincy, Mass., light heavyweight Mike Rodriguez (5-1, 3 KOs) returns following an impressive network television debut at "CES MMA 38" in September to face New Hampshire's Kevin Haley (5-3, 2 KOs) and Cage Titans vet Peter Barrett (6-0, 5 KOs) of Abington puts his unbeaten record on the line in a featherweight bout against Clearwater, Fla., native Jeremy Davis (3-0, 1 KO), also undefeated.
In the flyweight division, Milford, Mass., vet Remo Cardarelli (6-4) faces Josh Ricci (2-0) of Whitesville, N.Y., and Stoughton, Mass., bantamweight Max Barrett (3-0, 2 KOs) returns to face Matt Almy (2-1) of Binghamton, N.Y., both on the main card.
Sandwich, Mass., welterweight Bobby Flynn (6-3, 1 KO), fresh off his win over Kevin Horowitz at "CES MMA 36," battles unbeaten Crofton, Md., native Micah Terrill (6-0, 5 KOs) on the main card while Connor Barry (1-0) of Holbrook, Mass., faces lightweight Anthony Giachina (1-0) of Selden, N.Y., on the preliminary card.
Visit www.cesmma.com, www.twitter.com/cesmma or www.facebook.com/cesmma for more information, follow CES MMA on Instagram at @CESMMA and use the hashtag #CES39 to join the conversation.