SALEM, N.H. — Rodrigo Almeida’s long-awaited return to the cage was successful in Combat Zone March Madness on Friday night, but he had to shake off some ring rust and calm a case of nerves before dispensing with Christian Rivera in the first round.
“I had the butterflies and I have never felt that way before a fight,” said Rivera, a Woburn resident representing Team Intenze in Lawrence, after he forced Rivera to tap out at 2:06 of the first round of their 165-pound match in the Sports Club at Rockingham Park. “I definitely felt some ring rust, too.”
Almeida, who is nicknamed The Young Lion and is a rising MMA star, improved his pro record to 9-2-0 in his first fight in 18 months after being sidelined by a broken ankle that required surgical reconstruction and extended rehabilitation. While he said that his old injury presented no problems, the drama surrounding his fight did.
His originally scheduled opponent, Josh Parker, scratched the night before due to an ear infection and Rivera, of Fishermen’s Den in Gloucester, was a last minute replacement on fight day.
“I didn’t get any sleep at all because I had trained so hard for so long to come back and then I didn’t have a fight,” said Almeida. “I prayed all night for this fight, and my prayers were answered.”
With Alemida the superior fighter in all aspects, the outcome of the match was never in doubt. The only surprise was that it lasted as long as it did before Rivera was dropped to 5-14-0.
“My boxing trainers did a lot of work with me. I wish I could have used my more of my stand-up game,” Almeida said. “But it feels great to be back, and to get the win. I feel so good I’m going to fight again next week, and I’ll go anywhere my manger gets me a fight.”