UFC 302’s Jailton Almeida ‘sad’ he fumbled Tom Aspinall interim title shot with loss to Curtis Blaydes

Jailton Almeida can’t help but think of the what-ifs now that the UFC heavyweight title picture is taking form for the second half of 2024.

Almeida (19-3 MMA, 6-1 UFC) returns to the octagon UFC 302 on June 1 when he takes on Alexandr Romanov (17-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) in a main card bout at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (pay-per-view, ESPN2, ESPN+). The Brazilian will attempt to get back on track following his first octagon defeat, which came against Curtis Blaydes at UFC 299 in March.

With heavyweight champion Jon Jones recovering from injury and expected to return vs. Stipe Miocic on Nov. 9 in New York, interim champion Tom Aspinall has been booked to defend against Blaydes at UFC 304 on June 27 in Manchester, England.

That would’ve likely been Almeida’s spot had he beat Blaydes, and he admits it makes the result all the more painful.

“I felt a bit surprised and sad,” Almeida told MMA Junkie through an interpreter. “I definitely felt this was my great opportunity to fight against Aspinall. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Once I learned it wasn’t going to be against me, I knew I missed my chance. But I also know God’s timing is perfect, and I will have my chance in the future.”

Almeida’s disappointment is understandable. After starting his UFC tenure with seven straight wins and six finishes, he got a huge opportunity against a perennial contender in Blaydes. Almeida, 32, came out on fire, landing nine takedowns and controlling Blaydes for all but 21 seconds of the five-minute opening round, per UFC Stats.

Blaydes found an answer in the second round, though, because he stuffed Almeida’s first takedown attempt and then landed a slew of hammerfists for the knockout.

It was an important lesson for Almeida, he said, but one he thinks he’s now fully learned. That’s why, in his mind, what happened with Blaydes isn’t a true defeat.

“I don’t really consider it a loss, even though it’s a loss on paper,” Almeida said. “That’s what I think. I do believe I needed a better strategy. I felt I had a good fight. I was able to get in big hits, but I do believe my strategy in general had to change. A true champion needs to lose to be able to adapt and get better. I’m only taking this loss to be able to improve.

“I think I did a really good fight. I hit him a lot with a lot of lefts. The beginning of the fight was pretty much perfect, but right at the end, I felt like I was a bit more precipitated. I should’ve been more cautious. I was overexcited about the momentum. I felt I should’ve been more patient. I just went all-in, and I should waited more.”

Almeida, No. 10 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie heavyweight rankings, will have the chance to show his improvements against No. 14-ranked Romanov at UFC 304. Romanov has landed at least one takedown against six of his seven UFC opponents so far, and could be a threat to Almeida’s grappling.

The focus going into fight night isn’t much on the opponent, though. Almeida is determined to overcome his setback and get through Romanov to put himself back on track to get marquee opportunities in the division.

“After the loss I feel strong, I feel happy, I feel confident,” Almeida said. “I’ve really taken the time to understand my faults. So I feel stronger than ever. Especially after the Curtis vs. Aspinall fight was announced, this is serving as an extra motivation for me because I want to fight Aspinall in the future, and I also would like to come back and fight with Curtis once again. I’m looking for revenge, and I know the first step is to have a victory on June 1.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 302.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie