Cote: Career Best Needed to Beat Almeida

By Jack Encarnacao Jul 1, 2008
Patrick Cote (Pictures) doesn't know where he was the night of Nov. 11, 2006. He knows where he wasn't: in the cage, calculating a way to counter the predictable submission attack of Travis Lutter (Pictures).

"I wasn't there at all," Cote said. "Mentally, I wasn't there at all. My game plan was the worst game plan that I've ever had in my life."

It was not the best time to come into a fight unprepared. That nationally televised bout, in which Lutter armbarred Cote in roughly two minutes, was all that stood between him and a shot at the UFC middleweight title.

Mark DellaGrotte stood across the cage that night, somewhat conflicted. The muay Thai expert had worked with both Lutter and Cote as a coach on the reality show, and Lutter had hired DellaGrotte to work his corner. But he had developed a close friendship with Cote during filming, and it wasn't fun to watch his friend crack.

"I don't think Patrick was ready for that fight," DellaGrotte said. "He's been with me ever since."

Shortly after the loss, Cote, 28, left his Montreal camp for training stints at DellaGrotte's Sityodtong gym in Massachusetts. He found something that's helped him win four straight, most recently toppling solid contenders like Kendall Grove (Pictures) and Drew McFedries. On Saturday at UFC 86, he takes on Ricardo Almeida (Pictures), the Renzo Gracie (Pictures) black belt who returned in February after a four-year layoff by guillotining Rob Yundt (Pictures) a minute into the first round.

"I respect this guy a lot. I respect his skills, and that's why I did this kind of training camp," Cote said. "The fight can't be tougher than the training camp I had. I can't wait to fight this guy. This is the biggest challenge of my career. Victory will taste better after that."

In this next fight, Cote has a chance to absolve himself of what happened against Lutter. Not only will he be able to prove that submissions are not his glaring vulnerability, he is also looking at similar stakes. The winner of this fight looks to be in line for a shot at Anderson Silva, the middleweight titleholder who kicked off his campaign of dispatching challengers by beating Lutter in the match he locked in by winning "The Ultimate Fighter 4."

One thing will be different this time: Cote won't be thinking about the title shot.

"I knew the winner [of the Lutter fight] was supposed to fight Silva for the belt, and I was thinking too far ahead and that was a big, big, big mistake," Cote said. "Right now, I take one fight at a time. I have somebody in front of me, I have to beat him. … I'm a puncher, so I have a chance against everybody. The biggest difference between me and Anderson Silva, it's to knock me out he'll need 10 straight punches in my face, and I just need one. That's the biggest difference between him and me. We'll see if this happens one day. I'll give him a good fight for sure. I really think that my fight against Almeida will be tougher than if I had to fight the champ one day."

The fight against Almeida will be the latest crossroads in a topsy-turvy career for Cote, an only child who was raised mostly by his mother in Sherbrooke, a university town about two hours from Montreal. Cote isn't close to his father, whom he didn't live with past age 4.

"I had a very, very happy time when I was young," Cote said. "I don't fight because I'm angry against my father or something like that. I'm normal, and I don't have any anger against anybody."

He took up judo as a youngster and, at 19, moved to Quebec City to join the army. During his six months of service as an infantryman, which took him as far as Bosnia, Cote began boxing. He studied computer science in college but never graduated. The allure of the bar scene was too great for the babyfaced Canadian, who was partial to partying.

"I was a bartender and I did two years of deejaying too," he said. "It was everything: pop, dance. At this time it was 98 or 99, so the dancing thing was very strong at this time. It was the ‘What is Love?' and ‘The Sound of Magic' all night long."

"The Predator" was not Cote's first nickname. His DJ persona was "DJedi."

"Like the Jedi in ‘Star Wars,'" Cote explained with a chuckle.

When he started taking fights in the Canadian amateur ranks, Cote said he was anything but serious about MMA. But it was enough to shake any nerves before his first pro fight, a rear-naked choke victory in 2002. He won his next four, a streak that earned him a look by the UFC. He was booked against Marvin Eastman (Pictures) at UFC 50 in 2004, a card that was to be headlined by the latest chapter in a longstanding feud between light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and Guy Mezger (Pictures).

"I was the first fight in the prelim card, and seven days before the fight Guy Mezger had a stroke and they asked me if I wanted to fight Tito Ortiz," Cote said. "It was a perfect situation for me. It was good exposure, good money, and I had nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose, it's easy to fight."

In only his sixth professional fight, Cote went from opening match to headlining a UFC pay-per-view against the sport's biggest star. He took Ortiz to a decision.

"It was the best scenario ever for me," Cote said. "I wanted to win, but at this time a win wasn't a good thing for me. Losing like that was the perfect thing to happen. I wasn't at that caliber at that time. Imagine I knocked Tito Ortiz out in the first round. After that, who would the UFC give me? Chuck Liddell (Pictures), Vitor Belfort (Pictures) and Randy Couture (Pictures) were on the same level at this time. Me, I was the little chubby Canadian one weight class over, and I wasn't supposed to be there. I made my name with this loss."

Since then, Cote's career has been a campaign of trying to shed a reputation as an underachiever. He lost his next two UFC fights and faltered in the middleweight finale of TUF 4, though he was the favorite to win.

"Everybody knew that I was better than my UFC record," Cote said. "Everybody knew that and nobody wanted to fight me, even if I was 0-4 in the UFC. Right now, I think that all the bad luck I was supposed to have in my career, I've already fought back from."

There was one more snafu. Cote faced fellow TUF 4 cast member Scott Smith at UFC 67, the same show where Lutter got his shot at Silva. Cote, leery of Smith's recent "Hail Mary" knockout of an aggressive Pete Sell (Pictures), hesitated to follow up when he had Smith hurt. Unlike in the Ortiz fight, simply winning was at the forefront of Cote's mind, and he was panned for letting the fight drag. Even though he won, the UFC insisted he prove his hunger again on a smaller circuit. He went to the TKO promotion in Canada and beat Jason Day (Pictures) in the first round, and came back to the Octagon to knock out TUF 3 champion Kendall Grove in impressive fashion. It appeared the performance was finally starting to match the promise.

So what changed? Cote has been training with Canadian national wrestling team member David Zilberman, boxing with a world champion and working MMA with good friend Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) and the Canadian arm of the Brazilian Top Team. He flew back from Boston two weeks ago after a stint with DellaGrotte.

"Had it been like the time when he faced Travis Lutter, if it was the same Patrick Cote, it would have been a lot more difficult of a fight," DellaGrotte said of the Ricardo Almeida match. "But it's a new Patrick Cote. He's not the same striker, he's not the same grappler. His overall game and his ringsmanship and his awareness and his confidence have all skyrocketed. I think Patrick Cote knows what's on the line."

With the UFC making inroads into Canada, Cote -- who on French language commentary for UFC 83 in Montreal said he cheered "like a crazy guy" when St. Pierre defeated Matt Serra (Pictures) -- may have his biggest, and last, chance to breakthrough Saturday.

"This is the biggest fight of my career," Cote said. "I have to be light on my toes, a lot of sprawl and brawl and be aggressive and take the center of the Octagon and fight like I never fought in my life. I have to give the best performance of my life to beat this guy. And that's my plan."
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