Between college wrestling and his four year mixed martial arts career, Ricardo Lamas has seen what a couple big wins can do to an athlete, and it’s not always good.
“I think in the sport there are definitely people who might think a little too highly of themselves, and that will force them to not train as hard or underestimate other people, and that could be their downfall,” said Lamas, unbeaten in two UFC fights in his new weight class of 145 pounds, finishes of Matt Grice and Cub Swanson. But not surprisingly, the poker-faced native of the Windy City of Chicago doesn’t seem to be going down that path.
“I feel the same, and I feel like I still have to go out there and prove myself just like every single fight,” said Lamas, 11-2. “I don’t feel like I’m a superstar or anything like that at all. I really just try to stay humble after every fight, no matter who I fight, because I think that’s a key to keeping yourself successful. When you start to think that you’re getting too big for something, that’s when you’re gonna mess up. So I just try and stay as humble as possible.”
Don’t mistake that humility for timidity though. When Lamas steps into the Octagon this Friday night in Atlantic City to face one of the top featherweight contenders in the world, Hatsu Hioki, he won’t feel like an interloper crashing the party. He knows he belongs.
“You definitely have to have that confidence and know that you can hang with anybody,” he said. “If you don’t, then you shouldn’t even be fighting at all. And I feel that I can give anybody a tough fight in the 145-pound weight class.”
He’s not exaggerating. A longtime lightweight standout in the WEC who went 4-2 in the organization with wins over the likes of Bart Palaszewski, James Krause, and Bendy Casimir, the 30-year old didn’t really find his place in the MMA world until dropping 10 pounds and moving to 145. Yet despite his first round TKO of Grice a year ago and his Submission of the Night finish of Swanson last November, Lamas’ path hasn’t been traveled without some roadblocks, most notably the passing of his grandmother just a week before the Swanson bout.
“It’s really hard to put that aside,” he said. “I didn’t realize how hard it was gonna be. She passed away one week exactly before my fight, and the services and everything were toward the end of the week, so I literally went from the funeral, hopped on a plane, and it was the day before weigh ins that I flew out to Anaheim. I think I was a little too emotional when I was fighting. I wasn’t as sharp, and I really felt that in the first round, and after that round I realized that and I was telling myself I gotta shake this off, and the second round I came out a little more sharp, a little faster. So it was definitely hard. I don’t like fighting in that state of mind.”
Not that things will get easier this time around, as Lamas will carry a heavy heart into the Hioki bout after the death of one of his uncles last month. But what separates the fighters who move forward to become champions and the also rans is the ability to not let life’s setbacks turn into competitive setbacks. That’s easier said than done, but Lamas has found a way to push through.
“I think that definitely comes into play,” he said. “The amount of stress you have in your normal life will definitely carry over and show when you’re competing in your fights. It will also affect your training. If you’re really stressed out, you might want to stay home one day and not go to the gym and not worry about anything. So I think stressors in your real life do affect you in your fight and in your training.”
One thing not on Lamas’ mind this week though is his seven month layoff due to injury. Originally scheduled to step in for the injured Erik Koch against Dustin Poirier at UFC 143 in February, Lamas wound up having to pull out himself, a frustrating prospect for the Chicago iron man.
“That was the first fight that I’ve ever had to pull out of and I really didn’t want to do it,” he said. “It was kind of a pride thing that I didn’t want to pull out, but it was for the best, and I needed to let myself heal up. I’ve had a long break before. My last fight in the WEC was in December, and then by the time I was called for my first UFC fight, it was in June. So it was the same, about six, almost seven months, so I don’t think I’m going to have any ring rust or anything like that. I’ve been training really hard and as soon as I got healed up, I was right back in the gym.”
And in Hioki, Lamas will be tested by one of the best in the game, a longtime international star who came to the UFC in 2011 and quickly posted wins over George Roop and Palaszewski. Expected to jump to the head of the line to face featherweight boss Jose Aldo, Hioki instead asked for another fight, and that fight is Lamas, who knows this is a golden opportunity, but isn’t about to look past it.
“If I were to look ahead, that would mean that I’m looking past Hioki, and I don’t want to do that for one second,” he said. “He is a very dangerous fighter, he’s a great fighter with a lot of experience, and I’m gonna give him the credit he deserves and I’m gonna stay one hundred percent focused on him and this fight.”
It’s the response you would expect from the seemingly one hundred percent serious Lamas, but as he reveals, what you see is not necessarily what you will always get from him.
“The person I am when I fight isn’t the person I am outside the cage or outside of training,” he said. “I’m actually a very easygoing, goofy person and everybody who knows me always says ‘man, if the rest of the world knew how you really are, they wouldn’t even believe it.’ (Laughs) A lot of guys say there’s a switch that changes when they’re training or going to fight, and that’s really how I am. I get into this really serious mood and attitude, and I’m not the person that I am outside with my friends and family.”
On Friday, that switch gets flipped.
“There’s nothing else I’d rather do. I don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle for eight hours a day,” he said. “I’d rather be busting my butt in the gym and working out every day. The feeling you get when you win a fight is the most gratifying feeling in the world. There’s nothing like it, and it becomes addictive and it becomes like a drug. The more you get it, the more you want it.”
Lamas Hopes to Feed His Winning Addiction Friday in AC
"I feel that I can give anybody a tough fight in the 145-pound weight class." - Ricardo Lamas