UFC lightweight Mike Ricci is done with people doubting his combat skills.
“The Martian” first made waves as a finalist in last year’s “The Ultimate Fighter 16″ welterweight tournament. Since then, he’s courted controversy by slamming the TUF experience as ultimately unpleasant for its participants. It’s a criticism Ricci (Twitter: @MikeyRicci) still stands by, and one he says doesn’t affect his fighting abilities.
“For me the problem with TUF was being away from home,” he told MMADiehards’ Punch Drunk Radio last Tuesday. “It had nothing to do with fighting or making weight.”
Now in its 17th season, TUF is the UFC’s reality TV series for recruiting and signing new fighters. Though Ricci revealed he’s grateful for the exposure, he said the star-making program too often focuses on trivialities rather than actual talent. The end result is entertainment first and elite athletics second.
“The Martian,” for example, found viewers were often distracted by his distinct hairstyle. Rather than watch his exploits in the cage, he said they’d discuss his fashion sense instead.
“I’d rather have people talking than not talking,” Ricci admitted. “But it’s been three years now since I first got this haircut. I’ve been fighting for a while now, and I’ve won fights – sometimes in devastating fashion – and lost others too. I’ve proved I’m a fighter regardless of my haircut.”
Ricci said such misplaced priorities are frustrating given that MMA is more competitive than ever before. The sport’s mainstream success is attracting more talent, he said, and it’s now a booming battlefield for new fighters.
“I think the challenge of competing on TUF is still high,” Ricci said. “The playing field is leveling out. Everybody’s getting good at everything. I think that’s why there’s a lot less finishes on the show now.”
“The Martian” confronted this phenomenon firsthand during the TUF 16 Finale last December. Facing off with Colton Smith, Ricci lost via unanimous decision. At day’s end, both men were too evenly matched for a decisive finish.
That meeting’s result ensured Ricci made his UFC debut in defeat. He’s now trying to bounce back with a victory over “Freakshow” Colin Fletcher at UFC 158 in March. It’s a tough challenge given Fletcher’s penchant for pre-fight mind games. “Freakshow” is notorious for wearing elaborate walkout costumes and insulting his foes.
“Some guys are good at getting into other guys’ heads and some guys aren’t,” Ricci said of Fletcher’s psychological warfare. “It’s not really my thing. Fletcher is actually a nice guy, though, and I’ve seen some of his interviews. He’s an intelligent dude, and he markets himself very well.”
Ricci said he’s convinced he has the tools for overcoming Fletcher’s antics. Even if he doesn’t, “The Martian” revealed one final weapon. A proud native of Montreal, Canada, Ricci’s fight with Fletcher will take place at his hometown’s Bell Centre.
“The crowds here are incredible,” Ricci said of the support he’ll receive at home. “Whether it’s boxing or MMA, the fight roots run real deep here. I went to a UFC event once in Toronto with 60,000 other people and it wasn’t as loud as the last time Georges St-Pierre fought in Montreal.”
Mark Hensch is an avid MMA fan who became interested in the sport through wrestling and karate. When not covering the hurt business, he writes about heavy metal for the Washington Times at his blog Heavy Metal Hensch in Washington D.C.