From Ashes of Bellator Loss Emerges a New, Improved Ricci
Prior to April 14, 2010, the man touted as “The Next GSP” had beaten Jordan Mein and was an undefeated favorite to win the Bellator Lightweight tournament. That all stopped after losing the biggest fight of his career to a Pat Curran right hand.
It was a tough lesson to learn and many wondered if Ricci would recover from his first loss. Rumours out of Tristar, his home gym, were that Ricci may head to school and call it quits.
“I just needed some time alone with my own thoughts,” states the Quebec Lightweight. “Before the Bellator fight, I was really exhausted. I would just get my practices over with. I was mentally fatigued. I needed to step away.”
Mike had been believing his own hype. Now, he needed time to reflect on the mental aspect of his game.
” I was talking about everything that didn’t matter before the Bellator fight. I was winning all my fights easily and not getting hurt. I started taking my career lightly. I thought I just had to show up in Bellator to win against Curran, but Curran was there fighting for his life. I had too much pride and a big ego in the cage. I thought I was untouchable. I went into Bellator with the worst attitude.”
Honest words from the Montreal fighter who took some humbling lessons from the devastating KO – lessons that have not only resulted in improved MMA technique, but lessons that have sharpened Ricci mentally and emotionally.
“I grew as a fighter in a lot of ways. If I didn’t lose against Curran, I never would have become a champion ever!,” he says emphatically. “That loss made me realize that MMA is not a game. You can get hurt. You need to be mentally strong, emotionally strong in MMA. Realizing I can be hurt is what changed me as a fighter. Now, I am not as relaxed as a fighter in the cage. Now, I am more to the point. I was fighting not to lose in my first five fights. You need to leave your emotions at the door in MMA. It is a monster and will eat you up fast. You need to check your ego and emotions at the door. You will be successful if you work hard and do that. I was doing bare minimum to win, but now I fight to win.”
Mike’s friends and fans held their breath while watching Ringside 10. How would the Tristar fight rebound against a tough Jesse Ronson? Would his self-imposed, year long absence from the sport improve his game or make him rusty? Was the Curran loss the beginning of the end of a once promising career and would Ronson finish it altogether?
Ricci put those worries to rest and impressed everyone with his return with a vengeance. Ricci dominated Ronson and quickly mounted his opponent and sliced his way to victory to improve his record to 6-1.
“Ronson was a striker. I wanted to stop it as fast as possible. I could have stayed so defensive with Ronson. I took Mein down every round and held him there. My offense before was just defense defense defense. Now, I am fighting to win. I showed everyone that I am way better than when I fought in Bellator. I showed everybody that i don’t belong at Ringside, but I realize that I have to pay my dues. My year off created a lot of doubt in my ability and I have prove myself.”
Next up for Canada’s seventh ranked Lightweight is a fight with Kurt Southern, a match-up that Ricci previously pulled out of in order to fight for Bellator. Ricci believes he has the advantage in every technique over his Saskatchewan opponent who is known for his solid MMA wrestling.
“I think me and Southern are definitely going to wrestle. My wrestling is on par with the best in the world and I train with Team Canada – guys who went to the Beijing Olympics, three time national champion wrestlers. Kurt Southern will not be able to out wrestle me.”
As for striking, Ricci has that as well.
“I will put him on his back and he will not get up. Then he will have to stand. He is a wild puncher and I know he will start looping his punches and start getting crazy and desperate. The fight with Southern will end in the second.”
Ricci is not bragging or being cocky when he talks. He is focused. He is putting in the time at the gym. He believes in his trainer, Firas Zahabi, and his Tristar teammates. He sees the results of his efforts and he is confident that his game is all coming together. With a new focus and work ethic combined with his natural athletic ability, there is little doubt that Ricci is the favorite to win the Lightweight title at Ringside 12 on October 21.
It appears that the hard lesson has been learned and Ricci emerged as a better fighter. Yet the embarrassment of the KO still lingers and Ricci issues this warning.
“My objective now is to make a lot of people pay for the way I lost. I am not looking ahead to UFC, I am looking for payback. A lot of people are going to pay for what happened to me.”
As for Curran – the two time Bellator tournament champion? Ricci hopes to be the one doling out lessons if there ever is a rematch.
“I think about standing in front of Pat Curran again so many times. I think before my career is over that me and Pat Curran will fight each other again. He will see its not the same outcome. That is what I look forward to the most.”
***All photos by Mike Fischl