David Rickels thinks he probably was at a buffet eating lo mein and crab rangoon when he got the call to fight lightweight champ Michael Chandler at Bellator 97. He knows he was 205 pounds.
Rickels isn’t big on living in the past or the future, but the present of that moment sticks in his memory.
“Initial shock factor was about a nine,” he told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio).
A winner in Bellator’s Season 8 lightweight tournament, Rickels (14-1 MMA, 8-1 BFC) stepped in for an injured Dave Jansen to meet Chandler (11-0 MMA, 8-0 BFC) on July 31 at Santa Ana Star Center in New Mexico. The title fight headlines the event’s main card on Spike following prelims on Spike.com.
Rickel’s shock wasn’t just that he would have to cut 50 pounds in a little more than a month to qualify for the bout, although that certainly wasn’t a pleasant thought. It was that he finally got the opportunity he’d been building for since staring MMA on a whim.
The 24-year-old lightweight, whose nickname is “Caveman,” is something of a goof when you talk to him, but he’s also serious about goals. When he started training, he made one to fight. Then he started fighting, and he made another to go pro. Then he went pro, and he targeted a contract with a major promotion.
Other than that, he’s kind of flying by the seat of his pants, which perhaps explains his binge on Asian cuisine and his joking manner.
“He’s got a pretty haircut; he slicks it over,” Rickels said when asked about Chandler. “He’s got a Dave and Buster’s sponsor. I would like some coins. I think that’s something where I could beat him up and maybe get some coins for Dave and Buster’s, so I can go to Kansas City and play some games. Because that’s what I’m all about.”
Whether his outlook translates into success against one of Bellator’s most successful and dominant fighters is something he’ll find out soon enough.
“I don’t look too far into the future,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. I guess 50 years from now, I’ll tell you if I had a good strategy. But I look at what’s next, and what’s right in front of me is a huge opportunity to take on Michael Chandler, to potentially end his streak, his onslaught, his massacre of the lightweight division, and I feel pretty good about myself.”
Rickels said he’s “probably the farthest thing from a grownup,” and doesn’t ever want to be one. Yet his life keeps marching toward adulthood. In training camp for Chandler, he found out that his longtime girlfriend was pregnant. He recently started looking for houses after socking away enough cash for a down payment. And he moved, temporarily, to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., where some of the most serious mixed martial artists on the planet train.
“I thought I’d spend all my money on booze and vacations, but I’m doing the responsible thing,” Rickels said. “I’m evolving.”
It’s something a “Caveman” should do, after all, however surprising it might be. And if he wins the title, things are bound to get even more serious. Already he’s noticed a different in the money he’s going to make from sponsors, having doubled the $2,000 he usually makes for fights. And he’s bound to get more backing from Bellator, which actively promotes its champions through appearances at events like this week’s Comic Con.
But he’s not thinking too much about that part of things right now. It’s time to focus on beating Chandler, who remains undefeated after 11 fights and recently defended his title with a second-round submission of former Olympic judo player Rick Hawn.
“Now, my goal is to take a championship,” Rickels said. “I like to push myself. More than just the money, (it’s) proving to myself (that) all these hard work and hours. It would mean a lot to me emotionally to pull off this type of victory (and) put myself on the stage I believe I belong as far as skill and talent goes.”
He’s rubbed shoulders with men on that type of stage at AKA, where fighters such as Josh Thomson, Jon Fitch and Tyson Griffin reside, so he can see what his future could look like. If he’s looking, which he’s not.
“Definitely, I feel like this is one of the biggest fights of my life,” Rickels said. “I’m just a little barbarian trying to slay a dragon.”
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