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Should a DWCS alum like Ricky Simon really feel like a UFC newcomer tonight?

On the official ledger, Ricky Simon is making his UFC debut tonight, but is that entirely accurate?

With just a few weeks’ notice, Simon (12-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) replaced Augusto Mendes (6-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC), who was pulled from the card due to a potential doping violation, and now fights bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili (7-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 128.

The preliminary-card bout, which airs on FS1 from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., marks Simon’s first trip to the UFC octagon – of sorts. After all, the 25-year-old LFA vet also picked up a win on a 2017 Dana White’s Contender Series card. The UFC Fight Pass-streamed cards aren’t official UFC bouts, but they do give prospects a taste of what it’s like to compete on MMA’s biggest stage – and with the eyes of UFC officials upon them.

Simon, though, isn’t putting too much weight into his DWCS experience.

“I don’t feel like I’ve officially performed for the UFC,” Simon recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “I feel like it was a little branch off (of the UFC).

“But I feel like this (fight tonight) is finally the real deal.”

Simon picked up a split-decision win over Donavon Frelow at Dana White’s Contender Series 6, and he then headed to LFA, where he picked up a signature career win over UFC vet Chico Camus (decision) and a victory over Vinicius Zani (knockout) – both in AXS TV-televised headliners.

Although just eight months have passed since DWCS 6, Simon said he’s improved – though he think he was ready for the UFC even before the two LFA main events. In fact, it put a bit of a chip on his shoulder that his eventual UFC deal had to wait.

“I got the experience of going five rounds with a UFC vet, and then I got a quick knockout finish too,” Simon said. “The more experience the better, so I can’t complain about that.

“But I wish – you always wish (a UFC signing) would happen sooner.”

As for Dvalishvili, Simon sees a tough opponent but one with some flaws – namely, an eagerness to go for takedowns and little else. He said that was especially noticeable in Dvalishvili’s recent split-decision loss to Frankie Saenz in his December promotional debut.

“He’s strong, but he’s spastic at the same time,” Simon said. ” … I’m excited to go against another strong grappler. I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of strikers, so I’m excited for this guy to try to take me down.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 128, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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