David “Caveman” Rickels posed a difficult-enough challenge for J.J. Ambrose without the fans who gave Rickels an even heavier advantage.
Rickels, a native of Derby competing for Bellator Fighting Championships at Kansas Star Arena, just a few miles from his hometown, probably didn’t need all of the energy provided by his enthusiastic supporters because he completely overmatched Ambrose.
But Rickels fed off it anyway, turning in a dominating showing in a 155-pound lightweight victory that helped him move on from being knocked out in 44 seconds by Michael Chandler in July.
Rickels won via TKO when his relentless kidney punches forced the referee to stop the bout 2 minutes, 37 seconds into the five-minute third round. Rickels won each of the two previous rounds. His win came in the midst of chants of “Caveman” and “Fear the Beard” from fans known as Caveheads.
Never miss a local story.
“I couldn’t have had a better fight in my hometown,” Rickels said. “I’m just happy I put on a great show in front of the crowd.”
Rickels’ Kansas roots was a heavy theme during the event televised by Spike TV, even though his fight didn’t earn main-event status. Backstage interviews with Rickels aired on screens at the arena and on television, where Rickels dropped an uncensored expletive.
Also aired in the arena, which was hosting a mixed martial arts card for the first time, was a video that included footage of Rickels outside his home and that played up his “Caveman” nickname that showed him riding in a motorized version of the “Flintstones” car.
That vehicle was also Rickels’ ride to the ring for an entrance that electrified the audience. Rickels said Thursday that he personally sold about 400 tickets to the event, but it seemed that all of the approximately 3,500 in attendance were on his side.
Rickels took a victory lap through the crowd before returning to the cage to be announced as the winner. Many fans left before the final two fights.
“I’m the type of fighter that thrives off of energy,” Rickels said. “My quirky antics, coming out with the ‘Cavemobile’ and everything, I just love that energy and it really pushed me through the fight.”
Rickels, wearing green and black trunks to represent the colors of Derby High, started the fight with an energy Ambrose couldn’t match and seemed on the verge of winning several times.
Ambrose’s unlikely survival into the third gave Rickels a chance to display his well-rounded skills. His best asset Friday was probably a left hand with which he consistently connected in jab and roundhouse fashion. Rickels also connected with kicks and elbows and tried to finish Ambrose with a triangle choke before settling for body punches that Ambrose could not defend.
“I got to use a lot of my skills tonight,” said Rickels, whose training rituals include eating full jars of peanut butter and burning them off with late-night, spontaneous running. “I’m really proud to show that, because not a lot of people got to see how hard I’ve been training, especially in the last fight – 40 seconds isn’t too long of a fight.
“To show off my skills and show how good I really am, and really go out there and dominate it felt great, and it builds my confidence in myself.”
The 24-year-old Rickels was the second-youngest fighter on Friday’s main card as he improved his record to 15-2 and got his fourth KO. Rickels is a fast-rising star in Bellator, an organization that hopes to duplicate his ascension.
Bellator is the only major MMA organization that hasn’t been bought out by Ultimate Fighting Championships, but the group is far from becoming a threat to UFC. Bellator’s first pay-per-view event is headlined next month by former UFC legends Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz.
Rickels is one of a group of well-known Bellator fighters that includes Ben Askren and Pat Curran.
“I started with Bellator when they were still on MTV2,” Rickels said. “They treat me well and I put on great fights for them, just like I did tonight. It’s a great trade, and I’m just happy to be with an organization that actually cares for their fighters.”