Humility probably isn’t the best emotion for a man who makes his living on toughness, but after losing his last mixed martial arts fight, Derby native and Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight David “Caveman” Rickels had no choice.
That’s because Rickels didn’t just lose, he was knocked out in 44 seconds by Michael Chandler in July, sending the likely future title contender toward the back of the line.
Rickels, who fights J.J. Ambrose on Friday night at Mulvane’s Kansas Star Arena in a bout televised by Spike TV, said the humbling experience changed his mental approach toward fights, creating a new reality since his only previous defeat came by split decision.
“The best fighters are very confident in their own skills, and they’re not really above the person they’re fighting,” said Rickels, who carries a 14-2 professional record and weighed in Friday at 155.7 pounds. “The way that I felt going into that fight, I might have been a little overconfident and possibly I needed to be a little humble.”
Two best-case scenarios emerged from that fight, however. The first was Rickels’ availability to compete again after less than three months, a relatively short waiting period in a sport with the brutality of mixed martial arts.
To cement that availability, the promoters for Bellator enticed Rickels with a fight near his hometown and the opportunity to compete in front of family and friends. Friday’s contest will likely include a boisterous cheering section that Rickels helped gather.
Rickels’ fight Friday is on a card headlined by a featherweight tournament semifinal match between Fabricio Guerrerio and Patricio Pitbull.
“Everyone is really excited for this fight,” Rickels said. “It gets me excited; it boosted me through training. I hand-to-hand sold over 300 (tickets) and online I think I sold another 100, so I’m going to have at least 400 people cheering for me. I’m expecting even more than that. It’s going to be exhilarating to say the least. Electric might be a better word.”
Fighting just a few miles from his hometown presents Rickels with a unique pressure that he is trying to block out.
“One of the things I’m very good at is, when the moment comes, I’m really good at turning everything right into fight mode,” Rickels said. “I always do my crazy entrances and get real hyped right before the fight, but once I get into the fight I do a really good job of calming down and doing what I have to do.”
Essentially starting over in his division doesn’t make Rickels’ fights any easier. Ambrose, nicknamed “Superman.” competed to make the UFC recruiting television program “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2010, though he lost in the entry to keep him from appearing on TV.
Unlike Rickels, Ambrose is well-rested, having last fought a no-contest in February. Prior to that, he won nine of 10 fights, including one stretch of five straight first-round victories. His specialty is the rear-naked choke, which he has used to win six bouts on his way to a 19-4 record.
Rickels is also schooled in submission fighting, but he’ll look to overcome Ambrose with a stand-up approach best described as organized chaos. Rickels could also have the advantage in a longer bout, as six of his fights have gone the distance.
“That’s something I’m great at, actually,” Rickels said. “Most of my fights, other than the last one – something I’m really good at is wearing guys down into the second and third round. That’s where I really shine and am able to put guys away and outshine them.”
Rickels refuses to let that last fight define him.
“Everyone becomes a Caveman fan because of the style of fights I put on,” Rickels said. “You know that when you watch me I’m going to try to hurt the other guy. I push the action and try to make things happen. I just want to do that on my own terms and win the fight, not just go out there and be happy with an exciting fight.
“I really want to win, and win in a dominating fashion.”