David Rickels has been a bit of a dark horse in his Bellator career, despite being one of the promotion's flashier and more interesting fighters. He's already fought for the lightweight title once, against Michael Chandler, back at Bellator 97 in July of 2013. The fight didn't go well for him. And neither did his second crack at Bellator's lightweight elite shortly afterward, when he lost early and hard to Patricky Freire. But, those two losses, as bad as they felt, have apparently been a major positive force in pushing Rickels' career forward.
They caused him to reevaluate his methods, his training, his nutrition, his lifestyle. And when he did that, he found a lot wrong. Since his loss to Freire in early 2014, he's turned things around, and the results seem to be showing. He looked sharper than ever in his last fight, showing a smoother, more confident style, and dominating straight out of the gate. At least, he was right up until a terrible foul...
"Dude, what the hell happened?" Rickels exclaimed, when asked exactly that. "A ghost took hold of my body and made me do that, that's what I've got. Something happened, I'm not sure. But, what really happened is, I just got a little crazy, man. The crazy thing was, everything slowed down. I went to almost pull the knee. I tried to drop it to the floor, but it hit right on his head and I knew instantly. What matters to me was the performance before hand. It was a very bittersweet thing, getting the no contest, but that was one of the best training camps I've ever had and the best mindsets I've ever had going into a fight. To go in there and dominantly beat a guy like Alessio felt really good.
"I think that especially in a sport like combat sports and fighting, your body is reacting. A lot of times you're simply going off reaction. And that's... Unfortunately, my mind wasn't quite stable at that point, I didn't really think about what I was doing. I went to throw the knee and I suddenly realized he was down and tried to stop it but it was too late."
And that's all understandable. It's something fans and analysts have seen other fighters do countless times before. A fighter sees the opening and they pull the trigger. The results... well hindsight exists for a reason. And, unfortunately for him, it's not the first time that Rickels has had found himself dealing with the consequences.
"Yeah, it's happened to me a few times," Rickels admitted. "I just get a little carried away sometimes. I don't know... I see opportunities and I react. I've had, even as an amateur I threw some elbows one time. And I've just had a lot of things similar to that happen, unfortunately. But it's always that 'Ooh, shit! Oops, I just screwed up,' kinda thing. I've never had any ill will or vendetta against somebody, trying to hurt them."
Still, with the bad news behind him, Rickels has taken the opportunity to fall upwards into a bigger and better fight, a rematch of a bout he lost, and a black mark he'd like to erase from his record.
"Yeah, I'd be lying if I said I never thought about it," Rickels said of his loss to Chandler. "But that is honestly... I see that fighter, that fighter that walked into that cage that night I can't even relate to. I don't even know how that person made it as far as I did. I really don't, because I thought I was training hard, I thought I was doing a lot of things right, but I wasn't. There was so much wrong with what I was doing and I was a very flawed human being, not only just a fighter. So, I think a lot of that translated to my confidence and how I felt about myself and this and that.
"When I lost to Chandler, you said... You're basically implying, why didn't I change after Chandler, right? So, why didn't I change is because I was goddamn stubborn, so stubborn. And stubbornness is something that runs in my blood and I refused to believe that it was anything that I was doing wrong that made me lose that fight. And I summed it up to 'That chump just got a lucky punch on me.' And when I lost to Patricky in similar fashion I went, 'Dayum, boy was I wrong. There's just something I'm not doing right. I've got to go back to the drawing board and change it all.' And that's what I've done."
As for what he's seen of Chandler since then, The Caveman thinks he's found a few weaknesses in the former Bellator champ's game that he can tailor his style to take advantage of.
"What I really believe is that there's a lot of things that I'm really good at," Rickels responded when asked about Chandler's weaknesses, "as far as kickboxing, Muay Thai, elbows, that he doesn't even really use too much. I've got my strengths, he's got a good solid boxing base and then really good wrestling. So, I've just adapted a lot of what I do to effectively fit in with how he's going to come at me. He's a very forward pressure fighter, who likes to press a high pace. Well, I like to press a high pace and I don't like to go backwards too much, so there's a lot, stylistically, I've had to think about going into this fight and I feel that me and my coaches have come up with a great game plan."
He also admitted that he's been watching Chandlers' loss to Will Brooks, a lot.
"I've got that fight on repeat, that's the only one I watch. I think that tells a lot about where he's been these last few fights. So, that's what I've been watching and it's great to have that kind of film to see those fighters in those bad situations."
And hopefully for him, this time around he can make all of his increased work and dedication to the sport pay off. And just maybe wipe away one of the less fortunate moments in his MMA career so far.
"I've got countless hours put in," said Rickels proclaimed. "Man, I've given this my all, I really have. I've put in as much effort as I feel that I could have put in for this fight. I've trained harder than ever, man. My conditioning is insane. It's insane, man. I don't think anybody at 155 is more conditioned than me. And I'm saying that as a bold statement, I really do believe it. I think that that's going to be something huge in this fight. I think that... Riding on this? What's riding on this is the best movie in the world, which is the caveman movie. The Caveman 2.0: Documentary of Greatness, where I redeem both of my losses and then become a world champion."
David Rickels takes on Michael Chandler on the main card of Bellator 145: Vengeance on Friday, November 6th, in St. Louis, Missouri. And just to be sure everything goes well, he'll be packing both his club and his backup club, "Solid wood, straight from the neolithic period."
You can follow Rickels on Twitter @TheCaveman316.