There are probably a dozen easier ways to pursue your first UFC victory than facing a knockout artist like Thiago “Marreta” Santos in Brazil. But Eric Spicely has never done things the easy way, so when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva called him up with the bout, the New England middleweight had only one response.
Sign him up. And no, he didn’t do anything to get Silva angry at him.
“I don’t think I did, at all,” Spicely laughs. “If anything, I think they’re trying to give me an opportunity here to fight Thiago. It’s definitely a tough fight, it’s even tougher that it’s in Brazil. But I’m going to fight.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise, given Spicely’s journey to this point, and while he’s heard it a million times how this fight has him in a “do or die” situation when it comes to his place on the UFC roster - especially after he lost his debut to Sam Alvey in July - the TUF 23 alum isn’t letting that pressure get to him. Instead, he’s focusing on the positives that will come from an upset on Saturday.
“I feel like my back’s against the wall, and it’s definitely make or break,” he said. “But that’s the kind of pressure I needed and wanted. I had a great training camp, I feel like he is beatable and I can beat him, and I just need to go out and have a great, exciting fight. So I don’t really have that pressure in the back of my head like, ‘This is a must win, I can’t lose.’ I just need to have the best fight possible, and it’s a win-win situation. He’s ranked 15th in the world and he’s an absolute killer. And if I can go in there and have a great fight and if I can win, that’s obviously great. But if I can perform and have a great fight against someone who is very highly ranked, that does a lot more good than it does bad.”
RELATED CONTENT: Eric Spicely fighter bio | Matchup w/ Thiago Santos | Free Fight - Watch Spicely's fight to get into the TUF 23 house
The 29-year-old Spicely is due for a performance like that, even though this will be his sixth fight since October of 2015. Three of those took place in the space of six weeks while on The Ultimate Fighter, and he admits that by the time he got to the Alvey fight, he was running on fumes.
“I got a little burned out and tired,” he said. “It was pretty much back-to-back training, and then on the show you fight three times in six weeks.”
Enter Firas Zahabi and the team at the Tristar Gym in Montreal, who took Spicely in and brought something back to him that he was missing.
“I went to Tristar and it reignited my love for MMA and for training,” Spicely said. “I feel like I got stale a little bit.”
It can happen, and though a fighter can keep making that walk for the paycheck, Spicely was never that guy, whether in MMA or in his previous gig as a professional wrestler. It’s always been about doing something he loves, and he’s followed that passion. Along the way, he’s noticed the similarities between both endeavors.
“On the indie (pro wrestling) scene, you’re not making a lot of money, you’re wrestling three times in a weekend, and you’re traveling very long distances, often to just cover travel expenses,” he said. “And it’s the same thing with coming up on the local (MMA) scene. If you’re not a big ticket seller, you’re not making much money. For my first pro fight, I made $500 and $500, and to pay taxes, coaches and everything after that, it’s tough. And just like in pro wrestling, you’ve got to have a job that will allow you to take time out to train, take time out to travel, to go to different places. So I worked part-time when I was preparing to fight MMA, and it was tough because you need all the time you can to focus on getting better. And it’s even harder when you get to the UFC because these are the best guys in the world, and you’ve got to be able to train as much as possible.”
So when The Ultimate Fighter came calling, Spicely put wrestling on the backburner. It’s a choice he’s fine with.
“The thing with pro wrestling is it’s something you can always go back to,” he said. “You can’t always fight in the UFC, and this has been my goal and my dream since I started MMA. So I did this camp at Tristar, and it made me fall back in love with MMA.”
And now he’s going to fight Thiago Santos with a packed arena screaming for his head. For anyone hoping to play it safe, that’s not the route to go. But Eric Spicely doesn’t play it safe.
“I’ve already invested so much time and effort into this, and this is what I want to do,” he said. “I can look back and say I didn’t play it safe, I did something that I love, and it’s something not a lot of people get to do or achieve. It’s definitely the hard route, but I think playing it safe is so much more boring. I definitely don’t regret any decisions I’ve ever made.”