Ramsey Nijem needed a break. Not surprising since he hadn’t had one since he was a child.
“I started training when I was a little kid,” he explains. “My dad trained us, made us go to boxing and then into wrestling. I went to college wrestling, then straight from that to fighting pro and then into the UFC. I hadn’t had a break since I was 5 years old, so I think that was a big thing.”
It was. So big that when he was released from his UFC contract after a controversial decision loss to Andrew Holbrook in July 2015, he wasn’t in a particular rush to return. The California native did sign a contract with the World Series of Fighting promotion last summer, but he never fought for them, making his Wednesday bout against Julian Lane on The Ultimate Fighter” Redemption the first time fans have seen him with gloves on in nearly two years.
And he can’t wait.
“I really needed this passion to be taken away from me for a minute and me to get back into teaching and really learn that this is my passion, this is my love, and this is a major part of who I am in life,” he said. “I want to keep on teaching, keep on pushing and honestly, fighting is fun. There are so many little things that go into this that can be crappy, but when I’m out there and performing at my best, people are drawn to that.”
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It can take losing something to truly appreciate it, but in Nijem’s case, it wasn’t losing the Holbrook fight, his place on the UFC roster, or anything like that. In his eyes, he won his most recent bout, and he’s not alone in that assessment.
“My last fight in the UFC I won,” he said. “I don’t believe I lost to Holbrook, so I’m coming off a win in the UFC going into that show (TUF 25). I had a great time fighting, it was a fun fight for me, my family was out there. I thought I won the fight, the crowd thought I won the fight and everyone else thought I won the fight. Who cares if only two people think you lost a fight while millions think you won? It was more of a financial issue.”
Not getting his win bonus stung, but even getting cut didn’t seem to affect the affable Nijem.
“I was a little burned out and unthankful for fighting,” he said. “And when I had that break I was able to reflect on my career, I was pleased with everything and, to be honest, I was thankful that I was able to even fight in the UFC because then I started working and teaching and doing what I love. And it was cool to be able to have the resume in the fight world that I have.”
That resume saw Nijem make it to the final of TUF 13, and win five bouts in the Octagon from 2011 to 2015. So what brought him back?
“Because they said $250,000 to the winner,” he laughs. “And because I love it. I love fighting, I love getting in there, and I was itching to fight. I wanted to get in there and compete and it really is just fun for me. And I think the more I fight the better I coach.”
Whether he fights more – at least in the TUF 25 competition - will be determined on Wednesday, but whether he moves on or not, the 29-year-old version of Ramsey Nijem is a lot different from the younger one.
“The break actually gave me a lot of perspective on what I had,” he said. “I was able to compete with the best in the world and I didn’t think about it because when I was young, all I ever thought about was winning the world championship. All I wanted was the title. And if I didn’t have the title, I wasn’t satisfied with anything and the problem with that was I was holding myself back from being the best me. And once I was able to sit back, not only did I get the love back, but I think I got a whole new perspective on my career and my life.”
So what’s the goal now?
“I’m chasing happiness.”