"When I first started fighting in the UFC I was a pretty nice guy. Over the years I’ve gotten meaner and I think that’s a good thing." - Matt Riddle
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and Matt Riddle smiling and grinning wherever life takes him. Outside of the cage -- and inside of it. Whether being hugged by a loved one, or punched in the face by a foe. In victory, and in defeat.
“If you watch a tape of me wrestling in high school you’ll see me with a big Kool-Aid grin on my face,” the 25-year-old Pennsylvania native recently said before a training session at Throwdown Training Center in Las Vegas. “Whether it was at states or nationals, I had a smile on my face. Even when I competed in Grappler’s Quest, I beat (world-class grappler) Ryan Hall and I’m smiling the entire time, having a good time, and he’s getting frustrated. That’s when I’m most dangerous, when I have a big grin on my face. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be standing on the other side of that.”
As it turns out, Brazil’s Luis Ramos (19-7) will be the one “standing on the other side” of Riddle’s grin this Friday at UFC 141. The undercard bout comes at an interesting time for Riddle: He tied the knot with his fiancée, Lisa, two weeks ago.
If you’re thinking the wedding may have distracted Riddle, or disrupted his preparation, think again. Riddle wanted the wedding and an Octagon appearance to be bunched together.
“There was already a date for the wedding but I actually asked Joe Silva if I could fight December 30th. I figured that if I get the fight AFTER the wedding, then I wouldn’t have any bruises or cuts for the wedding,” said Riddle. “We wanted to get married before the end of the year so it worked out perfect.”
Before giving Riddle too much credit, realize that he didn’t have it so hard other than his three-a-day workouts. A wedding planner he was not.
“All Lisa,” he said. “The only thing I picked was the food and the booze. And I couldn’t drink or eat, so it was kind of torturous.”
With a honeymoon on the horizon, Riddle (5-3) is for now completely focused on Ramos, who trains at one of the best camps in the world under trainer Andre Pederneiras.
“He’s a really good jiu-jitsu and judo practitioner,” Riddle said. “He likes to take people down and control them. He really doesn’t make too many mistakes. The thing is, I haven’t seen him really trying to finish the fight, and I’m going to be there to finish the fight. I’m going to try to knock him out or submit him. I hit really hard, so I’m pretty sure I can knock him out. That’s how he usually loses. I respect everything about him but I’m pretty sure I’m going to come out there and stuff the takedown. It’s my time now. His time is up.”
Clearly back-to-back decision losses have had little effect on Riddle’s confidence.
“My last two fights I’ve lost, but I’ve also learned more and become more confident and gained more experience,” he explained. “And I’ve put on great performances and had a blast in my last two fights. I didn’t go out there to win; I went out there to have fun. The last two guys I fought got cut up, went to the hospital and looked way worse than me.”
With durability as one of his hallmarks, Riddle is trying to become more of a technician and a strategist.
“You can’t fight at that pace all the time and I don’t plan on fighting at that pace all of the time. It’s impossible and it’s not good for you,” Riddle said. “But at the same time I like to pressure my opponents and push the pace to get people tired. Sometimes you have to take a little damage to dish out a little damage. It’s part of the game. That helps me because when somebody hits you as hard as they can, and you get back up and still keep coming at them, they get tired and start to think less of themselves. I know if I hit somebody as hard as I can and they just keep coming forward – it worries me. Because when I hit somebody as hard as I can I think they should drop.”
A father of twin girls, Allison and Amy, Riddle said parenting has lit a fire under him.
“When I get in there it just makes me a meaner person,” he said. “I need to take care of these kids and my wife. When I first started fighting in the UFC I was a pretty nice guy. Over the years I’ve gotten meaner and I think that’s a good thing. That’s the one thing that has changed about me a lot.”