The Ultimate Fighter
I don’t know if he’s serious or not, but Niko Price is discussing flying rear naked chokes.
“You never heard of that?” he asks. “I train that. But it’s too hard. You’ve got to do a front flip over the person and catch him in a rear naked choke and it’s very awkward. You’ve got to get a really, really aggressive wrestler. That’s the only way you can do it. And you have to expect him to shoot. Then you have to time it, jump over, catch a half-seatbelt, go through, catch a hook, flatten him out.”
He pauses, then continues.
With anyone else, you would assume it’s not. With Price, well, maybe it is. And he would be the type to try it, too.
“I’ll try it in a fight,” he said. “Let me get a guy that shoots like that. Let me get (UFC welterweight champion Kamaru) Usman. He shoots. I’ll jump over him and do it.”
Price laughs, but if you’ve seen him fight, you know that nothing is off the table when it comes to what he will do once the Octagon door is shut. Since his UFC debut in 2016, “The Hybrid” has ended fights via two different submissions to go along with three knockouts. But nothing compares to his July 2018 finish of Randy Brown, a knockout that almost defies description as he halted the New Yorker with hammerfists from the bottom position as his foot held Brown’s head in place.
Sound like something you’ve never seen before? It’s likely that you didn’t before Price pulled it off. It’s not something in the book of conventional striking techniques, and that’s why the 29-year-old has become a must see in a crowded welterweight division heading into his UFC 240 bout with Geoff Neal this Saturday. It’s also a recipe for giving his coaches gray hair.
“I have coaches that want me to do it this way and if it’s not done this way, then it’s not technically right,” said Price. “But my whole life, I’ve never been a technically right person. But I get the job done. Even when I was in football, I was not fast, but I would get the tackle, I would get there, I would make the interception, and I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. It’s a blessing, that’s all I can say.”
The former middle linebacker never got his chance to prove himself at the college level on the gridiron, but in a sport that celebrates individuality like mixed martial arts, he found a home and earned a spot on the UFC roster after just eight pro fights. Since then, whether in victory or defeat (his current UFC slate is 5-2, 1 NC), he’s showed up to not just win, but to entertain, and that’s a mission accomplished.
Now, he’s on a UFC pay-per-view main card for only the second time, and things are about to get even bigger should he emerge victorious against Texas’ Neal.
“I gotta start talking more,” he said, knowing that the interview requests are about to start multiplying. “I can’t just get in there and knock you out and let my fists do the talking. Now I have to speak too. It is different for me. Coming up, I’ve always fought for belts and main evented when I fought before the UFC, so I’m used to cameras and having people coming at me with questions, and I can totally do that stuff, but I haven’t had to do it too much in the UFC. But now I feel I’m gonna have to start doing it because my skill is hitting another level, and with that, everything else will hit that other level.”
It’s a level the father of four (soon to be five) is comfortable with, and he’s got the exciting style in the Octagon and the personality outside it to handle it all. But despite all the pressure that comes with all those pulls on his time, being a husband and father and still finding time to train, when it’s time to put the gloves on and the mouthpiece in for real, there’s nothing better for the 29-year-old from Cape Coral, Florida.
“I get to let go of everything,” he said. “It’s really fun. I don’t have to hold back no more. I don’t have to hold that jab back or hold that ‘2’ back like I do in the gym. I get to hit you and I’m allowed to. So I’m gonna do it as many times as I can until I get pulled off.”
It sounds pretty liberating.
“Oh yeah, are you kidding me?” he laughs. “It’s the best thing ever. I fought the same way before I had a decent paycheck. I just love it, and I’m made to do it. I don’t know why or how it became, but it came, I saw it and I took it. I think it was a blessing from God. He built me to do this.”
That’s why for all the talk of the future, Price is only truly concerned with Neal and their fight in Edmonton. It’s why he does this.
“Right now I’ve got to worry about this man in front of me, and he ain’t no joke,” said Price. “I’m going into battle with another real warrior, so I’m excited because the better the people you fight, it brings the best out of me. I’m excited for challenges. I want to fight the best.”
And now he’s here.
“A hundred percent,” he said. “It’s a blessing. This is what I’ve worked my whole life for. I prayed for this for years, just waiting, through the hard times and the good times, and now we’re here. I’m excited and I’m doing it the best I think I can. You can always do everything better, but I’m slowly learning more and more throughout my time here in the sport. And I really do love it.”