"I want to move down a weight class and start handing out naps and get
the fights that I want and the fights that will make me a household name
one day." - Sam Sicilia
There’s no question that there’s a certain beauty to a knockout, when technique and speed meet precise timing at the highest levels of the sport of mixed martial arts. Featherweight Sam Sicilia goes for the more visceral approach.
“I throw fearlessly,” he said. “I’m looking to put somebody’s mouthpiece in the bleachers.”
More often than not, Spokane’s Sicilia hits the mark. In 11 pro wins, he’s won six with his fists, including three in less than 30 seconds. Yes, he’s got something a little extra on the fastball than most of his peers, and when he lands on that sweet spot, he knows it immediately.
“I played baseball when I was younger and sometimes you don’t have to swing as hard but you feel it hit just right,” he said. “(In fighting) I’ve hit and messed up my hand and my thumbs, but I’ve hit flush punches and it sounds like a steak hit a wall and your hand doesn’t hurt because you landed it just perfect. It’s recognizing where your power is. You throw it from your hips, and when you land it, it’s like a weight off your shoulders, and that’s what you fight for right there.”
Yet the funny thing is that Sicilia never really fancied himself a knockout artist. Instead, he saw striking simply as a means to an end – to get the bout to the mat, where he could ground and pound or submit his opponents.
“I’d always go in there and throw, and I’d be barely missing guys and go right into a shot,” said Sicilia, a pro since 2007. “And one day I just decided that I’m gonna stand up and I will end this fight with a punch, or I’ll get knocked out trying to knock this person out. Then they started landing, and from then on I really believed. It’s really just confidence and believing in my hands.”
Sicilia’s most recent victim was Brazilian veteran Cristiano Marcello, who he knocked out in the second round of their June bout on the Ultimate Fighter 15 finale card. It was the perfect way for the 26-year-old to end the first chapter of his career, one that included a stint on the FX reality series, and for the start of chapter two, he will travel to Brazil to face TUF Brazil winner Rony Jason in a new neighborhood of 145 pounds.
“A lot of the guys on the show that I was dealing with, a lot of the guys that I fought, they don’t necessarily feel stronger, but they’ve got such big frames,” said Sicilia of life at 155 pounds. “My training partner (Michael) Chiesa, and a couple of guys from the show, some guys stay at 185, which I’ve never weighed in my life. I’ve walked around at ‘63. So I just want to move down and be a force. A lot of those guys that know how to use their leverage are hard to deal with. I want to move down a weight class and start handing out naps and get the fights that I want and the fights that will make me a household name one day.”
It’s a smart career move for Sicilia, who knows that with the lightweight division a lot more crowded than featherweight, what would take eight fights at 155 might just take four at 145. And when you consider that he fights like he’s double-parked, he’s obviously taking a similar approach to his career.
“There are still great guys, and by no means does moving down mean there’s less talent, but I feel like it’s a little less crowded, and the guys that are on a roll are the guys you want to end up fighting,” said Sicilia, and in Jason, he’ll be getting the type of challenge he’s looking for, because the Brazilian is just as eager to put on a show and go home early. Jason has even put more up for grabs, saying “I'm the champion of TUF Brazil at Featherweight and he was a participant of the US TUF at Lightweight. If he beats me it is like he's the champion of TUF Brazil. So there's a lot in line on this fight.”
Sicilia accepts that statement for what it is, even if he doesn’t feel the same way.
“I just look at it as a fight,” he said. “We’re back in our own element, I get to travel over there as the away team, and I like doing that. I’m sure he does think like that because that motivates him in a ‘he ain’t taking this away from me’ kinda deal. But I have the mentality of I’m going down there, I’m shutting him off and I’m coming home.”
And he doesn’t mind if he hears some boos along the way. In fact, he’s not just expecting them, but he appreciates the Brazilian fans’ loyalty to their fighters.
“Brazilians got it right,” said Sicilia. “They root for their hometown guy, and I’m okay with getting booed and all that fun stuff. It’s a motivator for myself and as much as they’re booing, I can silence that whole stadium with a punch. But Brazil is a huge fighting community. If this was back in gladiator days, we’d be going to Rome right now. But right now, we’re going to Rio de Janeiro, so it really is an honor and I am very excited about that. I’m going to take it all in, and I like fighting on the road; it makes it feel more like a fight. It’s very exciting and I really do play into that a lot.”
So will it be another quick one for a young man who lives for that decisive finish? It’s nice work if he can get it, but if not, he doesn’t mind punching his opponent for three rounds either.
“I go in there with the mentality that this guy owes me 15 minutes and I get to beat him up for that long,” he said. “If he happens to get caught, cool, but I’m not training for that one punch; I’m training for three rounds of beating him up.”