"I'm always trying to finish my fights because that's what people want to see. You can be a wrestler, but you can be exciting as a wrestler.” - Ramsey Nijem
Simply put, it was a rookie mistake. On June 4th in the season 13 final of The Ultimate Fighter, Ramsey Nijem fouled up his UFC debut with a first round TKO loss to Tony Ferguson. Nijem got too excited, said goodbye to his gameplan and just started exchanging punches with Ferguson. Even the best of fighters forget themselves the first time they’re in the Octagon, especially in the main event. But the key to a fighter’s future is to recognize the slip up and learn from it, and Nijem has done just that.
“It was definitely a big rookie mistake,” admits Nijem. “I let my pride get in the way instead of sticking to my gameplan. I didn't play to my strengths. I played into someone else's strengths. I didn't even try to take him down once. When we hit the ground, I tried to stand right back to my feet to continue on my feet. I think part of it is that I hit him a couple times and I felt some good connections. I saw I stunned him a little bit, so I got a little fired up. I have a kill switch, which is good sometimes and gets me in trouble other times.”
At 23 years old, let’s chalk Nijem’s mishap up as a factor of youth. The former NCAA Division I wrestler from Utah Valley University was the youngest fighter in the house and, arguably, the least experienced, having only competed for two and a half years prior to the show. Nevertheless, Nijem’s greenness didn’t hold him back as he ran through the TUF competition to get to the finals. The problem wasn’t training or preparedness; Nijem got sidetracked trying to prove something in the fight and not just trying to win it.
“I had a really good training camp and I felt ready,” tells Nijem. “I had worked a lot on my standup, but I got caught up in the moment and forgot what got me to the dance. I started reading what people had been saying on the internet that I couldn't standup with him or I would get knocked out. Leading into the fight, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder and a little bit too much pride.”
What got Nijem to the dance is his wrestling, coupled with his ability to finish. During TUF 13, Nijem tapped Charlie Rader and Clay Harvison with rear naked chokes and TKOed Chris Cope to propel “Stripper Ramsey” to the finals. Nijem’s 5-2 pro record adds another pair of rear naked choke victories and a TKO win from local shows in his hometown Orem, Utah. Wrestlers are accused of only muscling their way to decisions, and Nijem is looking to disprove that by building an Octagon career on stopping opponents.
“I'm looking to finish all my fights,” asserts Nijem. “I don't just want to be a wrestler who grinds out decisions. It's boring for the fans, but it's awful to do yourself. It isn't very fun to out grind someone. I'm always trying to finish my fights because that's what people want to see. You can be a wrestler, but you can be exciting as a wrestler.”
Now, he has the opportunity to get back to his previous winning ways against Roufusport product Danny Downes at UFC 137. On October 29th, Nijem will make his second debut in the UFC by changing weight classes: welterweight to lightweight. Awaiting Nijem at 155 pounds will be the 8-2 “Danny Boy”. The Marquette University alum is mostly known for his standup, especially coming from a highly touted gym overseen by kickboxing legend Duke Roufus.
“He's got a good record and he comes out of a good camp,” explains Nijem. “I'm going to be dropping down to 155 and I'm going to be pretty big for 155. I feel like I'm going to have the athletic edge on him: size, strength and explosion. Obviously, I think I'm going to be the better wrestler/grappler. He's a tough kid, but I watched Jeremy Stephens take him down and manhandle him. I think I'm a better wrestler than Stephens. That's obviously the plan going into this fight.”
To prepare for the Downes bout, Nijem has been battling in a couple pits - literally. Nijem cuts his training time between John Hackleman’s illustrious “The Pit” in Arroyo Grande, California, and its sister school “The Pit Elevated” in Orem, Utah, which is run by Jason Mertlich. Nijem is sharpening up his fists and feet under Hackleman, and strengthening his submissions and ground control under Mertlich. Plus, Nijem is working with friend/TUF winner Court McGee, housemate/former opponent Harvison, as well as some of Hackleman’s best kept secrets like The Pit black belt Luke Riddering.
“I'm training with John Hackleman at The Pit, which is a prestigious camp,” says Nijem. “We kind of do it old school out here. We're outside, it's nothing fancy, it's just hard work, just sweat and blood. Back home, I have Jason Mertlich, who is a jiu-jitsu black belt, so I'm always working with him to improve my submission game. He has really good combat style jiu-jitsu (Four7). You're never really lying on your back, you're on top and it's a vicious style of grappling. I do think I've made more progress by leaps and bounds working with my coaches John Hackleman and Jason Mertlich. Obviously after my last fight, I'm a grappler/wrestler and that's my strength, so that's what I'm going to stick to in this fight. I'm going to put him against the fence, beat him up and take him to the ground.”
Lastly, Nijem is poised to get his first W in the Octagon, but, most of all, this fight is another opportunity for him to do what he enjoys doing the most: fighting. “If I was wealthy and retired, I would be doing the same thing I'm doing now: training for fights and fighting,” affirms Nijem, who honestly loves fighting and is pursuing it as a career because it’s fun and he wants to win at it. “I hope people see the passion and the competitive drive in me. Once I get in there and we start fighting I'll be having fun and I enjoy having fun and I enjoy fighting. This is just how I'm having fun now: punching someone in the face.”
On October 29th at UFC 137, Nijem and Downes will clash in a lightweight bout, both hoping to rebound from their first Octagon losses. “I'm going to be a lot more calm in the cage going into this fight,” states Nijem, who will look to score a win by systematically taking apart his opponent like a veteran, despite his youthful appearance. “It's not that I have to go and out wrestle this kid. In my book, that's not performing. I want to go out and look for finishes and win every single position.”