From now until it's August 31 debut, UFC.com introduces you to the 16 champions battling to win The Ultimate Fighter: Team Benavidez vs Team Cejudo and get a chance to face current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
As a stop in the early careers of UFC champions and standouts such as Frankie Edgar, Chris Weidman, Edson Barboza, Aljamain Sterling, Al Iaquinta, Jimmie Rivera and Uriah Hall, fighting in the east coast’s Ring of Combat promotion has often been a launching pad into the Octagon.
Levittown, Pennsylvania’s Matt Rizzo is the Ring of Combat flyweight champion. Has been since September of 2014. And it’s been that long that he’s been waiting for a call from the UFC.
“I do know that good things do come eventually down the line,” he said. “You feel like you’re defending your title multiple times in Ring of Combat, and you know that they (the UFC) are picking up guys in other weight classes in the organization other than 125, and it is pretty frustrating. But eventually it was gonna break.”
Earlier this year it did, with the announcement that the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, which premieres on Wednesday, would feature 16 flyweights competing for a world title fight against Demetrious Johnson. Each of those 16 would be a champion in a regional promotion. “Razor Sharp” finally got his phone call. The first one he spoke to was his longtime friend and manager, Anthony Colantuono, who received the call at the same time.
“It was humbling for both of us,” Rizzo, 9-2 with 1 NC, said. “We’ve both been on the grind for a very long time and we’ve known each other for ten years. I can’t explain the words coming out of my mouth at the time.”
The 30-year-old Rizzo also may have dented a few things while jumping for joy on the construction site he was working on that day, but that’s understandable, especially for a young man about to get married on September 10 as well.
“She’s been through the long haul with me,” he said of his fiancée Rachel. “The ups and downs of my career, my wins and my losses, my championships. And she knows that this is what my dream is and what I’m here to do, and I’m not gonna stop until I get there.”
With all the good vibes coming from that day, it’s easy to forget that Rizzo still had to fight in the toughest tournament in sports. But he didn’t forget, and that’s no surprise given the east coast grit that’s in his blood. It’s that same scrappiness epitomized by guys like Edgar, Rivera and Eddie Alvarez, and Rizzo is eager to join them in the big show.
“It’s humbling for me, being the guy from the area (on the show),” he said. “I’m right outside of Philadelphia, so I’m on both sides of the fence. I’m 45 minutes from New York, 10 minutes from Jersey, and seeing how they competed with the same attitude and swagger that I have, it’s what it’s all about. We’re bred to be this way and this is what our life is. We are the best, and until you step in there and prove that you’re better than me, then I believe I’m better than you.”
The proving ground opens this Wednesday.