One of the great things about mixed martial arts is that there is no one set path to glory. We’ve seen wrestlers win world titles, jiu-jitsu players ascend to the top of the sport, and strikers make their mark among the elite. The top fighters of all-time have even found a way to blend all the various combat sports disciplines together to come up with their own unique style.
Of course, all of this can become overwhelming for an up and coming fighter, especially when he or she believes that the only way to succeed is to become a master of several styles. That can lead to too much thinking and not enough fighting. Featherweight Sam Sicilia knows that scenario all too well.
“That was the struggle for me,” he said. “I thought that once I got on the big card, I had to look more professional. And I’d go back and watch film and I’d get broke down by whoever the announcer was. They’d give you a compliment, like ‘he does this really well, but he really needs to work on this.’ And I said I need to clean all this stuff up, when really, it’s just about the fight. I have to be a grimy, raw fighter and grind out a win, and that’s how I wear on guys and eventually knock them out. It sounds super corny, but you just have to be yourself. And that’s who I am, and that’s how I like to fight. I grew up a blue collar kid and was raised to keep your mouth shut and do your job and work hard, and that’s what I’ve gotta do.”
Let’s not mince words here. Sicilia didn’t make his name on the local circuit in the Pacific Northwest for being pretty on fight night. He went in there, got in his opponent’s face, and more often than not, he knocked that opponent out. It was as blue collar as you get, and even on The Ultimate Fighter 15, he took only eight seconds to earn a spot in the house with a finish of Erin Beach.
In the show’s finale, he stamped his place in the UFC’s featherweight division with a second-round knockout of castmate Cristiano Marcello, but then things went on a rollercoaster ride, with his record since that bout sitting at 2-4. On Saturday, he gets to turn it all around with a main card bout against Akira Corassani in Stockholm, Sweden, and this time, his philosophy is more in tune with the one he had in his early days – yeah, you have to evolve, but don’t lose what got you to the dance in the first place.
> Watch Sam Sicilia vs. Cristiano Marcello on UFC FIGHT PASS
“I’ve obviously had to evolve and grow with the sport and add more weapons to my arsenal and be a student, but that’s my mentality (to fight),” he said. “That’s what I had to grow off and that’s what got me there. I got there by being pretty savage and pretty raw. You have to keep adding to that and get better.”
And despite his recent defeats, it’s his love for the actual fight that keeps him moving forward with a positive outlook.
“That’s what you’ve got to focus on,” Sicilia said. “That’s how you get your win, by embracing the battle and being in it. A lot of times there’s so much to get caught up in, but you’ve just gotta fight. That’s what it is and that’s what you trained to do. You’ve got to talk yourself into just loving it and like being in the middle of a fistfight.”
The 28-year-old Spokane native laughs when asked if that takes a lot of talking to yourself.
“Not for me, I don’t have that problem,” he said. “That’s where I feel comfortable, right in the middle of a fight. I don’t like the jabbing around and angling and all that bulls**t. I like to get in there, bite my mouthpiece, take the middle of the cage and get to work.”
Corassani shares that mentality, making it clear why these two 145-pounders were selected to kick off the night’s festivities on FOX. For Sicilia, it’s the perfect platform to get back in the win column and back to the business of becoming a top-flight featherweight. Yeah, it’s pressure, but anytime you put gloves on and engage with someone swinging at your jaw, it’s pressure. It just so happens that Sicilia enjoys that sort of thing.
“I need to start stringing fights together,” he said. “I’m not looking past him but he has to be the beginning of a winning streak. That’s just what it has to be. I’m not putting extra pressure on myself, but I’ve got to perform and do this. And I’m in a spot now where I feel very comfortable that that’s what’s gonna happen.”
So is it safe to say that Sicilia, that self-described “dirty, little country boy,” hasn’t lost his edge in order to become “civilized” in a sporting sense?
“I still got it and that will always be there,” he said. “I don’t need to re-ignite it because once I clip or get somebody hurt, I have no problem going in and finishing it. That will always be in there and that’s my favorite part. There’s no better feeling in the world than a ref pushing somebody off you like they’re saving that guy.”
> Check out the full UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Johnson fight card