It may be too early to dub Ricky Simon the Babe Ruth of MMA, but the bantamweight prospect did call his shot to get into the UFC last month.
In his second fight after defeating Donavon Frelow on the fifth week of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer, he was scheduled to face Vinicius Zani in the main event of an LFA show on March 23. Around that time, he heard that Augusto Mendes was pulled from his April 21 fight against Merab Dvalishvili due to a potential Anti-Doping violation.
Simon wanted in.
“Merab needed an opponent and I threw my name in the hat,” he said. “I told (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby I’m gonna make this fight quick, throw me in on April 21.”
Simon stopped Zani in 59 seconds. That was quick enough for a text to be sent to change the course of the 25-year-old’s career.
“My manager was in my corner, they texted him while I was still in the cage after I knocked out Zani and told me I got the fight. So I got right back to work.”
He laughs, saying, “I spoke this into existence.”
Well, he doesn’t have a nickname yet, so maybe “The Bambino” works. But did he really expect to get Zani out of there that fast?
“I thought it was gonna be a little more of a grind,” he admits. “I was thinking more of a third-round finish, but hey, 59 seconds, no complaints here.”
Nor should there be. Now Simon is in the UFC, facing a fellow up and comer in Dvalishvili, and he’s confident that he belongs here. That was evident to him when he beat UFC vet Alex Soto before appearing on DWTNCS, when he defeated Frelow on the show, and when he beat another UFC alum, Chico Camus, after his fight in Las Vegas. But with every fighter gunning for a UFC roster spot, sometimes it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time or doing what Simon did: fight and win until they have to take him.
“I was told so many times, ‘Oh, you’re so close, stay ready and wait for the call,’” he said. “I was told that a bunch. Then I fought on the Contender Series, I went straight up to the UFC brass and asked them what they wanted me to do, and they told me the exact same thing: stay ready, wait for the call. I’m always ready, I’m always in shape, I’m always training. (Laughs) There’s no blueprint, so I said I’m gonna stop guessing what I need to do and go beat people up.”
Camus and Zani were the recipients, and those wins put Simon in place for the call from the big show. Now he has to perform, but with a 12-1 pro MMA record and a lengthy amateur career, he’s got the goods. Plus, he’s born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, immediately establishing him as a tough and gritty competitor.
“I really love repping the Pacific Northwest,” said the Oregon native and Vancouver, Washington resident. “I pride myself on growing up in this area and we definitely have some tough, tough dudes out here. I feel like we’re starting to get some more credit. My home gym, Gracie Barra Portland, we’re blowing up. More guys are getting signed to bigger shows, people are starting to recognize us a little more, and I definitely feel like we have a bunch of tough fighters out there, and I think it comes from our strong wrestling background. I always like to say I’m a new age fighter with an old school mentality. I like to carry that with me.”
It’s evident in his approach to his career, one that saw him facing UFC and Strikeforce vets on the way up the ladder, proving that when he did get the call, he was going to be ready.
“Those guys that have been to the show, especially those guys that got cut and are trying to get back in, they’re clawing their way to get in and they don’t want an up and coming guy to take their spot,” Simon said. “So I feel like when I fought Alex Soto, I beat the crap out of him the first round and did everything I could to get him out of there, but he came back strong in the second and third. Same thing with Chico (Camus). I bloodied him up in the first and second rounds, but he came back even stronger in the third, fourth and fifth. It’s just a different mentality with the higher level guys. They don’t want to lose.”
Neither does Ricky Simon, and he’s planning on making an impression on Merab Dvalishvili and fight fans this weekend.
“I’m a fast-paced, explosive fighter,” he said. “I feel like I’m a different athlete at 135 and I’m well-rounded, so explosiveness is what they’re gonna see.”