You could say that given the great combat sports traditions of Mexico and Cuba, Ricardo Lamas was destined to be a world-class fighter. Yet while he has had his fair share of influence from those roots, as well as many tough fights over the years, nothing could prepare him more for the fight game than being the youngest of six boys growing up in Chicago.
“There was a lot of testosterone in our house and a lot of fights breaking out on a daily basis, so I don’t think it was much of a surprise when I told everybody I wanted to be a fighter,” Lamas laughs. “Especially with me being the youngest, because I took the brunt of all the beatings growing up.”
I guess that could do wonders for your toughness.
“Of course, my pain tolerance was built very early,” Lamas deadpans, but now at 32 years old and as a top featherweight contender in the UFC, let’s just say that Lamas family gatherings take on a different spin these days.
“Whenever me and my brothers get together, it’s kind of a complete 180,” he said. “When I was younger, they’d always be messing with me and I’d be like ‘no, leave me alone,’ and now I go up to them and I’ll grab them or put them in a hold or something and they’re the ones yelling for me to leave them alone. So I like how the tables have turned.”
Days away from a UFC 180 bout against Dennis Bermudez, Lamas is at peace. Note that “at peace” doesn’t mean complacent. He’s as hungry and determined as ever to put UFC championship gold around his waist, but he’s also secure in where he’s at among the best featherweights in the world. That may not have been the case after his February loss to champion Jose Aldo.
Following the bout, Lamas was in no-man’s land, but when matched up with Aldo’s Nova Uniao teammate Hacran Dias in June, it wasn’t just a chance to get back in the win column, but to exorcise some demons as well.
“There were a few things about that fight that drove me mentally,” he said. “One obviously was that he (Diaz) is one of Jose Aldo’s training partners, a Nova Uniao guy. Another is that he holds a win over Iuri Alcantara, who is one of the last guys I lost to in the UFC, and I was also just rebounding off a loss. Coming off a loss is always hard and you have to prove yourself right away, so I had a big mental drive to get the W in that fight.”
He got it, winning a clear-cut three round decision that moved him to 5-1 in the UFC, and while some would say getting a win is important in and of itself just because you double your paycheck, for top fighters like Lamas, it’s not all about the money, and when you can add extra incentives to check off your mental “to do” list, that only pushes you harder to succeed.
“Everything you think about, everything that drives you mentally is big,” he said. “There are always reasons you find to motivate yourself in every fight, and it may seem like it’s little to outside eyes, but to yourself, those are the things that you need in your head to help push you through your training camp and help push you mentally in the fight.”
That goes double in a tough fight, and often the winner among elite competitors is the one who can push harder when it matters. Against Bermudez this Saturday in Mexico City, that kind of toughness will be key for the one who wants to win and move closer to a crack at the crown.
“With Bermudez, he’s kind of in a position where I was not too long ago, where I was striving for a title shot and coming off a nice little win streak,” Lamas said. “He’s a young, tough guy, and he wants to blast through me so he can get to Aldo, and those are the things that I think about. I’m thinking that he’s almost looking past me a little bit because he’s so worried about this title fight, and I think that would be a big mistake for him to make because I’m here, I want another shot at the title, my goal is to be a world champion and I’m the type of person that doesn’t stop until I reach my goals.”
Sounds like a fighter and not just an athlete. Lamas agrees, knowing that having that kind of attitude is something you can’t learn in a gym.
“I think something like that is something you’re born with,” he said. “It’s not something you learn through training or anything like that, it’s something in your head. It’s that stubbornness, that voice in your head that won’t let you quit, and I was born with that. I’ve been in tough fights where I’ve literally had nothing left in the gas tank, but that voice in my head is not letting me stop and it’s telling me to keep pushing and keep going. And I train the same way. It’s that stubbornness to never let anybody get the best of you.”
That even goes for the most talked about featherweight in the world today, Dublin’s own Conor McGregor. So how does Lamas, one of the most soft-spoken fighters in the game today, assess “The Notorious” one?
“It’s good for him that he’s doing that (talking) and that he’s promoting himself well, but the whole thing baffles me,” Lamas said. “The kid is pretty much a carbon copy of Chael Sonnen, Muhammad Ali, and Bruce Lee. He takes all their quotes and just regurgitates it. It’s nothing original, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but unfortunately people are paying attention to this kid because he keeps talking. I’ve never met him, I’ve never talked to him, but I just don’t like the personality he portrays. But more power to him, he’s bringing the featherweight division to be more well-known, and that’s good for all of us.”
True, but if McGregor gets past Dennis Siver in January and moves past contenders like Cub Swanson, Frankie Edgar, Lamas, or Bermudez into a title fight, that could be a different story. Lamas isn’t too concerned though, and he has a message for McGregor.
“He’s eventually going to see one of us and we’re gonna show the world what kind of fighter he really is,” Lamas said. “He can’t wrestle, he hasn’t been put up against any tough wrestlers yet, and the UFC has been giving him fights that match up well with his style. I’m not saying they’re giving him easy fights, because the guys that he’s fought are good, but the styles match up well with his style. All I can say is, he can leap frog us, but he’s not gonna escape us.”