Ricardo Lamas is the next man to face Jose Aldo, and he does so without a flashy nickname or previous championship run behind him. Ricardo Lamas is the everyman, a fighter who talks with his fists more than his publicist. Off the weight of an incredible four-fight winning streak that included impressive wins over Matt Grice, Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch, the UFC brass could no longer find a reason to not five Lamas a title fight, and this week, a year-long wait that saw Lamas lose a summer opponent in the Korean Zombie to Aldo’s latest title defense culminates in his UFC 169 battle for Jose Aldo’s belt.
Don’t worry about ring rust, the wait has only made Lamas more hungry for the UFC featherweight belt.
We caught up with the Chicago native to get his thoughts on being an underdog, relatively unknown and ready to make history.
JasonNawara: The last time I interviewed you was about four or five years ago as you were coming into the WEC. Pretty crazy how far you’ve come in such a relatively short amount of time.
Ricardo Lamas: Kind of. I’ve been fighting under Zuffa since 2009, I went on a little win streak in the WEC then ended my time there on a loss before the UFC and my drop to 145. Things have been going good since then. I’ve been enjoying the ride and you don’t know when it can all be over. I’m thankful every day.
Jason Nawara: It’s been a long, tough year for year as your fights have come and gone. With UFC on FOX 10 in Chicago, that marks almost to the day a year since your last fight. How have you been able to handle the inactivity?
Ricardo Lamas: It sucks. It is what it is. I had a fight scheduled last summer and went through almost an entire training camp to have it taken away last minute, so it’s not like I’ve been on the sidelines not doing anything, I’ve been in the gym every day and if anything, the layoff has made me more hungry.
JN: How do you matchup to Aldo compared to his previous opponents?
RL: I think I match up great. I think I’m a tough match for anyone, I don’t care what the stats say or the odds are. I think I’ve been an underdog in every one of my fights and I’ve come out the winner in each one. In Vegas, whenever I’ve been put as an underdog, I’m undefeated. So maybe being the underdog is my good luck charm now. I think I match up well. We are both aggressive and explosive, it’s going to be a great fight for the fans.
JN: Being an underdog doesn’t phase you at all anymore, huh?
RL: No, not at all. I don’t care about other people’s opinions on who is going to win the fight. The only thing that matters is what I think.
JN: Do you feel almost like the featherweight Chris Weidman? A working-class fighter facing insurmountable odds against the longtime champion?
RL: Yeah definitely. I think I’m kind of in the same boat as he was relatively unknown at the time. He was more known than I am now, but I’m going to take advantage of the situation for sure, just like him.
JN: It’s nice to see this resurgence of midwestern MMA. You and Robbie Lawler both getting title shots…
RL: I love it. I break my camps up, I still live and train in the midwest, I just break my camps up and come down here (to Florida) for my last few weeks of camp to sharpen up, but the midwest is full of tough fighters, we’re just spread out at different gyms. The midwest is known for wrestling so it breeds a lot of tough people.
JN: Who do you train with at MMA Masters?
RL: I’ve been with MMA Masters since late 2009 and my main training partner is Luis Palomino, who just signed with World Series of Fighting and won last weekend via knockout in the 2nd round.
JN: You almost have a Rocky story here, as you don’t have the flashiest of training partners, but you’re beating really, really tough competition. What’s your secret?
RL: You say I don’t have the flashiest of training partners, but just because they aren’t with the UFC doesn’t make him a good fighter. These guys are the real deal. This guy, I would put money on him over any lightweight in the UFC without question. The reason I’ve been so successful is because of my camp and training partners, and just because they aren’t big names and we’re not a big camp doesn’t mean I can’t be succesful. Palomino’s striker is the best I’ve ever seen in the world. He’s faster than Jose Aldo and hits harder than Jose Aldo, and we complement each other because his strength is my weakness.
JN: How are you going to handle those famous Jose Also leg kicks?
RL: Not training in a specific way, I just have to be very aware. I have to check those kicks. If I check a few of them, he’s not going to keep throwing them, that’s for sure. It’s muay thai 101. Learning how to check kicks is something I learned in my first week in MMA, so I need to just stick to the basics.
JN: Looking back as a WEC alum, how cool is it to see the UFC featherweight and lightweight divisions being run by former WEC fighters?
RL: Even the top of the welterweight division, Johny Hendricks came from the WEC, and Chael Sonnen too. It’s all over the board. I knew that when I was in the WEC that we were just as good if not better. We fought in a smaller cage with more action, and our fights were exciting all the time. I wish more people tuned in because we put on a good show.
JN: I remember when the UFC came to Milwaukee a few years back, and it was Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone’s first UFC fights and they both won. They were really playing up their WEC history then. Does that motivation still exist for the WEC alumni?
RL: Yeah of course, that was the big break in my career, getting signed with them. I loved fighting for that organization and you kind of had to be in the WEC to understand what we’re talking about. We would talk MMA and others wouldn’t any other other organization props when it came to the sport. We would have to explain that yes, it’s the same sport as the UFC, yes, we put on fights and it’s on TV. We just weren’t the UFC though. We went in with the chip on our shoulder to say, “We were legit and we’re here to say.”
JN: You’ve never gone 5 rounds in MMA, you went 4 earlier in your career. How do you feel about your conditioning and are you ready for a 5 round fight should it go that long?
RL: I have no idea what to expect, but I’m prepared for five rounds. I honestly don’t want it to go 5 rounds, I want to finish this fight and win the belt with a hardcore statement – finish the fight and finish the champ. I’ve entered my camp earlier this time and everything is on schedule, I peaked at the right time and I’m ready to go. I’m going to get in there and push the pace and tire him out and do whatever it takes to bring the fight to him.
JN: Did anything specific you think you’ll be able to exploit against him?
RL: I’m coming in-shape. I’ve seen him fade in the later rounds of some of his fights in the later rounds, so I’m going to be looking at his conditioning and push the pace and when he tires I’m going to push it further because when he gets tired I’m going to push harder. When people get tired they make mistakes and I’m going to take advantage.
JN: Many talk about his difficulty in sometimes making 145 and his inevitable move to 155, where you had some big wins at lightweight. Jose is considered a big featherweight, but so are you. How is your cut to feather?
RL: For me, making the weight is no problem. I’m a wrestler and I’ve been wrestling for years and years and years, so I can make the weight. Cutting weight for us is no big deal. I’ve been ahead of schedule on my weight for this camp, and making weight won’t be a problem at all.
JN: How does the featherweight division shake out? Cub Swanson is waiting his turn, who do you think deserves the winner of your fight with Jose?
RL: He’s been on a roll, knocking guys out. Maybe him vs. Chad Mendes for number one contender to face the winner of me and Aldo. Both of those guys have been on a roll.
JN: Who is more dangerous between the two of them?
RL: Swanson is the more dangerous and dynamic striker, but Mendes is a great wrestler, so it’s hard to pick.
JN: This title shot is a long-time coming and is the culmination of a lot of dropped fights and campaigning, when you got the call, what was it like? Describe the situation?
RL: It wasn’t a phone call. Basically, my brother helps manage me and he talks to the UFC for me. For a few weeks after the Aldo/Zombie fight, he was contacting Sean Shelby making a case, and just one day I was getting into my car and for some reason I checked my email and there was a UFC email with a fight contract to fight Jose Aldo.
JN: How did that feel, to finally see that contract?
RL: It’s a mixed assortment of feelings: nervousness, happiness, adrenaline. Everything you could think of goes through your heads. It’s awesome. It felt like I was finally getting what I deserved.