Sam Sicilia understands the value of entertainment better than most. The 27-year-old featherweight has left his fate in the hands of the judges just twice over the course of his 14-fight MMA career, and his love of the firefight is a large reason that, despite a current two-fight slump, Sicilia and TUF Brazil 1 runner-up Godofredo Pepey are headlining UFC Fight Night 32's preliminary card.
"Lets just say I am always bonus hunting," Sicilia told MMAFighting.com.
"I am always looking to cause serious damage (rather) than to win on points. I want to win in a fashion that I can be proud of.
"Almost winning $50,000 is much worse than not having a shot at it. Believe me, I want that sucker."
Despite a thus far bumpy road, Sicilia, a veteran of TUF 15, is one of a handful of his former castmates to still maintain his standing in the UFC. Another loss would make it three straight, a dreaded number in the UFC, but Sicilia elects to focus only on what he can control, rather than stress about the ‘what ifs.'
"It [has been] a positive learning experience," Sicilia said. "Yes, it was a rough rookie year. In every sport there is an elite level, and it was my first time experiencing that. So I learned that the details matter and there are things I needed to adjust in my game.
"Before I used to walk into fights looking to exchange punches and seek a KO. Now I study my opponents and structure game plans against them with my coaches."
While those lessons have come the hard way, Sicilia has come to appreciate them in time.
"I have always been used to getting early KOs," he said. "I know I generate a lot of power for my size especially in this weight category. So the thing that I can adjust is actually working on getting a KO over a three-round fight, rather than always looking to finish it early in the first round. The reality is when you fight tougher opponents, you have to sometimes be prepared to break them down over a few rounds to eventually get the KO."
Sicilia and Pepey were initially scheduled to meet in early September, however Sicilia broke his hand earlier this year in a losing effort against Maximo Blanco, and wound up re-injuring the same hand in training, delaying the match-up.
Sicilia now returns to action just a few weeks after his TUF 15 coach, Dominick Cruz, set a date for his own triumphant return from a devastating two-year injury layoff. Cruz is still the UFC bantamweight champ and will meet interim titleholder Renan Barao in February, and Sicilia is confident in his former coach's ability to open some eyes.
"I consider Dominick a friend," Sicilia said. "He went above and beyond as a coach for me. I really wish the best for him, and that he can get back on track. I know his mentality, and am certain he is doing what he needs to do with the right mindset.
"It is a tough fight, but I think that Dominick can win any fight. I know how mentally tough he is from hanging out with him. He has what it takes keep the title."
In the meantime, Sicilia should have no problem adjusting to enemy territory. The American has spent significant time training at the academy of fellow TUF alumnus Cristiano Marcello in Brazil during the lead-up to UFC Fight Night 32. And while Sicilia knows Pepey will be the heavy crowd favorite, and he expects to hear his share of boos from the Brazilians, by the time the dust settles on Saturday, he plans to have won the them over with something special.
"If I do my job," Sicilia vowed, "[Pepey] will wake up counting ceiling tiles."