If Colin Fletcher makes it in UFC, his "Freak show" nickname and gimmick will at least differentiate him from the pack.
But making it is largely dependent on beating Mike Ricci in a battle of recent The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) show runners-up. Fletcher and Ricci face off in a lightweight battle that opens the pay-per-view broadcast of Saturday's UFC 158, from Ricci's home base, at Montreal's Bell Centre.
The 30-year-old Fletcher went to the finals in the late 2012 series, "The Smashes," that was a U.K. vs. Australia season, shot in Sydney, geared for Australian television. He lost via decision to Norman Parke on Dec. 15 in Broad Beach, Australia, in a fight that he now says was a major mental struggle because of how much he liked his opponent.
"He was one of my closest friends in the house," said Fletcher (8-2) on this week's The MMA Hour. "He's a family man and I fall into that box, caring about people. I honestly thought I'd be able to fight him a lot harder, and as soon as I got in there, I was a mess and mentally I couldn't switch on and fight him the way I would fight someone I had no feelings for."
He said the fight, which Parke won via decision, didn't strain their relationship. "We were close friends in the house, close friends when we left the house and we still are close friends," he said.
The loss puts Fletcher's back against the wall. There was a time when a runner-up finish in The Ultimate Fighter almost guaranteed one a solid run with the promotion. But the loser here will have lost two in a row at a time when roster spots in UFC are as tenuous as they have been in years.
The "freak show" gimmick is that the Sunderland, England, based fighter wears a clown mask to the cage, and his body is covered in tattoos. The latter isn't all that unusual among fighters, but the former could be his calling card.
"Sometimes I'm a bad clown and sometimes I'm a fun loving good clown," said Fletcher regarding what kind of clown mask he's gong to wear on Saturday. "Whatever I feel at the moment is whatever I am at the moment."
During his career, seven of Fletcher's eight wins were via choke, with four standard rear-naked chokes, two d'arce chokes and one guillotine. Ricci, who turns 27 on Monday, has never lost via submission and has only been stopped once, a TKO loss to current Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran.
Ricci (7-3) is coming off a loss to Colton Smith that took places only hours after Fletcher's loss, his being in in the finals of season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter. He was fighting a weight class up as a welterweight. Ricci also stands out to a degree with his look. With his short hair and preppy clothes, he's about as far away from a freak show looking guy as there is.
"Who am I to judge anybody on their appearance, you know what I mean?," Fletcher said when talking about Ricci's style, which was evident during the season and even more notable when hanging around with running mate Rory MacDonald on a FOX special promoting the MacDonald vs. B.J. Penn fight. "I've got no bad feelings against Mike Ricci. He was one of the standout fighters on his season of Ultimate Fighter. I was rooting for him. I like his style of fighting. I don't know him personally. I didn't know much about him until I was going to fight him and people said he's the opposite of you in every way, but opposites attract sometimes."
Attract may not be the correct term, but in fighting, matchmaking often leads to opposites gravitating toward each other.
This will be, by far, the biggest event Fletcher has been part of. With an expected crowd of around 20,000 at the Bell Centre, it's a far cry from local shows in his home town that he mostly fought in before two fights with the BAMMA promotion led to his getting on the reality show as part of the British squad.
"I'm a fighter, and it makes no difference if I'm fighting in somebody's backyard, or in front of 50,000 people," he said. "There's only two of us who are fighting."
Unlike most fighters, Fletcher never really had strong aspirations of getting into the UFC. He was working as a DJ, and sometimes a door man at his family's night club. Business wasn't doing well, so he took on a second job of driving a bus. He eventually took an interest in fighting and decided to fight mainly because he didn't want to have any regrets later on.
"No, not at all," he responded when asked about if he expected to fight in UFC. "But I didn't want to be the kind of a person sitting there ten years later, thinking I'd give up on it and saying that maybe I could have gotten to the UFC. I'd rather try my best and fail then never try at all."