I don’t know how good he is. The reason I ask the question is that it’s something I’ve gone back and forth on several times since I watched him tally a tricky TKO victory over upstart Saad Awad this past Thursday at Bellator 94. Part of me thinks that his Bellator run (Do you realize that he’s already won 8 fights inside the Bellator cage?) is a bit sketchy, due to circumstances I will detail below. The other part becomes more and more impressed every time I watch him fight. Before I delve into Rickels and his standing in the lightweight division, I can safely say that the dude is oodles of fun to watch fight. That much is certain.
Let’s take a closer look …
He began his Bellator tenure at welterweight, winning three straight fights before losing a close split decision to eventual tourney champ Karl Amoussou. He’s really started to find success since he dropped to 155 lbs., though. He started off his lightweight run by winning a tournament qualifier against Jason Fischer. This was a very close fight that saw Rickels’ forced to play bottom quite a bit, but his bottom game is frantic. He has a good triangle, and will constantly throw punches and elbows until he cuts you up or finds a way to get to his feet. He definitely didn’t look like a tournament threat in the first Fischer fight, though, and I thought that Lloyd Woodard would turn him into chopped, bearded hamburger in the lightweight tourney quarterfinal.
It turns out that Lloyd Woodard refuses to leave Montana to train because “Montana is awesome”, even admitting that he easily beats up everyone he trains with at all times. Translation? This is a guy that is tested only in fights. Thus, he is a guy that is prone to beating Dave Rickels for a round and then loafing through the next two with a gas tank and drive to fight that could only be described as “subpar”. Rickels basically was able to potshot Woodard with pretty much anything he wanted, with little coming back at him. He landed approximately 30 left hooks in the 2nd and 3rd frames, and easily outpointed a guy that was supposed to kill him.
After fellow prospect Alexander Sarnavskiy had to pull out of their semifinal bout due to injury, Jason Fischer got the opportunity to rematch Rickels, as their first fight had been a closely contested affair. Rickels dominated their second encounter, and took a clean sweep on the judges scorecards. To me, this was meaningful because they had fought a razor close fight just 3 months before. To see Rickels absolutely manhandle Fischer was telling, because it’s not like Fischer is a grizzled vet that got old overnight and was taken advantage of; Jason is a young fighter as well. Rickels is improving leaps and bounds with every fight, and this is a telltale sign of a fighter that’s going places.
The tournament finale saw him score a comeback KO over dangerous inside puncher Saad Awad. He floored Awad at the end of the second round, and he didn’t react quickly enough for referee Troy Waugh to allow the fight to continue.
Okay. So he’s scored some impressive wins, but how good was his competition? The most talented guy he fought was Woodard, whose shortcomings I detailed above. I look at it like this; he hasn’t been beating tomato cans, but he’s not trashing a police lineup of murderers, either. He’s beating other solid up-and-comers. I like where this is going. I think his ceiling is somewhere in the Jim Miller range, a guy that could find major success in the UFC but would ultimately fall short against the best of the best. Before you start throwing feces at me, the guy is 24 and improving every time out. He could beat every lightweight on this weekend’s UFC card. Put away your pitchforks.
Here’s where it gets weird. From cutting a pre-fight promo video dressed in a $20 Barney Rubble costume, to walking out to his most recent fight alongside a prosthetic dinosaur, to playing up the whole “Caveman” angle … it’s odd. It reminds me of the scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves where Costner’s going “Your name, what does it mean?” and Morgan Freeman’s like “Great one”, and Costner responds with “… Did you give yourself this name?” There’s definitely some of those vibes going on with David Rickels. On top of that, his beard possibly has caterpillars living in it, and he probably hasn’t showered in weeks. He’s a rugged dude. As @BrickSquadDad tweeted, “David Rickels is everything Clay Guida pretends to be.”
His personality adds to the confusion, as he comes off as A) totally cocky and B) totally laid back. What a lethal combination to make up a persona in a sport full of witless douches and alpha male lugheads. For real. When he said that Lloyd Woodard looked like a squirrel and that he “would not accept that”, I remember thinking “There is NO ONE in MMA like this guy.”
He has a perma-smile on his face, and you never get the feeling that he’s the least bit nervous or flustered about fighting in the cage in front of millions of people. He probably wont beat Michael Chandler (who will almost certainly get the better of Dave Jansen), but he’ll definitely try to fight the same kind of fight he always does.
He’s a diverse striker who throws any strike at any time. He’s creative, as he showed when he picked Lloyd Woodard up by his ankles and swung him around like a toddler. He has a good left hook that he sets up nicely with feints. He’s got the aforementioned gnarly bottom game, slashing opponents up with punches and elbows. He’s always fighting, always looking to finish, and always making a sneezy sound when he throws strikes. At the very least, he’s going to give a hellraiser to almost anyone in his weight class.
On the flip side, he doesn’t offer much resistance when people try to take him down, which can lose him rounds on bottom. He’s painfully slow. He throws lazy strikes sometimes, which could potentially get him lamped.
(By the way, I see more and more of this in MMA now; guys just kind of throwing half assed strikes, then putting something powerful behind them. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a potentially bad thing to do when you’re chillin in the pocket. Brain damage sucks.)
He doesn’t inspire confidence if you’re just going by appearance. He looks like a smelly guy with a beard, MMA gloves, and no girlfriend prospects. But he can fight, and after he wins, I actually want to see his post fight interview. A rare combo, indeed.