Only four days away from the biggest night in Ricardo Lamas’ (13-2 MMA, 4-0 UFC) career, he must be relieved. On Saturday, Lamas will finally have the chance to challenge Jose Aldo (23-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) for the UFC featherweight title. Of course, for most people, having to step inside the octagon opposite a fighter who is regarded as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world does not sound particularly exciting. But for Lamas, UFC 169 represents the opportunity to bring to fruition his dream of proving he is the best in the world.
"(In 2012) Hatsu Hioki was actually offered a title fight before he fought me," Lamas recalls. Hioki, however, thought it best to take one more fight before challenging Aldo for the title. Unfortunately for Hioki, the fight was against Ricardo Lamas who ended up taking a unanimous decision victory over the top contender and therefore derailing the UFC’s plans.
As is the case in MMA, one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain. Erik Koch, who was riding a four-fight win streak at the time, was granted the next shot at the featherweight title. Because Aldo had to pull out of the bout originally scheduled for the summer, the title fight was postponed and rescheduled for the fall. However, Erik Koch was then forced to withdraw due to injury.
Enter Ricardo Lamas.
"When Koch was supposed to fight Aldo and got injured, (the UFC) offered me the title fight and I accepted. We had just renegotiated my contract and all I was waiting for was the bout agreement." Four hours later, though, the UFC decided to go in a different direction and gave former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar the title fight against Aldo. While this was Edgar’s first fight at featherweight following two unsuccessful title bouts in the lightweight division, the fight was promoted as a super fight.
A few months later, Lamas was sure he had established his position as the next title challenger when he obliterated Erik Koch in his hometown Chicago. "When I beat Koch, then I was in line for the title fight, obviously. I beat the guy that was scheduled to fight for the title," Lamas recalls. And while linear thinking would suggest such was the case, UFC matchmakers were not as eager to book the match. Instead, for the second consecutive time, Aldo was scheduled to fight against a lightweight dropping down a weight class for an immediate title fight. Having been passed up yet again, Lamas could understand the thinking behind the decision.
"A lot of people get to talk their way into a title fight because it raises a lot of controversy, gets people interested in the fight, and they sell more pay-per-views and make more money. At the end of the day, this is a business. I don’t think it’s the fairest thing in the world, but I’m not going to sit here and cry about it.
"The UFC loves it when guys get out there and talk, it makes their job easier. I stray away from acting like a Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor – it’s just not natural for me. And if you try to force something that isn’t natural, you’re going to look foolish doing so."
With each fighter having made it to fight week without having to withdraw due to injury and the bout not having been rescheduled, Lamas is only a few days away from realizing his dream of being the UFC featherweight champion. This dream of his is no easy task. In order to continue his streak of dominance he must dethrone the longest-reigning champ in the organization. But if Chris Weidman, Alexander Gustafsson and Johny Hendricks taught us anything last year, we know that being an underdog does not necessarily determine a fighter's performance once he steps foot inside the octagon.
UFC 169: Barao vs. Faber II takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 1, and is headlined by the rematch between UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao and Urijah Faber. UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Ricardo Lamas will be the night's co-main event.