There's no secret where Ricardo Lamas got his fighting spirit from. It's hereditary, on his father's side.
Lamas, the son of an outspoken Cuban underground freedom fighter turned American television executive, challenges UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at Saturday's UFC 169. It's a title shot he's waited a year for, with a lot of that period being very frustrating. But in hindsight, he thinks it has all worked out for the best.
Ricardo, known by his family as Ricky, seems calm going into the biggest fight of his life. But his father, Jose, who has been through real life-and-death situations, is far more nervous.
"I was running around doing things, putting together the banner, the torch, and I was shaking," Jose Lamas said on Wednesday night, before getting ready to leave Chicago for the fight. "I took two bites of my sandwich and I couldn't eat. I'm nervous about him going into any fight. I think he has a great chance to win this fight. I think he's going to win this fight, but it makes me very tense. It's like a war inside my body."
Jose Lamas was a teenage college student in the 1950s. At the time of the Cuban revolution, he fought for and backed Fidel Castro, thinking he would bring democracy to their country after the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. But he felt double-crossed when Castro instead went with a communistic government. Jose Lamas helped start an underground movement against Castro, using the code name of Bonifacio.
"I had strong feelings about the situation under Batista," he said. "I participated, in 1958, in a strike against the regime of Batista. In 1959, Castro took over. I became a teacher. I realized that the revolution was to create a communist state. We opposed Batista for the lack of freedom. I felt betrayed. For the same reason, I opposed Batista, I joined forces with a group of high school students and university students and we founded a revolutionary movement. I joined farmers, professionals, workers and students. I was in the students sector. I was the national head of the students revolutionary movement.
"In the beginning of the revolution, Castro put on the front that he was going to create a democracy," said Ricardo Lamas. "A lot of Cubans helped in the revolution but found out they were brainwashed or tricked. When my dad realized what was going on, and Castro showed his true colors, my Dad switched sides. He founded a group of students. They started an underground movement against Fidel Castro and the revolution. They started doing their thing, speaking out against the government. They handed out newspapers, tried to take over radio stations and broadcast their message to the people. That's extremely dangerous to do in Cuba."
After participating in an event in 1962, he realized that his life was in jeopardy.
"At the time, the Cuban government had infiltrated my dad's group of underground people," said Ricardo Lamas. "My dad got out and his second in command took over. His second in command was caught, tried, sentenced and executed in the span of 23 days."
Through a connection, Jose Lamas obtained refuge at the Brazilian embassy in Cuba. There were only a few embassies in the country because very few countries still had diplomatic relations with Castro. After getting refuge, he left Brazil for Chicago and started a family of six boys, Ricardo being the youngest.
"Isn't it funny that my son is fighting a Brazilian?", said Jose Lamas. "They saved my life. Even though the government of Brazil was friendly with Castro, they gave me protection and allowed me to leave Cuba."
His father, who at first didn't like wrestling, and later didn't really like MMA, is proudest of the fact that his son never quits.
"He has a great heart," said Jose Lamas. "Ricardo is very courageous, very creative, and doesn't give up. He has never been submitted. He has never lost a fight by decision. He doesn't talk trash and he doesn't like losing at all. If you want to beat him, you have to take out his heart. He's not going to ever surrender. He's not going to ever give up. He will face Aldo anywhere Aldo wants, and he will take advantage of anything that happens."
After Jose Lamas came to Chicago, he started working in Spanish language radio in 1967, and moved to television in 1974. When Ch. 44 in Chicago became the city's first full-time Spanish language station, he was hired first as General Sales Manager in 1985. Two years later he was the General Manger of the station. He had a reputation for always saying what he thought and fighting for his beliefs. When Telemundo bought the station in 1997, a series of disputes he said made it very easy for him to leave after a few months.
"Growing up, I saw my dad get into plenty of altercations," said Ricardo Lamas. "He's a guy who is never going to be disrespected. He's never going to be talked down to. If he's got a problem with you, he'll tell you to your face. You have to respect a guy like that. They say what they mean and they mean what they say."
"That's ridiculous to talk about before my son fights Aldo," said Jose Lamas. "He's assuming Ricardo is going to lose. It's a mistake. He should wait to see what happens, and then he can ask Pettis to come down and fight Ricardo."
The elder Lamas has worked up some emotion for that fight, with the feeling Pettis talked his way into a title shot (which Pettis ended up pulling out of due to a knee injury) that his son earned. He also remembered that months earlier, Pettis got the knockout of the night bonus on the Jan. 26, 2013, FOX show over his son.
"He knocked (Donald) Cerrone out with a kick to the liver," said Jose Lamas. "Ten seconds later, Cerrone was standing up. They had to take about five minutes to get Erik Koch (who Lamas beat in a title eliminator) in shape to leave the ring. And he didn't get the knockout of the night. He was shortchanged, the same way he was shortchanged for a year-and-a-half by not having the opportunity to fight Aldo. Ricardo decided to wait and not complain. I'm the one who complains. I'm his father and I think I have the right to say what I think."
Ricardo Lamas also has first-hand experience of his father standing up for his family through his actions as well.
"One of my earliest memories, is when my brother and my dad were playing tennis," said Ricardo Lamas. "I was the ball boy. A group of other guys were playing tennis there also. I was getting in the way of their game and they yelled at me. My dad got into a fight with four other guys. My brother got cracked in the head with a tennis racket.
"Another time, we were at my grandmother's house, and she lives in a pretty bad neighborhood. There were a lot of gang members, a lot of gangs. We want to a taco joint that we always went to when we were there. We parked. A couple of gang bangers pulled up and yelled at my dad to pull out of what they said was their spot. I remember looking out the back window worried about my dad. My dad goes over to their car, puts half of his body into the car, pulls their gears into reverse and they left. I don't know anyone else who would have the balls to do that. They could have had guns."
Lamas was a big wrestling and Bruce Lee fan growing up. He remembers watching Bruce Lee movies on a daily basis. He did Tae Kwon Do early and competed in wrestling in high school and college, placing sixth in the Division III nationals while wrestling for Elmhurt College in Elmhurst, Ill., in 2005. One day, his older brother came home with a tape of UFC 3 or 4.
"It was the first thing I saw and I loved it," Ricardo Lamas said. "I watched those tapes every night, wanting to learn more and be a UFC fighter. When I graduated college, I had a wanted to compete and decided to give MMA a try."
He noted that his brothers were fans, but his father wasn't.
"He didn't really understand the sport. He saw it as human cockfighting. I told him I was going to do it whether he liked it or not. He went to my first amateur fight, and he's been to every fight since. Now he's a big UFC fan. He watches it whenever it's on TV. He's even gone to the bar, by himself, to watch the pay-per-views."
"I wasn't against it really," Jose Lamas said. "He consulted with me, and I was okay with it. I thought it was much different than the sport he had been practicing in high school and college. I wasn't really familiar with mixed martial arts as a sport and I was kind of confused about it. But I never opposed it. I told him whatever he wanted to do he would have my support. But now I' very much enjoy the UFC. I learned it's not just about being tough, you have to be an artist, a well-rounded fighter. It's not just punches and kicks.
"In the case of wrestling, when Ricardo was in high school and college, I fell in love with the sport. But it made me very nervous watching him. When he was in high school, I was nervous. When he was wrestling in college, I was a little more nervous because he was going against tougher competition."
Ricardo Lamas is stepping into the cage as a 5-to-1 underdog against Aldo (23-1). With the title loss this past year of Anderson Silva, and the leave of absence and vacating the title of Georges St-Pierre, Aldo, at four years and two plus months, is the longest reigning champion in the UFC. He first won the WEC featherweight title from Mike Brown on Nov. 18, 2009. He's defended the title, which became the UFC championship when the WEC was shut down at the end of 2010, seven times. Between WEC and UFC competition, he's 13-0, the best record of any fighter in the history of the company.
"The guy is a champion for a reason," said Ricardo Lamas. "He's been champion for so long for a reason. He's a great fighter. I think people get caught up in the pound-for-pound thing. I just look at him as another opponent. I'm not going to be intimidated by the name or the record.
"He doesn't have many weaknesses," Ricardo Lamas noted. "He's a very strong fighter. He's a very strong guy. I'm just excited for the challenge of taking on a fighter of his caliber. I'm always up for a challenge. You tell me I can't do something and I'm going to say, 'Hold on, and I'll do it right now'."