MEXICO CITY -- Fewer things turn a good mood sour faster than evoking the name of Ireland's favorite son in the presence of a featherweight who happens to not be named Conor McGregor. You can see it in the eyes: that flash of anger, the immediate scowl, the inevitable caricature of an Irish impression that's soon to follow.
Though as many would say, it simply is what it is. McGregor's verbal recklessness by itself may not be enough, but when paired with a formidable set of skills, the marriage has proven to be an effective fast track to the fame, contendership, and cash flood that's hard to come by in today's mixed martial arts landscape. So the while the man who's freestyled the 145-pounders to a new level of infamy plays his part as the division's biggest heel, he's also imparting a few lessons along the way, and UFC 180's Ricardo Lamas has been listening.
"I've got no problem saying what I want, and I'm going to continue to get more vocal about the things that I want to do with my career," Lamas said on Wednesday. "Just letting people know what I want. Not sitting back and letting things pass by anymore.
"It's hard for me. Fight week, I'm in the zone. Everybody, my girlfriend, my brothers, my friends, they all tell me, when I'm training for a fight, like in the gym messing around, they're always like, ‘why don't you act like this in front of the cameras?' I don't know, I'm in the zone, I'm a different person during fight week. But I'm trying to work on getting my real personality out there more.
"Being more vocal about what I want for my career, who I want to fight next, or whatever. Just not being a clown and trash talking, saying, ‘look at this pocket watch, t'ree people died making this.'"
Of course the old Irish caricature impression reared it's head for that last line, though more so in a resigned sense than from any place of indignation. After all, this is the way things are now out in 145-pound Land.
Lamas trekked his way up the mountain once, but that was in different featherweight division -- a featherweight division largely devoid of any urgent and obvious contenders, where merit and opportunity alone granted title shots and no one would really complain when a Jose Aldo fight co-headlined underneath a 135-pound championship.
How strange that memory seems nine months later.
With a little flair, a ‘Fight of the Year' candidate, and sudden glut of convincing contenders, the 145-pounders have blossomed into one of the most hypnotic weekly shows under the UFC banner. It's reached the point where Lamas' opponent, Dennis Bermudez, implausibly may have to hit nine or 10 wins in a row before he even begins to sniff a title shot, while former Aldo challengers like Lamas aren't even finding themselves in the discussion.
"I think the true knowledgeable fans know about this fight and they're very interested in it," Lamas said about being overlooked. "For the casual fan, it might not be (big), but I don't care, man. After this fight, they will be talking about it.
"Dennis is a top-10 guy. From here I'm going to be fighting nothing but top-10 guys, top-five guys, so if I keep winning my fights, that's all I've got to do."
While a No. 4 still sits pleasantly by his name whenever the UFC's media-generated rankings enter the discussion, Lamas acknowledges that the nature of his loss to Aldo makes this comeback run a bit harder. That's why every fight from here is of the utmost importance, and that's why Lamas plans to take his career into his own hands with his voice moving forward.
Because guys like Bermudez, they may be farther down the line, with a cute little No. 7 beside their name rather than something few digits lower, but the upstart 27-year-old has the momentum of time on his side, not to mention a furious win streak, and Lamas knows it's only so long before this new guard sinks their claws into the featherweight division and tries to claim it as their own.
"[Bermudez] was a wrestler, but it seems like he's coming into his own now," Lamas said. "He's becoming more well rounded. He's using his boxing more, and just the way he puts pressure on guys and breaks guys in his fights.
"He reminds me of myself a few years back, when I was coming up. He's getting a lot more well rounded, he's a great fighter, I have a lot of respect for him. He's also a good guy. I can't say anything bad about him. But with all that being said, we're going to go in there and try to beat the s**t out of each other."