SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For years, mixed martial arts competition was this fun little thing Ramsey Nijem found himself doing. He won some, he lost some, he got his face on television as a part of The Ultimate Fighter's 13th season.
Eventually, though, the 26-year old Palestinian-American realized he was going to have to get serious about this if he was going to get the most out of the career opportunity he had been given.
"If I'm not going to fight for the title, why am I even here?" Njiem asked at Thursday's UFC 177 media day at Sleep Train Arena. "It's a very painful career choice just to be doing it for fun."
After dropping both of his fights via finish in 2013, Nijem had a decision to make. The answer came in the form of a move from Utah, where he had roots dating back to his collegiate wrestling days, and a relocation to San Francisco, where he now trains with the likes of Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez.
The results have been obvious: Nijem (9-4) is 2-0 in 2014 and looking to build on his momentum in the lightweight division when he meets Carlos Diego Ferreira on Saturday night's main card.
Training with the Skrap Pack members, who have fought all over the world and collected numerous titles along the way, has made all the difference.
"They taught me how to be a professional, what it takes to get to the next level," Njiem said. "Like with Jake and Gil, the way they approach each training session, the way they approach the fight, it's a lot different mentality. They're very high level for a reason and they have a different mentality, they just taught me the mentality and the hunger and what I need to do to keep winning fights."
"I had to make the decision I have a fight career and this is what I want for a career, said Nijem, whose last victory, over Beneil Dariush in April in Abu Dhabi, earned him his first UFC performance bonus. "I have a feeling now like, I have a different attitude I really think I now belong amongst the top 55ers in the world."
A victory on Saturday would be Nijem's third in a row, and should he get there, he feels he'll be due for a step up in competition.
"I want to fight top-10 guys," Nijem said. "I want to get tested, do I want to be fighting amongst guys who aren't going to help me promote my career as a fighter. I feel like a lot of these fights, they keep giving me opponents who are newcomers to the UFC that aren't established and it doesn't matter how tough they are. At the end of the day, if you beat them, you were supposed to beat them, and if you don't, you weren't supposed to lose. It's this situation I've been stuck in and I really want to go up higher and start really fighting guys who are going to help put me in title contention."