Smealinho Rama has an ambitious -- and capitalistic -- career plan.
The World Series of Fighting heavyweight champion wants to become a hot commodity outside of the UFC and eventually parlay that into a hefty contract with the promotion. Rama, 23, is one of the best heavyweight prospects in the world and will look to defend his title against Blagoi Ivanov in the co-main event of WSOF 21 on Friday in Edmonton.
After the Ivanov bout, Rama will only have one fight left on his WSOF deal, he said. So this is a pivotal fight and not one he's looking past. But the Greece native and Calgary resident has an outline for how he sees his fighting career playing out.
"[UFC fighter], they take whatever pay is given to them and they go and jump in there with the sharks and take these incredible fights," Rama told MMAFighting.com. "Guys like Alistair Overeem built themselves outside of the UFC. That's what I'm trying to do right now. I'm trying to build myself so when they're ready to have me, I'm a product that they need. You understand what I'm saying? So that when I'm there they're giving me the most possible money and I'm getting exposure and I'm getting everything that the top guys should be getting."
Rama (9-1) is not necessarily ruling out extending his deal with WSOF if it ups the ante (assuming he defeats Ivanov). He said he has also received some interest from ONE Championship in Asia. Rama's goal is to simply maximize his value and make as much money as he can.
"Isn't that what we're all here doing?" Rama said.
That's not to say he isn't loyal. Rama moved from Greece to Detroit with his family when he was a child. Then, his family moved to Calgary. Rama's parents have headed back to their homeland, but Rama remains because he didn't want to leave his coaches and training partners at Goldenstars Boxing and Goncalves BJJ. He's had opportunities to go to a bigger camp in the United States, but has spurned them.
In fact, Rama identifies himself more with his team than he does with any country.
"Canada has done nothing for me," Rama said. "Greece did nothing for me. I did everything. I put in my efforts and my coaches and teammates helped me get there. I represent my team, I represent myself, my family and my loved ones. That's what I represent. I don't represent any country. I don't believe in any of that. Race has no part in this sport."
Rama has all the tools to become a potential star. He well-spoken and opinionated. Inside the cage, Rama is well-rounded with solid athleticism and knockout power. In a division starving for up-and-comers of any kind, Rama is one of the best. He knows that, too, but pays little attention to any prospect talk.
"Honestly, it doesn't matter to me," Rama said. "I fight and get paid, so what people have to say doesn't really concern me, because I'm just doing my job every single time. Their opinions don't have any weight on what happens in my training and what happens in my matches and what happens in my reputation and my ranking and stuff like that."
Opinions certainly won't help him beat Ivanov (11-1), a versatile veteran who is coming off a very successful run in Bellator. Rama admits the Bulgarian will be his toughest opponent, but he is confident nonetheless.
A victory, especially an emphatic one, will allow him to work toward his goal. Rama is all upside right now, but he's on the verge of having solid free-agent value. And you better believe he'll test that market.
"World Series of Fighting says if somebody comes along and gives you a better offer they're more than happy to let you go and let you take the opportunity," Rama said. "I believe that they stand by their word and we'll see what happens after this fight.
"If World Series of Fighting is willing to renegotiate, I would love to stay with them. But if not, then it's a business at the same time. And I've gotta go where is best for me. Not to take away from World Series of Fighting, but the pay could be better."
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