There are certain fighters who are synonymous with the Bellator MMA brand as the company reaches its milestone 200th event.
Then’s there another tier of fighters. Call them the Bellator regulars. They’re the mainstays who signed on with Bellator at an early age in their fighting careers, grew with the fledgling company, and have become such a regular part of the scenery that their presence is almost taken for granted.
“The Caveman” David Rickels is in the latter group, but he’s ready to make the jump to the A-list.
The Wichita-based welterweight debuted with the company back at Bellator 40 in 2011 with just five pro bouts under his belt. In a fine bit symmetry, he’ll have his 20th Bellator fight on Friday night at Bellator 200, and it will be his highest-profile bout to date: Rickels meets the much-hyped Michael “Venom” Page in the co-feature bout in London.
“This is the fight I’ve been waiting on,” Rickels said. “This is the opportunity. When they called me and told me the name and the date, I was ready, no hesitation.”
When Rickels signed with Bellator, he hadn’t given a thought to the longterm implications. He had gotten his career off to a strong start on the local scene by going 5-0 with four finishes. Bellator was a chance to get to a bigger stage, but Rickels couldn’t have imagined what the company would become.
“It was just a chance to fight for a company that was on television,” Rickels said. “A chance to fight and make a little more money. I wasn’t thinking beyond my next fight at that point, much less making a career out of fighting for Bellator.”
He’s proven to be a formidable opponent and a tough out for anyone over the years, racking up a 13-4 record with two no-contests in the Bellator cage and winning Bellator’s season eight lightweight tournament.
But Rickels acknowledges he’s come up short in his biggest challenges, including a pair of losses to Chandler and a knockout loss to Patricky Freire.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t always have the confidence,” Rickels said. “I didn’t always believe in myself. I’d get to a certain level and I’d start to question if I belong.”
Still, despite his status as a Bellator mainstay, Rickels is just 29, and feeling like he’s in the sweet spot where he’s experienced enough to become a wiser fighter while still being young enough to be in his athletic prime. That’s borne out in the cage, as, minus a no-contest against Melvin Guillard, Rickels carries a three-fight win streak into Bellator 200. A win over Page would match the longest of his Bellator career.
“Just growing up and having faith in myself has been a big part of it,” Rickels said. “Your attitude affects everything from your training to how you deal with people to your results in your fights. What you’ve seen from me recently is a fighter who is growing in confidence, who is ready to get to the top level.”
That type of confidence is why he jumped at the opportunity to fight “MVP” on the latter’s home turf.
“I’m looking at this like it’s a free trip to London,” Rickels said. “I know the company is pushing Page, I know I’m being brought in as the opponent, but that’s just going to make it all the more sweet when I take him out at Bellator 200. I can think of no better way to announce that I’m here than by taking out their anointed one.”