Ricky Simon knows an opportunity when he sees one.
Nothing has been smooth for the 26-year-old since his first brush with the UFC back in August 2017. Simon was given a shot to earn a UFC contract on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but his split decision win over Donavon Frelow wasn’t enough to convince the boss to offer him a deal, so he ended up taking a couple of fights on the regional scene and capturing the Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight title before getting the short-notice call to fight Merab Dvalishvili at UFC Atlantic City.
Simon eked out a controversial victory over Dvalishvili then defeated Montel Jackson by unanimous decision in his next outing to improve to 14-1. A battle of prospects between himself and Ricardo Ramos at UFC Denver fell through when Ramos bowed out with an injury, but rather than be kept in a holding pattern, Simon was actually granted a matchup with the more established Rani Yahya next.
The two meet on the main card of UFC 234 on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, and Simon has his eye on Yahya’s spot in the rankings.
“This is a perfect opportunity to show that I’m one of the elite bantamweights in the world,” Simon recently told MMA Fighting. “He’s a veteran, he’s experienced, and we’re on the main card so there’s gonna be a lot of eyes on us and this is my chance to make a statement and to really get things going for me in 2019.
“I feel like with a dominant win over Yahya, I’m going to be right there, ranked at least top 20, and start climbing that ladder and making my way towards the belt.”
In getting the Yahya fight, Simon not only received a higher-ranked opponent than Ramos, but his management was also able to secure him a new four-year UFC contract when the plan was originally to complete his previous deal with the Ramos fight and then negotiate from there.
Still, it stung to miss out on that opportunity to match up with a fellow up-and-comer that Simon felt he was destined to fight after beating Jackson at UFC 227.
“I was definitely super disappointed, because Ricardo and I actually fought on the same card at UFC 227 and we kind of shared a moment backstage after both of our fights,” Simon said. “We fist-bumped as we walked by each other and I felt like we were definitely going to fight each other down the line.
“It ended up almost happening, but I thought it was going to be a great fight and a chance for me to showcase my skills, but I feel everything happens for a reason, and that fight got scrapped and now I’m fighting a ranked opponent. So I can’t complain too much about that.”
The forward-thinking Simon is always peaking at the rankings, trying to figure out who is next for him, though he’s not looking past the always dangerous Yahya, a veteran of 36 fights who has won seven of his last eight and his last three by submission.
But it’s those credentials that have Simon excited about what a win on Saturday could mean for him and his next booking.
“I’m always looking at the top 15 and what fight makes sense,” Simon said. “I wasn’t sure if Alejandro Perez has a fight booked yet, that’s definitely a name I’m looking at. Another way to climb up the ranks, he’s right there, so I feel like that would be a great fight. The clash of styles would be great.
“I’m always trying to see who has a fight scheduled and who doesn’t, what would make the best sense, who to call out and who I should face after my next fight, after my next win.”