Richie Lewis knew he had the pedigree to be a force in mixed martial arts but that reputation comes as a blessing and a curse.
The New Jersey native came up as a wrestler who eventually attended Iowa Central Community College — a haven for future MMA champions such as Jon Jones, Colby Covington and Cain Velasquez. From there, Lewis attended Rutgers University and competed in wrestling at the Division I level but it was all done with a very specific purpose in mind.
“Since I was about 10 or 11 years old, I would watch the UFC with my dad,” Lewis told MMA Fighting. “My dad’s a blue collar carpenter, hard worker, gets up every day at 5 a.m. so his whole mantra was ‘I get up at 5 a.m. so you can do something different.’
“He didn’t let me have a job growing up just so I could focus on athletics. I wasn’t that good at school, I just didn’t like it but he said it’s OK not to be good at school, I just want you to follow your dreams and be a fighter, be an Olympic wrestler, that was the direction I was taking.”
As much as he loved fighting, Lewis says the ultimate inspiration came in the middle of high school when he saw someone from his hometown reach the pinnacle of the sport and he was immediately hooked.
“As soon as I saw Frankie Edgar win the belt, I was like this is something I can do,” Lewis said. “He was from the same town I’m from.”
While he always knew he wanted to get involved with fighting, Lewis attended college after his mother urged him to continue his higher education. Lewis admits he went to Iowa Central and eventually Rutgers to appease his mom’s wishes but he also learned a lot from those two prestigious wrestling programs.
That said, Lewis still had a long term focus on fighting and that led to a bit of a rollercoaster ride where his wrestling career was concerned.
“I was always a foot in the door, a foot out of the door in wrestling,” Lewis said. “I can say that’s been an issue with my inconsistency you can see on my record. I won a world championship but I didn’t win an NCAA title in the same year, within three months. I always knew I was going to be a fighter.”
Once he fully committed to MMA, Lewis started working with coaches like John Danaher in New York before eventually finding his way to Florida where he’s been training with the team at Sanford MMA, which boasts an impressive roster of fighters such as Gilbert Burns, Michael Chandler and Robbie Lawler.
He’s gone 2-0 in his career thus far with both of his fights taking place in Titan FC but he’s also been out of action for the past nine months due to the difficulties he’s had finding opponents.
In fact, Lewis says between the promotion, his management team and friends helping him look for potential matchups, he scouted an obscene amount of fighters just to find one person willing to face him.
“We’ve talked to over 300 guys just my team personally and I’m sure Titan has talked to 50 or 60 guys just to get me one fight,” Lewis revealed. “It looks from here we have some things worked out after this last one fell through.”
On Friday, Lewis returns for a fight against that one opponent — Kelvin Bowen — who accepted the challenge but the 27-year-old wrestler turned fighter believes this is ultimately just the next step to his final destination.
“I think I’m progressing faster than anyone in the world,” Lewis said. “I think if you watch my first fight, you see the flaws that I had. If you see my second fight, you see a lot less flaws. If you see this fight, you’re going to see a performance. Now I think I’m turning into more of a complete fighter and I’ll continue to become a more complete fighter.
“Not to say I’m putting a clock on anything but I’ll be in the UFC by next year. I have a 12 to 18 month plan. I’m going to be as active as possible over the next 12 to 18 months and hopefully I’ll get signed to the UFC.”