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Mike Ricci: A Dream Come True

When you‘re young and into sports, you envision yourself competing at the highest level.The game of street hockey with your friends isn‘t taking place on Caledonia Avenue; you‘re playing at Joe Louis Arena, for the Red Wings, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The basketball court up at the park transforms into the Staples Center, and you‘re the new Kobe, doing your thing on the way to another championship ring.No matter what sport you‘re playing, the roar of the home crowd is so real in your head that you swear you can hear it on the wind. The silent play-by-play recited with each step, each move, and each shot becomes audible as you rise up to stroke the winning jumper.From the time he decided to become a professional fighter, Mike Ricci envisioned himself fighting at home in Montreal, before a ravenous packed house at the Bell Centre, walking towards the Octagon for a bout in the UFC lightweight division as part of a massive pay-per-view fight card.Over his first 11 fights, the 26-year-old product of the renowned Tristar Gym has experienced different pieces of that dream independent from one another. He‘s fought at the home of Les Habitants on a number of occasions, and always in front of passionate, partisan crowds. Last December, he made his first official appearance inside the Octagon at welterweight, losing to Colton Smith in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter.Saturday night, Ricci will get to live out his dream exactly the way he‘s always envisioned it.“This is what I got started in this sport for, right ”“ to be in the UFC, as a lightweight?” Ricci asked rhetorically. “The hand I was dealt played me into being a welterweight, being on TUF, and going through all of that ”“ which was a great experience. I learned a lot, and improved a lot, but now is what I‘ve always dreamed of: fighting in the UFC, at lightweight, at home, on pay-per-view in front of 20,000 people.“I couldn‘t really ask for much more; I get to live out my dream. Even though it‘s just the beginning of my career, I get to do what I‘ve been wanting to do for the last six years that one night. I can‘t really describe (how it feels). I can explain the specifics, but the feeling I can‘t really speak on; it‘s hard to describe.”While the feelings that fill Ricci as he thinks about stepping into the cage with Colin “Freakshow” Fletcher to kick off the pay-per-view portion of Saturday night‘s UFC 158 fight card are ineffable, the engaging Canadian competitor is not at a loss for words when it comes to his motivation heading into this fight.After making it to the finals on Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter as a welterweight, Ricci had no answers for Smith in the finals, losing a unanimous decision to the active-duty member of the United States Army in a fight that can best be described as bland.Advancing to the finals while fighting up in weight bought the now 8-3 fighter another kick at the can back down at his natural weight of 155 pounds, where he‘ll meet Fletcher, who missed out on his chance to join the fraternity of Ultimate Fighter winners when he lost to Norman Parke in the lightweight finals on “The Smashes” the same night Ricci was controlled by Smith.It‘s an evening the long and lean lightweight has regrets about, not for his performance, but for his preparation, and he has actively worked to change the elements of that fight camp in order to avoid experiencing those same distractions and frustrations this time around.“This fight has been completely about me,” Ricci stated flatly. “I have not focused on any social media; I‘ve barely done any interviews. I‘m done with everything else. I was so caught up with what everyone else was saying, what websites I was on, what interviews I was doing, and I fought that night in the TUF Finale for everybody else.“I tore my (lateral cruciate ligament) about a month and a half before the fight, and in all honesty, I was sitting on the bench for four weeks. I probably shouldn‘t have taken that fight, but I fought for everybody else. I was in the finale, the first Canadian, I was with a new management company, I was with the UFC, so I had to make them happy.“I was so caught up in everybody else,” he continued, his frustration with the experience evident in his voice. “I was fighting for everybody else, worried about what everybody else was saying, and I kind of forgot where I came from, and how hard I worked to get to where I am. That has been the best part of this training camp for me, and now on fight night I get to go out there and do what I do best.“I literally went over to The Ultimate Fighter thinking, ‘I need to stand up and knock these dudes out. If I do take them down, I have to be very cautious about how I use my energy.‘ Now that I‘m here at ‘55, I can use all my tools ”“ my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling, my striking ”“ and I look forward to showing everyone and reminding everyone that I‘m a lightweight.”W…

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