David Rickels is fearless.
Maybe it's his youth (23) or the fact that he's never been bested in mixed martial arts (9-0 overall including 3-0 in Bellator), but he's marching forward into the Bellator season six welterweight tournament brimming with confidence.
He's not afraid of the fact that there are three men in the tournament who were very successful middleweights before dropping down. Not even despite the fact that he, himself, barely cuts any weight.
He's not one for gameplans either, preferring to to scrap it out and get a feel for his opponent once the cage doors close.
That's one of the reasons he earned his nickname "The Caveman," for his wild attacking style when he first got into the sport, perhaps recklessly going 100 percent against much more established kickboxing veterans and taking his licks.
The Kansan native will be taking on late replacement Jordan Smith at Bellator 63 this Friday night (March 30, 2012) in the tournament quarterfinals and he spoke with MMAmania.com about his relentless fighting style, giving up his partying ways and why he dislikes gameplans in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were preparing for Brian Foster and all of a sudden he has this medical situation and he's not cleared to fight and now Jordan Smith's in. What are your thoughts on the whole opponent switch just over a week out from your fight?
David Rickels: Yeah, it's definitely a curveball, the opponent switch and everything, getting ready for Brian Foster. Basically, with Brian Foster, he's a little shorter than my new opponent, also right-handed unlike my new opponent who's a lefty but stylistically, I think it's not a bad match-up for me. I'm ready to get in there. It's only a week out and there's not much I'm gonna be able to change about that. As far as getting ready, he's a lefty, he likes to stand up and trade and I like to do that also. It's definitely going to be an exciting match.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of that, you talk about how much you love to stand up and trade and I've seen some of your fights. You have this crazy caveman, move forward, aggressive style. So why do you think it is that so many of your fights you end up on the ground with you getting a triangle choke?
David Rickels: Man, I really don't know what it is. I think it's a little bit of everything. I've fought a lot of grapplers. Most of these guys have wanted to grapple and they think the're safe once they get me to the ground and that's just not the case. So officially, if this guy wants to stand and trade, one, he's going to get hit eventually and is probably gonna go down. If he wants to go to the ground, we'll end up doing that but I'm not looking, unless I get some easy takedowns, I see this fight staying standing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you've been training in Kansas, but you've also been working with Josh Neer over in Des Moines, Iowa. Is that somewhere that you've worked out often or is that new?
David Rickels: No, it's definitely a new occurrence. Who I'm training with now mostly in Manhattan, Kansas is Joe Wilk. He's a pretty high level pro in the gym out there but we don't have that top level. I don't feel comfortable just hanging around my gym all the time so what I like to do is go out and find these other places we can go train. He got ahold of some friends and we talked it out and I trained with Josh Neer. That guy is badass. We got in there, we sparred and had a good time and all that and he's helping me while teaching the whole time. There was no big heads or anything. Sometimes you go into these gyms and all the pros just want to knock each other the fuck out, you know?
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It sounds like that's a good relationship because in my opinion, I believe you and Neer have very similar styles.
David Rickels: Yeah, definitely. That guy's awesome. You can hit him with any kind of combination and he'll just walk straight through you.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Moving on to this tournament, Jordan Smith is a guy who's spent most of his career as a middleweight. Bryan Baker is a guy who made it to the finals at middleweight and has competed in two middleweight tournaments and then you've got Karl Amoussou, a fighter who's spent most of his career at 185 and is dropping down. Is that a concern at all, how big most of these guys are when I know that you've hardly cut any weight?
David Rickels: Concerned? Not necessarily, but it's definitely something I'm gonna have to work with. Especially grappling-wise, you get those bigger guys, once they get on top of you, you have to carry their weight and it takes a good toll on your energy and stuff. This fight coming in with Jordan Smith, with both of us standing up and with him being a little bigger, he packs some pretty good punching power and he's not afraid to take a punch either. He's had some wars.
I don't think weight will be big factor in this fight but overall, yeah it sucks carrying around bigger guys and trading with them too. I don't cut very much weight and I've expressed my thoughts of going to 155 plenty of times but if something's not broke, don't fix it. I'm 9-0 at 170. I'm in this tournament and I'm looking to win the whole thing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's a great mindset to have. Jordan's style, you talked about his stand-up a bit and I had an opportunity to check out his style. He's pretty patient and he likes to work from the outside a bit. Do you think the fact that he doesn't come inside as much, is that something you can use to your advantage because you're so aggressive?
David Rickels: Yeah, there's definitely gonna be some crashing in together. I'm gonna come forward and I don't think he's gonna back down. He's gonna look to trade too. One thing I noticed about his style a little bit is he kind of likes to push the pace but I don't know how he's gonna handle it when I'm pushing forward on him. It's gonna be interesting to get in there and see how it goes.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): People are just starting to learn a little more about you. You went 3-0 before getting invited into this tournament. I'm interested in telling your story a little bit. What was your background before getting into MMA?
David Rickels: Before getting into MMA, I grew up in a small town outside of Wichita, Kansas, basically a suburb. I grew up there, liked to party, liked to have fun. I wrestled a couple years and basically, I never really got into it like a lot of other people did. I hated team sports because I would get so overly angry at my team whenever we lost because I always felt like it was everyone else's fault so I pretty much ruled out team sports because if I lose in the cage, I know it's my fault. That's something I did wrong and I've got no one to blame but myself.
Growing up, I enjoyed wrestling and I stayed friends with the wrestling team and they ended up going to some jiu-jitsu gym outside of town and they called me and told me about it. "You've got to go check this out!" It was actually more of a kickboxing gym and I still train there today. I had kickboxing and jiu-jitsu and I loved it. I've been doing that since I was 18 and I'm 23 years old now and I still love it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): At 23 years old, I believe you're the youngest member of this tournament. Do you feel like experience-wise, you can hang with all these guys?
David Rickels: There's another 9-0 guy in the tournament but definitely these guys have been around for a long time. I remember before my last Bellator fight, I was sitting in the hotel room and I was watching Douglas Lima fight some guy on HDNet and I was like, "Damn, all these guys have been fighting forever!" and it's really cool but when that cage door closes, I don't have any other mindset other than, I don't care who you are. We're gonna fight no matter what happens so I can't let any of that other stuff bother me. A lot of times, I don't do a lot of strategizing or anything when I go into fights. I know what I'm capable of doing. I know where I want to be. I know the dangerous spots. I know where I'm good at so I just try to play off of that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you picture victory, you said you don't strategize much so I don't know if you use visualization or anything but when you picture victory against Jordan Smith, what do you see?
David Rickels: Knockout. (laughs) I see me raising hands in glory and then heading to the first beer I can get to. I do actually do a bit of visualization, man. I always just try to picture myself victorious in any way, shape or form. I just go through my head what could happen and what I need to do but as far as a gameplan, Jackson camps, they have really strict gameplans that they have to stick to and I don't conform to that. It's too much of a fight in my eyes to look at it like a basketball game.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That beer joke actually reminds me that you've said you used to party a lot but did moving out and training, preparing for fights like this, did that slow you down in that department in terms of maturity?
David Rickels: As far as partying, oh yeah. Huge. Honestly, I my old rule was I would always drink and do whatever I wanted to do up until like two weeks out of my fights. That is obviously a terrible idea and I would never recommend it for anyone. I'm fortunate in my career in that I've been able to do what I've been able to do but ever since I signed with Bellator, I knew I had a chance to change things around and make a career out of this, you know?
That's something I really wanted to do. I have long-term goals of opening up my own gym and stuff and basically, I came to a realization that half-assing things isn't going to cut it anymore. I talked to Joe Wilk out in Manhattan, Kansas and I moved out there and lived with those guys now. We've got five fighters in the same house and we live and breathe off each other and it's such a good click that I wouldn't want to go back.
David would like to thank Andy Zerger from JMTK, Jake Fox for helping with BJJ, Joe Wilk at the Combative Sports Center. He'd like to thank his sponsors Onnit Labs and Galaxy Supplements. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCaveman316.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Rickels' heart and tenacity make up for his lack of size in this tournament? How do you like his odds against a field which includes fighters like Ben Saunders, Bryan Baker and Karl Amoussou?