David Rickels is ready to make another run at the Bellator lightweight title. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
David Rickels has no problem admitting that he wasn’t ready.
When “The Caveman” stepped in to replace the injured Dave Jansen and challenge Michael Chandler for lightweight gold at Bellator 97, he had trouble imagining himself hoisting the title above his head at the end of the night.
“I remember holding the belt and thinking how strange it was that I could be wearing it. Now, knowing how I think it should be, it shouldn’t be a strange feeling,” Rickels told Sherdog.com. “I should know that I should be wearing that belt. I just thought I was gonna lose. I just didn’t really see myself winning that fight.”
Rickels wasn’t sure he belonged, and his performance reflected that mentality: Chandler demolished him in a mere 44 seconds on that July night in New Mexico. These days, Rickels is taking a decidedly different approach in large part because his most recent setback, a second-round knockout against Patricky Freire at Bellator 113, still eats at him.
“A lot mentally changed for me when I lost to Patricky because I believe I’m a better fighter than Patricky,” he said. “I’ve got a strong belief in myself. When that happened I kind of let myself down.”
In the past, Rickels was never the type to maintain a strict diet when he didn’t have a fight scheduled. Instead, he would simply bear down when training camp arrived. Following the loss to Freire, Rickels has revamped that philosophy.
Ahead of his previous fight, a victory over Davi Ramos at Bellator 130, the Kansas native said he began camp between 185 and 190 pounds. When he began his current camp, he was some 15 pounds lighter.
“What I decided to do was be a professional. What are these other guys doing are the highest level of fighting that I’m not doing? They’re training harder than I was, they were eating better than I was and they weren’t f----ing around between camps,” Rickels said. “I’m keeping my weight down, I’m staying in the gym and I’m training my ass off because I want to be one of the best fighters in Bellator.
“I want to be the best fighter at 155. I want to hold the belt above my head and say, ‘This is f----ing awesome.’”
The new-and-improved Rickels will face veteran fighter John Alessio in the Bellator 139 co-main event on Friday at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET, while the preliminary draw streams on Spike.com beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
“He’s a very crafty veteran. He’s been around for a long time. He’s made a pretty good career out of just sticking in there with guys,” Rickels said. “He’s hard to finish, but that’s where I guess I want to break that image. I really want to go in there and just mutilate him. I want to paint a picture that the Caveman is evolved, and he’s ready to go on a title run.”
Should all go as planned against Alessio, Rickels has already mapped out a path to get him where he wants to be, and it involves proving he belongs against Chandler, who easily outclassed him two years ago.
“I feel that I’m ready now. I feel that I can beat anyone,” he said. “I think that a great way of proving that would be to redeem myself from a loss. Michael Chandler, when I fought him the first time, I doubted myself a little bit. I’m not there anymore. That’s not the same me.”