While David Rickels will likely walk to the cage using one of his wild entrances, “The Caveman” promises he is a changed man. He no longer fluffs off training, no longer takes his career lightly and never again wants to leave an arena as a loser.
Rickels will rematch former Bellator MMA lightweight champion Michael Chandler in a featured pairing at Bellator 145 on Friday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. There, the bearded fighter with the caveman club will try to eradicate the demons that remain from a 44-second knockout at the hands of Chandler two years ago. Rickels admits he blew an opportunity that night, though it took some time to assess what went wrong.
“Chandler has motivated me to change everything,” Rickels told Sherdog.com. “There were two defining moments that put me on this path that has made me the great fighter that I am now, but it all started with Chandler. I went into denial mode when he beat me. I was like, ‘That mother[expletive]! He got lucky. He clipped me. I’ll show everybody.’”
After a victory over J.J. Ambrose three months later, Rickels was on the receiving end of a second-round knockout against Patricky Freire at Bellator 113. Change beckoned.
“That’s when the sobering reality check hit me, where I realized that I was doing everything wrong,” he said. “Nothing was working, so I went back to the drawing board and created this master plan to not only win the belt but to eventually take over the world.”
The loss to “Pitbull” opened Rickels’ eyes.
“It was directly after the ‘Pitbull’ fight, and I walked from the cage to backstage with Joe Wilk,” he said. “I literally started blubbering like a little goddamn baby and started feeling sorry for myself. I had this epiphany where I don’t ever want to be or feel average. I don’t want to be a journeyman. That was the atom bomb that went off in my head. I didn’t want to see anybody, and I sat with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and contemplated life. I figured that if I’m going to do this s---, I’m going to do it 1,000 percent. I’m putting everything I got into it.
“I had to open up my mind to a lot of different things and I had to change my entire structure as to how I train, how I eat, how many hours I should workout,” Rickels added. “I researched other great champions and learned how Jon Jones does things, stuff like that. Everything is coming together very well for me.”
The fruits of his labor were evident when he last entered the cage at Bellator 139, but an inadvertent knee strike to the head of a downed John Alessio erased the good work he had been doing against the Canadian veteran to that point. The result was a no-contest.
“It was so damn annoying, man,” Rickels said. “When I was in there, I was like, ‘Keep your composure, do the right thing ...’ It was one of those moments where everything was going perfect until I [expletive] kneed him in the head. I kind of drop on the knee, and I tried to pull it but couldn’t. It was slow motion, and I was like, ‘Noooooooo!’ It was very climactic, but it didn’t work the way I wanted to. I would have liked to have doubled my money up with a big win and get another notch on my belt, but people who watched the fight know what happened.”
With the disappointment of the Alessio fight behind him, Rickels has focused fully on his rematch with Chandler, who snapped a three-fight losing streak by submitting Derek Campos at Bellator 138 in June.
“It’s going to be nitty goddamn gritty,” he said. “That dude is tough as s--- and we’re going to be in the s--- together. He’s going to find out that when I don’t fall down and I don’t back up that he’s in for a hell of a fight.”