On the Rise: Tristar Lightweight Mike Ricci
By Kelsey Mowatt
Over the years, Montreal’s Tristar Gym has forged a reputation for not only being one of Canada’s top training facilities, but for producing and preparing some of mixed-martial-arts best athletes. Through the accomplishments of UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, veterans Ivan Menjivar, Miguel Torres and rising star Rory MacDonald, among many others, the Firas Zahabi led camp has become a household name throughout the sport.
One of the fighters who appears on his way to becoming the latest Tristar fighter to establish himself internationally is 25 year-old Mike Ricci. Since turning professional in 2008, Ricci has become one of Canada’s top lightweight prospects by going 6-1, which includes a decision win over recent Strikeforce winner, Jordan Mein.
“No I don’t think there’s pressure at all,” Ricci told FCF when asked if he feels pressure to reach the upper echelons of the sport just as so many other Tristar fighters have. “I know who I am and where I stand in the gym, so do all the other guys, like Georges St. Pierre, Rory MacDonald. Everyone’s career has ups and downs just like me…There’s no doubt that the level I belong at is in the UFC. There’s no doubt in mind, my coaches or with any of my training partners. It will work itself it out.”
Perhaps part of the reason that Ricci’s coaches and training partners reportedly believe the fighter is destined for the UFC, is because of how quickly the six foot tall lightweight has been able to achieve in the sport. Unlike many other fighters who are categorized as top prospects, Ricci transitioned into MMA without ever having competed in combat sports.
“I had no wrestling background or jiu-jitsu background, no experience in boxing, I started training very late in my life,” said Ricci, who made his pro debut in June, 2008. “I started training just five years ago. I went to a bookstore and bought a book by John Danaher and Renzo Gracie, started with that but it wasn’t enough so I went to a gym. I had no intention of fighting. Started to train and before very long I was fighting. Within two years of buying that book I was fighting.”
“It came very naturally to me,” Ricci added. “Growing up I was big into football, I was on the high school basketball team, high school track team; I was a very athletic person.”
As Ricci referred to, while his young career has been marked by success, it has suffered setbacks as well. Last April, Ricci was defeated for the first time when he was knockout out by noted Bellator competitor Pat Curran, in the opening round of the promotion’s lightweight tourney. Ricci remained on the sidelines throughout the remainder of 2010, and did not return to action until this past spring.
“That loss to Curran, I needed to do a little bit of reflecting,” said Ricci, who returned at Ringside MMA 10 in April and stopped Jesse Ronson in the first round. “Coming back was big. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done in my MMA career, to fight again after a year lay-off…It was a very big step for me, especially losing in the fashion that I did. It’s one of those things that can make a fighter better or worse, and there was only way to find out and that was to fight Ronson. Everything worked out in my favor.”
Up next, Ricci will look to take another significant step forward in his MMA career, as he will battle Daron Cruickshank at Ringside MMA’s latest event on October 21st, for the promotion’s vacant lightweight belt. The American fighter (8-2), who is coming off back-to-back wins, is stepping in for the injured Kurt Southern.
“Cruickshank is a good fighter; he’s no slouch,” said Ricci, who will face Cruickshank at Montreal’s Bell Centre. “In my opinion he’s better than Kurt Southern…He (Cruickshank) always looks like a stud when he starts to get the better of guys but when guys start to answer back or put the pressure on him he starts to fade. I think that’s the difference between me and Cruickshank.”
“This title means a lot to me,” Ricci added. “As a Canadian I love the U.S., have nothing against that country, been there dozens of times, but this belt is a Canadian belt so that means a lot to me as a Canadian athlete.”