UFC

Lamas loses title shot to 'The Korean Zombie'

FOX Sports E. Spencer Kyte
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On January 26, Ricardo Lamas walked into the United Center in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois and earned his fourth straight win.

Ricardo Lamas celebrates his victory over #1 contender Erik Koch

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

That night, in front of a partisan crowd at “The Madhouse on Madison” and an average of 4.2 million viewers on FOX, Lamas dominated Erik Koch, finishing the man who was twice scheduled to face champion Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in 2012 with ferocious ground-and-pound midway through the second round.

After the bout, “The Bully” lobbied for a title shot, and the consensus coming out of the event was that the 31-year-old had indeed done enough to merit a chance to vie for UFC gold. The only thing that remained uncertain at the time was whom he would face, as Aldo and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar were set to lock horns for top spot in the 145-pound ranks one week later.

Seven days after Lamas dispatched Koch, Aldo bested Edgar in the main event of UFC 156, earning the nod in a close, but not-that-close decision. The stage, it appeared, was set for an Aldo vs. Lamas showdown.

Enter Anthony Pettis.

At the post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White announced that the #1 lightweight contender had expressed an interest in moving down to featherweight to face the dominant Brazilian champion. The excitement in White’s voice made it clear that Pettis, not Lamas, was his first choice to face Aldo, and within days, the fight was booked, and Lamas was the odd man out.

Fast forward to last Friday.

Three weeks before he’s set to face “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung on the main card of UFC 162, Lamas is driving home from another hard day of training with the team at MMA Masters in Miami, Florida when his phone beeps with a Twitter notification.

“It was from a fan of mine, and he said something like, `Oh man, Ricardo Lamas – what are you going to do now?’” explained the 13-2 featherweight contender, speaking with FoxSports.com on Wednesday afternoon. “My initial thought was `Great, The Korean Zombie got injured.’”

That might have been an easier pill to swallow.

Lamas had indeed lost his opponent, but it wasn’t Jung that was injured; it was Pettis. The former WEC lightweight champion had suffered a knee injury, forcing him out of his UFC 163 title clash with Aldo, and “The Korean Zombie” would be taking his place.

Ricardo Lamas launches a kick at Cub Swanson

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

“Literally seconds after that tweet came in, I started getting more tweet and text messages from MMA reporters and whatever. I finally went on Twitter to see what they were talking about, and I didn’t have any words; I was left speechless.

“As the days passed, it kind of sunk in more and more, and I got – I lost all the will to train. I was still training, but I was going through practice like a zombie, no pun intended.”

Initially, the UFC searched to find an opponent to replace Jung, but on Wednesday morning, it was announced that Lamas had been removed from the card.

“Every day that passes, it’s been sinking in and getting worse and worse,” admitted a frustrated Lamas. “I have family that already bought their plane tickets, already bought tickets to the fight, and I just feel bad that all these people made these plans and now they’re not even going to be able to see me.”

In terms of performance, there is no one in the division with a better claim to having earned a chance to fight for the title than Lamas. He’s undefeated since making the transition from the WEC to the UFC and relocating to the 145-pound weight class, posting a perfect 4-0 mark that includes three stoppages, and a trio of wins over top-10-ranked competition.

Unfortunately, success in the cage isn’t the only factor the UFC considers in selecting championship contenders, and Lamas isn’t the first to be brushed aside in favor of a more popular fighter.

His current predicament is similar to the position Johny Hendricks found himself in following his first-round knockout win over Martin Kampmann at UFC 154. Finishing “The Hitman” extended the four-time All-American wrestler’s winning streak to five, and seemed to establish him as the next challenger for welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Despite the fact that he was coming off a loss and a one-year suspension, Hendricks was passed over in favor of polarizing former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz.

Getting snubbed ended up helping Hendricks develop a higher profile, as fans and media alike discussed his situation on websites and social media before Hendricks left the UFC little choice but to award him the shot many felt he had already earned by beating Condit at UFC 158, right before St-Pierre dominated Diaz to retain the title.

Now the situation is playing out at featherweight, with “The Bully” playing the Hendricks role.

“I know this is a business based on entertainment, so you really need the fans behind you,” offered Lamas. “The real diehard fans of MMA know who I am, but the more mainstream fans don’t know much about me yet. When people get to watch my fights, they like me. I think (that recognition) is going to come in due time, and the more exposure I get, the more it’s going to help.”

“But I feel like I’ve already earned the title shot more than once. I’ve already beaten two guys who were supposed to fight for the title,” continued Lamas, who defeated Japanese standout Hatsu Hioki prior to his fight with Koch in January.

“After I beat Hioki, I thought that was enough because he was supposed to fight for the title. After that fight, I got a phone call from the UFC right when Erik Koch got injured, and they offered me the title fight with Jose Aldo, which I accepted. They re-did my contract, and I was waiting for the bout agreement, but two hours later, they called back and said they’re going to go another way with it, and gave the fight to Frankie Edgar.

“Then they threw Erik Koch at me, who was the former #1 contender, and I beat him,” he continued. “I was expecting (to get the shot after that), and then the whole thing with Anthony Pettis came up. Now this whole thing with “The Korean Zombie” happened.

“It’s to the point where it’s getting kind of ridiculous. They’re just going to keep throwing guys at me?”

That is what happened with Hendricks, and could potentially be how things play out for Lamas as well, although there isn’t an abundance of options for the UFC to choose from at the moment.

Nik Lentz is the only featherweight ranked in the top 10 without a fight currently scheduled. While the former lightweight is 3-0 since shifting weight classes, he has spent his entire 12-fight UFC career competing on the preliminary portion of events, which makes him a less-than-ideal dance partner as Lamas looks to increase his profile.

One possibility would be a meeting with Pettis, pitting the two fighters left on the outside of the title bout looking in together a bout to determine who is next in line. While “Showtime” is currently sidelined, he’s expected to be back sooner, rather than later, and a late August or early September date with Lamas could be an exciting addition to the fall UFC schedule.

Anthony Pettis

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Lamas was intrigued by the suggestion, but wasn’t sure on Pettis’ plans for the future.

“What I’ve been reading is that Pettis is actually talking about wanting to fight (lightweight champ Benson) Henderson in Milwaukee - wanting to go back up to ’55 – so that would kind of depends on what he does.”

But a pairing with Pettis would simply be a fallback option. The way he’s sees it, there is only one fight that really makes sense for him moving forward.

“When the guy that they give the title shot to is saying that I deserved it more, that’s a huge red flag,” Lamas added with a laugh, referring to Jung publically stating that he feels bad for the man he was supposed to face at UFC 162. “Everybody sees that I got passed over again and that it’s not right. Everybody knows that this isn’t the right choice that the UFC made, and everybody sees that.

“The only way that I see of making this right is by giving me the winner of “The Korean Zombie” and Jose Aldo. As soon as we found out the news, we were asking the UFC if we could have the winner of that fight. They told us it’s a possibility, but we couldn’t really get them to guarantee it to us.

“If I have a 50% chance of getting it, I’m going to wait for it; that’s what we’re shooting for right now,” added Lamas. “If it were any other fight, I would take another fight, but when it’s the chance to fight for the title, this is something that most fighters will never see in their career. This is something that comes along once in a lifetime, and a chance like that is something that is worth waiting for.

“Hopefully there is some good news at the end of all this. I guess we’ll see when I get there.”

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