As much as you would expect that kind of news to send an “under the radar” contender like Lamas into a joyous frenzy, the 31-year-old Chicago native has had too much experience with missed opportunities to allow himself to let Thursday’s talk of a potential title shot change his approach and demeanor.
“I’ve gotten my hopes up before and been let down, so I’m just training, and I still treat it as if I don’t have anything booked yet,” Lamas told FOX Sports in an interview Friday afternoon. “To be honest, there isn’t going to be any relief until I sign my name on that dotted line. As soon as I’m done signing my name though, I’ll probably throw up or something.”
His hesitation is founded in similar situations gone awry in the past.
After beginning his career with a 9-2 record as a lightweight, Lamas moved to featherweight when the weight class was added to the UFC in early 2012, and hasn’t looked back since. Following wins over Matt Grice and Cub Swanson, the blue-collared grinder known as “The Bully” earned a unanimous decision win over Hatsu Hioki, considered at the time to be the one of the division’s elite and a potential challenger for the featherweight title.
Passed over for a title shot in favor of divisional newcomer (and former lightweight champ) Frankie Edgar, Lamas went out and earned his most dominant victory to date, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Fighting in his hometown of Chicago and kicking off the UFC On FOX: Johnson vs Dodson main card in January, Lamas pushed his record to 4-0 in the UFC (13-2 overall) by laying a savage beating on former No. 1 contender Erik Koch.
Seven days later, Edgar lost a narrow decision to Aldo at UFC 156, and it looked as if Lamas’ chance to fight for the title had finally come.
Once again, his hopes were dashed by the arrival of a bigger name from the lightweight division, as Anthony Pettis inexplicably took himself out of the running title shot in his natural weight class to issue a challenge to Aldo. Undaunted, Lamas shook off being passed over again, and accepted what many viewed as a title eliminator bout with “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung in the co-main event of the summer’s biggest fight card, UFC 162.
That too was not meant to be.
When Pettis injured his knee during training, Jung was tabbed to replace him, despite the fact that Lamas had earned wins over a pair of former No. 1 contenders in the time since the South Korean fighter had last competed.
“It’s been kind of frustrating,” Lamas offers. “Coming off a fight like I had against Erik Koch, I was thrown in the limelight I guess – he was a former No. 1 contender, he was supposed to fight Jose Aldo for the belt, I beat him, and then I had that big fight set up with Zombie, and that whole things happened, so being out of the spotlight for almost a year now has been frustrating.
“On the other hand, it’s not like I’ve been injured. It’s not like I’ve been sitting here on my ass not doing anything – I’m been in the gym every day training. Being out of the spotlight has made me even hungrier to get back into the spotlight, so I’ve been using this time to re-focus myself, and get better as a fighter in the areas I need to improve on. I think when I finally make my return people are going to see the best Ricardo Lamas ever.”
That singular focus on getting the fight he wants – and the fight that many feel he has more than earned – has been tested a number of times over the last year, as the surging featherweight contender has become a favorite target of fighters looking to make their way up the divisional ladder.
Brash Irishman Conor McGregor lobbied for a bout with Lamas on this summer’s UFC On FOX Sports 1 debut event when his original opponent, Andy Ogle, was forced to withdraw. Likewise, fellow streaking contender Cub Swanson has repeatedly pushed for a rematch with “The Bully,” angling for the pairing and trying to provoke Lamas into accepting through repeated Twitter challenges.
Though he admits it has been hard, Lamas has avoided getting into battles in 140-characters or less, holding out for the chance to challenge for the featherweight title.
“Some of these guys are flexing their Twitter muscles, trying to act like tough guys over the Internet. I kind of got dragged into a couple conversations (early on), but as of late, I’ve been good and been backing off. I pretty much only respond to the people that are positive on Twitter. I use it to respond to the fans, not to start little beefs and act like a tough guy to anybody.
“It’s been hard to bite my tongue and stay calm, but I’ve wanted this title fight for a long time. It’s in my reach now, and that’s what I just kept telling myself over and over, making sure I didn’t get lured into those stupid little arguments on Twitter like a 12-year-old girl. I stayed away from all that stuff, stuck to my guns, and hopefully it will pay off now.”
As of right now, it sounds as if that patience is going to pay off. Then again, Lamas has been here before, and knows all too well that talk of a championship opportunity and an actual chance to fight for the belt are two very different things.
Should it happen, you can be sure the soft spoken, heavy-handed No. 2-ranked contender will be prepared. And if it doesn’t?
“If they didn’t give me my title shot now, it wouldn’t drag me down – it wouldn’t end my life, it wouldn’t end my career – I’m still going to get to where I want to be no matter what. That’s just the type of person that I am.”