Coming from a knockout win over Godefredo Pepey in Brazil, former Ultimate Fighter contestant Sam Sicilia thought he finally had the right recipe for success inside the Octagon.
Following two straight losses that very well could have cost him his job, Sicilia blasted through the former TUF Brazil fighter and it appeared all the pieces to the puzzle were coming together. He got a much bigger matchup for his next fight as he took on Cole Miller on the main card of a show airing on FOX Sports 1.
The table was set for Sicilia to win consecutive bouts for the first time since coming to the UFC while also knocking off a well known featherweight, competing in his home state. And then the weight cut for the fight started, and well the rest is history.
"Last fight I had a terrible cut. I did it all once I got to (Atlanta) and didn’t really pay attention more than anything. I had to pay the price for it," Sicilia told FOX Sports. "This time I went the other way and I was pretty nervous about it and kept an eye on it a lot more.
I’m in another ‘must-win’ situation facing another newcomer who is getting the chance of his life
— Sam Sicilia
"Going against a veteran like that, you can’t give him anything and he took advantage of it. I was not all there and he fought a close fight in the first round and then he pulled away. My whole fight was me cutting weight. I was just drained and not all the way there."
It was a harsh reality for Sicilia to accept considering he’s gong through rigorous weight cuts before during his career, but this one was especially brutal and it happened at the absolute worst time. If he knocked out Pepey and Miller in back-to-back fights, it might be him headlining a show in Ireland against upstart celebrity Conor McGregor. Or maybe he’d be vying for a chance to face a top 10 opponent like Dustin Poirier.
Instead, Sicilia is back on the undercard, fighting on the prelims and that’s just about the last thing he wanted going into his last bout.
"He was more of a professional than me. He had it down, he showed up and I didn’t and that’s why you get the wins like that. Being a professional isn’t just showing up to fight, it’s how you train for it and how you get to the fight," Sicilia explained.
Now as he approaches UFC 173 this weekend, Sicilia isn’t facing a named veteran or an opponent that will get him any closer to where he was one fight ago. Instead he gets a rookie named Aaron Phillips, who has a 7-0 record with none of those bouts taking place in the UFC.
In other words this is another do-or-die fight for Sicilia.
"I’m in another ‘must-win’ situation facing another newcomer who is getting the chance of his life," Sicilia said. "A guy fighting for his job and a guy getting the opportunity of his life are going to be fighting out there. When you think about that, you’ve got to be ready for wherever that fight goes."
This isn’t anything new for Sicilia unfortunately, but he seems to react well in these situations. Coming off his season of The Ultimate Fighter, Sicilia knew the only way to guarantee a spot on the UFC roster was to win his fight on the finale and so he knocked out former roommate Cristiano Marcello in the second round.
Following back-to-back losses, Sicilia knew he had to win or go home so he knocked out Godofredo Pepey in the first round.
Now off another heartbreaking defeat, Sicilia is in familiar territory once again, but through hard work and a lot of tough lessons, he feels like it’s finally time to do some good in the Octagon. It starts on Saturday night against Aaron Phillips.
"I always feel like (my job is on the line). I just feel like I’ve always had exciting fights and I keep having a win and a loss, a win and a loss, and I think I’ve developed and I’ve been around the sport long enough to know what I need to do to get a couple of wins in a row. That’s what I’m focused on. Not that I wasn’t before, but now I feel like I know how to do it," Sicilia explained.
"I believe I’m supposed to be here. These guys coming in, I can beat these guys up, but I really need to be fighting better guys, but it’s about me. I believe I just beat myself a couple of times. When I show up, I can beat anybody."