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TUF holds mixed emotions for Ricci

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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Mike Ricci tried to tone it down, although the "Ultimate Fighter" finalist seemed to know his rep had already been established early in the taping of the FX reality series.

"It took a couple days to get used to the cameras," Ricci told FOXSports.com. "I was waking up and making sure I dressed well and brushed my hair. It's normal. Anybody is going to want to look good on camera. I got a lot of flak for the way I dressed. People were saying, 'Oh, look. He thinks he's so cool.'"

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Ricci eventually settled into a routine where he didn't take so much time on his appearance before training, not that any of his preening should obscure what was accomplished inside the Octagon. Two of Ricci's four victories were knockouts as he made his way to Saturday's TUF finale (9 p.m. ET on FX) where he will face Colton Smith.

Ricci said on a conference call earlier this week that even though he worked his way to the end, that doesn't mean he liked TUF.

"I have been vocal about me not enjoying the situation there," he said. "And I really didn't and I stand by that comment. I didn't enjoy it one bit."

Smith told FOXSports.com that he didn't like Ricci's act much either. Smith, however, built up his own baggage in his first fight as he faked a glove touch at the start of his bout against Jesse Barrett for a takedown; Smith won via a decision.

"It wasn't malicious," Smith said. "It wasn't on purpose. My nerves were high. You know, first time fighting out of my element. It happened. I apologized. Obviously, it's wrong. . . . It's not who I am."

This match pits Smith, an Army Ranger, against Ricci, a more experienced fighter who trains alongside Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald at Montreal's Tristar Gym. Some have compared Ricci to St-Pierre, which could explain, in part, why Ricci withdrew from the sport after his first career loss in April 2010.

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"It was something I needed to do," said Ricci, who was knocked out by Pat Curran in a Bellator Fighting Championships bout. "I had to be alone with my thoughts. I had to reflect on what was happening. I think I carried the wrong things into the cage. It was big. It was my first lost. For a while, I didn't want to have any part of it."

Ricci, 26, returned the following April and entered TUF with a 7-2-2 record.

"Taking a year off is not a big deal for a lot of guys," Ricci said. "Some of the top guys in the sport only fight once a year. But I wasn't doing anything. It was a pretty bad time in my career to do it."

Now, he's a victory away from a guaranteed UFC contract — even if it's from a tournament he still has mixed feelings about.

"I always thought this competition could be kind of easy," Ricci said. "I really didn't know until I got there how tough it was. "The Ultimate Fighter" is nothing to do with fighting at all. It's really a very emotional, spiritual tournament. You are away from your home and whatnot. It makes and breaks a lot of guys. It's a show and fighting is only part of it."

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