David Rickels returns to the Bellator cage tonight in an attempt to avenge a 2013 loss to Michael Chandler. The Bellator 145 matchup is an opportunity for Rickels – a one-time tournament winner in the organization – to showcase the improvements he feels he’s made in his overall game.
It’s been an evolution over the last few years, and Rickels says he had to be honest with himself about where he was and what he wanted to accomplish in order to make strides in the right direction. He feels he’s made many of those strides into this matchup, and feels better about himself overall into the showdown in St. Louis.
“I’ve been comparing it to poker, I’ve gone all in,” Rickels told MMATorch ahead of Friday night’s matchup. “I finally was like, ‘Hey, do you want to be basic as hell and just be average journeyman guy? Or do you want to shoot for the stars and go for the belt? Do you want to be a world champion?’ Those are the questions I asked [myself]. Do I want those things? Goddamn right I do! I want to wear the belt around Wichita, because there have been no world champions there, and I want to be the first to do it.
“I looked at the training regimen of successful, not just fighters, but athletes, Olympic athletes, what were they doing? And I adapted a lot of the regimen and the stuff that I believed they were doing right that made them great. I’ve read books – self improvement, it’s been simply that. I’ve tried to improve myself as a human being, which has translated great into fighting.”
The first time Rickels met Chandler, he was knocked out in just 44 seconds. It was a shock for him, as he’d only ever been beaten once at that time, and that came at welterweight by split decision. That defeat, and a subsequent stoppage loss to Patricky Freire, forced Rickels to address some of his defensive deficiencies, and he believes he’s improved significantly in that department.
Asked what he needed to do differently in the rematch, he responded “Probably not get hit right in the temple. ‘That’s a great strategy, David, why didn’t you think of that the first time?!'”
“I think a lot of what I’ve learned, a lot of what I have focused on honing in is my defensive skills,” he continued. “Like, how can I get hit less? I used to just go forward and I’d hit you, you’d hit me back, I wouldn’t fall down, and I’d just keep going. Well, it turns out there are guys with power out there that can make me fall down. So I’ve developed a lot of the defensive style of my fighting, which is footwork and head movement, tighter, crisper blocking.
“I’ve just made little tweaks to improve my defense and improve my ability to not get hit flush. Those are big keys to winning this fight. I don’t want to run in this fight, I’m going to stay in his face. I think this is a nitty, gritty fight, I think this is a tough fight that goes back and forth for the three rounds.”
While he is expecting a difficult fight once again from a man who defeated him just over two years ago, he also believes Chandler’s been taken down a notch or two given his three-fight losing streak, and there’s a different overall sense of who and what Chandler is as a fighter. Still, he doesn’t think that makes the former Champion any less dangerous, and he’s prepared for a battle.
“Definitely [I see a difference in Chandler],” Rickels said. “I think his guise of invincibility, he’s lost that a little bit. Do I think that Chandler is some pushover easy fight? Hell to the no. And that’s why I want it. That’s how I feel about myself.
“When I look at myself in the mirror, I’m like, ‘Dude, I can give anyone in the world a tough fight.’ I think he feels the same way, and I think that’s why this fight has a lot of explosiveness written all about it.”
The two square off from the Scottrade Center on tonight’s Spike main card at Bellator 145.