Ricardo Lamas spent his time in the WEC quietly collecting wins and sharpening the tools he would one day need to be a serious contender in the sport.
But after the UFC merger and a drop to featherweight, Lamas flipped the switch into high gear and has steamrolled every opponent put in his path.
He made an impressive Octagon debut with a nasty head kick TKO over Matt Grice. Lamas followed up that performance by submitting the always-game Cub Swanson in the second round of his next outing, but despite back-to-back finishes, there was little talk of the Chicago native being amongst the divisional contenders.
This circumstance would change when Lamas stepped in against highly-touted Japanese superstar Hatsu Hioki in Atlantic City.
With Hioki on the verge of a title shot and Lamas a heavy underdog, "The Bully" shocked the MMA world when he dominated Hioki from bell to bell. The victory was undoubtedly the biggest of Lamas' young career and he now finds himself within reach of obtaining his ultimate goal.
"I knew I was going to be the underdog going into the Hioki fight," Lamas told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.
"It didn't bother me at all because it's not the first time I've been in that position. The thing people need to understand is that I have a lot of confidence in myself and I don't listen to those things that are being said. Opinions and MMA rankings don't matter to me because I know what I'm capable of. What matters is what I believe in my own heart and I knew I stood a good chance of beating him. I went out and proved it.
"Little by little, as the fight progressed on I started to realize a lot of the things around him were hype. It became more obvious the longer the fight went.
"I went into the fight extremely confident because I had worked very hard in my preparation. I train with some of the best in the world in striking, jiu-jitsu and just all-around MMA. I went in there with a lot of confidence and knew I had what it took to beat him."
As soon as the action got underway, it was all Lamas as he took the fight to Hioki. By using his pressure and wrestling, he was able to keep his opponent off balance.
In the second round, Lamas latched onto an arm-in guillotine which appeared to have Hioki in deep trouble. But despite having the submission locked on tight, Hioki was able to survive the hold and make it out of the round.
"I truly thought I was close to finishing him with that choke," Lamas said. "In training, when I catch someone with that guillotine, especially the arm-in guillotine, there is no getting out of it. They always tap and when he didn't, I was definitely surprised.
"I think part of Hioki's training must be to hold his breath as long as he possibly can because that's exactly what he was doing. I said at the post-fight press conference he must've had gills or something because I don't know how he was getting air. That choke was tight."
A year ago, the competition was thin in the UFC featherweight division, but now things have begun to heat up as several contenders are hovering towards the top. With the victory over Hioki, Lamas has propelled himself up directly into the middle of the mix.
With champion Jose Aldo preparing to face Erik Koch later this year, there is a vacancy in the "next" position. The recent announcement of Chan Sung Jung (Korean Zombie) taking time off due to injury, the only two upper-tier fighters left standing are Lamas and former No. 1 contender Chad Mendes.
Lamas holds Mendes and his camp in high regard and would be excited for the opportunity should the UFC make that call.
"I have a lot of respect for Chad Mendes and his camp," Lamas said.
"When I first started fighting, Urijah Faber was one of the fighters I really looked up to. I still do and he's one of my favorite fighters out there.
Do You Think Ricardo Lamas vs. Chad Mendes Should Be Next?
"We are both wrestlers. We are both explosive, strong and powerful. I think it would be a war. It would be a really fun fight and I think it has 'Fight of the Night' written all over it. If that's what the UFC throws at me, then that is what we will do."
It has been a mixture of skill and heart which has allowed Lamas to become one of the best featherweight fighters on the planet. Despite being overlooked by many, he has refused to allow outside static to slow down his pursuit for championship gold.
It is a goal he believes he can reach and he will stop at nothing until that mission is accomplished.
"Even before the fight with Hioki, I thought I could go in there and mix it up with the best guys in the world," Lamas said.
"That opinion hasn't changed. I believe I can go in there and not only compete but defeat anyone at the highest level. I think I'm right up there with the best guys in the division.
"My goal is the same as everyone else. I want to be able to wear that gold around my waist someday. To become the champion is the ultimate goal.
"As far as this year is concerned, I just want to keep the ball rolling like I have been. I want to keep winning and I really want to continue finishing my fights the way I did in 2011. I want to get back to where I not only win but finish my opponents as well.
"I have as much as heart as anyone out there. Whether it is in my division or the sport, I give it my all every time out. I'll never back down from anyone and people should never count me out of fight."