UFC featherweight Sam Sicilia steps into the Octagon Jan. 15 to face Cole Miller at UFC Fight Night 35, a fight which will mark The Ultimate Fighter: Live veteran’s fifth battle inside the historic cage.
Sicilia posted a modest 2-2 record since competing on The Ultimate Fighter’s live-broadcasted 15th season, and he realizes that his fight with Miller is a potential “make or break” opportunity for his career.
“I fought ‘Pepey’ (Godofredo Castro) last and finished him pretty quickly, but still, nobody really knows who he is,” Sicilia told Bleacher Report. “I don’t feel like my job’s safe still. Any time you fight, it’s the most important fight of your life.”
Sicilia understands this notion well, and his boss, UFC president Dana White, has already gone out of his way to reclaim Sicilia’s spot on the featherweight roster on one occasion.
After a unanimous decision loss to Maximo Blanco at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in April 2013, Sicilia was cut from the promotion. White intervened, however, and he owned up to a promise he made Sicilia after the fight, saving the fighter’s job and, potentially, his career.
“I got cut for like a day after losing to Blanco. After the fight, my managers and everybody were talking, and we really weren’t sure if I’d still be around,” Sicilia said. “I was worried about my job, and Dana just said, ‘You’re not going anywhere. Don’t worry about it.’ So Dana said I’m not going anywhere, but then I got cut by the matchmaker. Word got back to Dana, and he remembered what he told me and basically saved my job on the spot. He could have just said, ‘Whatever, I was just making a fighter who just lost feel good,’ but he really went to bat for me.”
After benefitting from White’s grace, Sicilia knew he had to deliver in his next fight—and that’s exactly what he did.
Facing Pepey in hostile territory, Sicilia scored a first-round TKO victory. The win reversed his momentum, and he said it cemented the fact that White made the right decision in keeping him around.
“I had to make the boss look good after that,” Sicilia said. “He stepped up for me, so I had to deliver.”
Now, Sicilia again finds himself fighting in his opponent’s homeland. Miller, a Georgia native, will undoubtedly enjoy a substantial amount of local support, but Sicilia does not see this factoring in to the matchup once the cage door closes.
“I’ve fought a Brazilian in Brazil, where they’re chanting ‘you’re going to die,’ and I had probably two fans there,” Sicilia said. “Fighting in Georgia isn’t going to be a big deal. As long as I stay active and make it an exciting fight, they’ll cheer just for a good fight.”
At 6’1” and 145 pounds, Miller presents a unique problem for most featherweights. He’s long, he’s rangy, and his ground game is slick and polished. He can throw up submissions from awkward angles, and his toolbox of sweeps and transitions once the fight hits the mat is endless.
Sicilia acknowledges these facts, but he is confident that he can hang with Miller in all areas of the fight game.
“I’ve grown up with (UFC lightweight Michael) Chiesa, so I’ve been used to long, lanky guys like him who know how to use their leverage,” Sicilia said. “They’re a pain in the a**, but it’s not going to be anything new to me. I know he (Miller) is an elite jiu-jitsu guy, and tall guys are hard to deal with, but I don’t feel uncomfortable there.”
In the striking department, Sicilia knows he will be at a reach disadvantage, but this is also something he has battled throughout his career.
“I got short little T-rex arms, but I’ve had to deal with that forever,” Sicilia said. “There’s a place where he can hit me and I can’t hit him, but I’ve got to get inside that and go to work. I have the ability to knock out any 45’er on the planet, but at the same time, I don’t just bank on that one punch.”
For now, Sicilia is simply focused on the task at hand. He understands what a win over Miller could do for his future, and he intends to make the most of the opportunity at UFC Fight Night 35.
“I just gotta focus on myself and do what I gotta do to break through,” Sicilia said. “The guys that beat him (Miller) go on to do good things, and the guys that don’t kind of get stuck. I can’t let that happen.”