When a fighter believes they have something to prove, it is the type of motivation that has the potential to bring something special out of them. There is no shortage of that fuel where Mike Ricci is concerned and he's fiercely determined to show who he is as a fighter.
In the Canadian fighter's mind, a dominant next chapter will serve to silence the ghosts of the previous one, even though he knows what has been done in the past can never be undone. That said, the 28-year-old Quebec native is aiming to make his upcoming performances so loud...so impressive that it shows he's not the same competitor he was when the biggest fanbase in MMA saw him last.
Following a stint on The Ultimate Fighter and a lackluster run where he dropped two out of three bouts, Ricci was released from his contract with the UFC. That turn of events served to rattle the Tristar fighter, but it also provided a tremendous surge of motivation. Where he was once competing to hold down a roster spot under the UFC banner, now he was going to have to prove the sport's biggest stage is where he belonged the entire time.
Ricci knew he was going to have to fire back onto the scene guns blazing and did so at the expense of seasoned veteran Jorge Gurgel at Titan Fighting Championships 27 back in February. Where Ricci had been criticized in the past for fighting at a measured pace, he put his full arsenal on display against the Ohio-based fighter and earned the TKO victory in the first round.
For Ricci, the bout against Gurgel not only showed his fighting spirit had returned, but the killer instinct he appeared to lose touch with was still very much there.
"The win over Gurgel felt good," Ricci told Bleacher Report. "I was kind of out to prove a point and I did so. I mean, you always have something to prove when you are fighting, but I felt I had something bigger to prove in that fight. And the way I got the win was rewarding. Honestly, as a fighter, the day you don't have something to prove is the day you should stop fighting. You always have something to prove to yourself, the people around you and the world of mixed martial arts.
"At this point where I'm at I'm going to use it as a learning experience. It was a quick experience, and in my opinion their decisions were a little premature. Did I need some development at that stage? Yeah, and probably some maturity. I don't think it had anything to do with talent. I think it was more my maturity level and my focus. My focus wasn't where it should have been, but I have my focus back and I'm showing that here at Titan. I look at my time in the UFC as a learning experience, and when I get back I'm not going to make those mistakes again."
With an impressive showing under his belt, Ricci is ready to keep things rolling under his new banner at Titan FC. "The Martian" is determined to make solid strides every time out and his second bout for the promotion will come against another savvy veteran in George Sotiropoulos. The bout was originally slated for earlier in the year, but an injury suffered by the Firas Zahabi-trained fighter forced the tilt to be postponed for a later date.
Now, with both fighters at full health, the two lightweights will lock up in the main event at Titan FC 29 on Aug. 22 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While the former TUF: Smashes coach will be looking to stop a career rough patch, Ricci will be looking to take another step up the ladder. Sotiropoulos will be his second consecutive opponent with solid name recognition and the fight presents back-to-back main event opportunities for the Montreal-based fighter.
Those elements present an ideal situation for Ricci as he's looking to send a message to the MMA community that he's all business from here on out.
"I'm happy this is my second main event in a row and I'm showing everyone I don't take easy fights," Ricci said. "I'm fighting guys who are proven veterans who have 20-plus professional fights. I'm proving to myself, the critics and the UFC that I'm not out here wasting anyone's time. I'm taking the toughest fights I can find and I'm not playing games.
"This last year I've really put the focus on my fight and what I'm going to do. During my time on The Ultimate Fighter and in the UFC I was focusing on the guys I was fighting and kind of lost myself in the process. I haven't put a lot of focus on Sotiropoulos. I know he's a tough fighter and an amateur boxing champion and has good jiu-jitsu. This fight is going to come down to who can put it together better and who is going to bring it on fight night. That's far more important than what is on paper. I've trained hard and I'm going to show up ready to fight. I'm going to be looking to put him away."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.