09/27/2012 03:44 EDT | Updated 11/27/2012 05:12 EST

Canadian Mike (The Martian) Ricci survives bumps on fighting journey

Mike (The Martian) Ricci has had his ups and downs in mixed martial arts. He's been the next big thing. And he's walked away from the sport.

Now the 26-year-old from Montreal is looking to advance his MMA career via "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.

Two episodes into Season 16 and Ricci (7-2) has already made a mark. UFC president Dana White dubbed him "the accountant" and "stockbroker" for his boyish looks, then marvelled at his predatory skills in the cage.

"He don't fight like an accountant," White said during the show. "He is definitely a fighter and he is tough."

Added team captain Shane Carwin: "The smart types, they sneak up on you."

The next episode, Ricci calmly ignores being the victim of a practical joke and bows his head for grace as he settles down for a meal and glass of wine with fellow Canadian cast member Michael Hill of Kelowna, B.C., at the cast house in Las Vegas.

In a voiceover, Ricci politely explains what while his fellow cast members are "all right," they are not like the people he spends time with back home. "The type of conversations I have I can't have with these people (the fighters in the house), they're just not at the same level mentally."

The taping over, Ricci is back with friends and family in Montreal, training and waiting for the show to run its course.

Ricci is no stranger to people underestimating him.

"When I walk into an MMA gym, I don't fit the profile," he said. "But when I gear up and stuff and I've done sparring, everybody knows who I am. I guess that's just the way it went at Mandalay Bay. I went into the cage and when it was over, everybody knew who I was."

Ricci said it was eerie fighting in an empty Mandalay Bay Events Centre in the opening episode.

"Once the fight started, I didn't really care too much about anything else besides who was in front of me," he said.

It took less than two minutes for Ricci to dispatch Jason South to make the final cast of the show.

Ricci took a unique path to get on TV. He never actually applied but offered to take a friend's place in the final stage of choosing the cast when his buddy got injured.

"They liked me, so that's how it ended up happening," he said.

Ricci made his pro debut in June 2006 and won his first five fights, earning a contract with Bellator.

"I was a kid who was packed with talent but I wasn't too ring savvy," he said. "I didn't have many rounds under my belt and a lot of experience. So I hit a lot of bumps in the road early on in my career.

"I think I was always trying to catch up with my level of talent. My experience level was always so low, but I always thrived so much in the gym and looked so good. But I guess as time went on and I grew, I kind of caught up with my skills."

The buzz about Ricci soon grew.

"I was dubbed the next Georges St-Pierre at an early age," he said. "It was a blessing because I got attention and I started to get recognition for the hard work I was doing in the gym. But at the same time it made me a little over-confident, cocky even. I was too young to handle that kind of attention so I started to not listen to people and I thought everything I did was the right thing and the right way of doing things. I didn't listen to people.

"Obviously to conclude all that behaviour was my Pat Curran fight."

That was April 2010 in Ricci's Bellator debut. Ricci's winning streak ended with a crushing right that knocked him senseless less than two minutes into the fight.

"That changed me — as a person and as a fighter," said Ricci.

The knockout left him with a mild concussion, prompting him to take eight weeks off from sparring. Mentally, he needed a longer break, however.

"I took a step away from fighting for a while and was thinking about retiring," he said. "Maybe getting back into school. But somehow I found my way back into fighting."

He credits friend and fellow fighter Rory MacDonald's support and example for bringing him back. After a 10-month absence, Ricci went back to the gym and sparred with MacDonald.

"It wasn't fun that day sparring with him," he said. "And it just kind of kicked me in the butt. I woke up and eight weeks later I had a fight."

Ricci won that fight and is 2-1 in his comeback after the Curran loss.

The six-foot-one Ricci has fought as a lightweight (155 pounds) but is competing in the TV show as a welterweight (170). He normally weighs 175 so he plans to return to lightweight after TUF.

Ricci said he grew up no stranger to fighting. A self-proclaimed "rough kid," he was never one to shy away from an encounter.

He was playing football at Vanier College and getting bored with it when he took up jiu-jitsu at the age of 20.

"That became my passion," he said. "Two years after that I found myself in a cage.

"I quit school for fighting," he added. "I quit my job, I quit school, I quit everything to pursue this career. And a lot of people were skeptical ... This isn't really your standard career. When you raise a kid, you don't really think he's going to grow up to be a cage-fighter, you know.

"But I stuck with it and it worked out. Now I have a huge backing, a huge following."

Coming from an elite workout environment at Montreal's Tristar Gym, Ricci was skeptical about what he might learn during the reality TV show. But he says the training was first-class.

"Team Carwin had some great staff," he said. "I learned a ton. I got way better when I was down there."

As for his nickname, Ricci said he got it when he cut weight because he got so skinny and looked like an alien. Plus he occasionally did things in and outside the gym "that weren't human," he said with a laugh without elaborating.