MONTREAL - Mike Ricci is back home and back in his natural weight class for UFC 158.
The stylish lightweight takes on England's Colin (The Freakshow) Fletcher on Saturday night in a battle of "The Ultimate Fighter" runners-up.
Ricci, fighting at welterweight, lost a decision to Colton Smith in the December finale to Season 16 of the reality TV show. Fletcher was beaten by Norman Parke the same month in the final of "The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes," an Australia-United Kingdom spinoff.
In moving back from 170 to 155 pounds, the six-foot Ricci — who normally weighs about 180-181 pounds — has hired a chef and says he feels "unbelievable."
The setback at the hands of Smith, a stifling wrestler who attached himself to Ricci like a clam and took away the distance needed to get the Canadian's striking game going, was analysed and dispensed with quickly, it seems.
"I dealt with that loss right inside the Octagon," said the 26-year-old from Montreal. "As soon as his hand was raised, I told myself 'Remember what you're feeling right now and understand what happened and what went wrong.' And I dealt with it all in that moment,. When I stepped out of the cage, I left it there and I turned the page and I focused on coming back to my weight (class) and performing at another event."
But Ricci makes it clear there was a lesson learned.
Ricci (8-3) concedes he had issues going into the TUF finale. He was mentally tired and said it showed in his training.
"I was just happy to get it over with," he acknowledged.
He also concedes that while he knew what Smith's strategy would be, he didn't do enough in the gym to prepare for it.
"He was more prepared, strategized better and then I ended up paying the price," Ricci said. "I feel like I was the better fighter, I lost to a lesser opponent. I truly feel that way. I mean I lost all three rounds and I didn't have a mark on my face. I didn't get hurt, I didn't get submitted, I didn't get finished. I just feel like he was better prepared, in a better position. Every time I went to do something, he was there. He was one step ahead of me. So I lost to a guy who was better prepared than me."
The six-foot-two Fletcher — who looks like a tattooed gargoyle — offers a different challenge. Ricci calls the lanky Englishman "the most unique guy I've come across in this sport."
"To be honest with you, everything I said I didn't do with Colton, I've been doing with Colin — preparing, bringing guys in who fight like him, who are the same size as him, same body frame. Working on defending everything he's good at it.
"And by doing all of that, I've been able to also take the other half of my training and focus on myself. Focus strongly on improving my athleticism, my speed, my power, my technique. This fight, I feel like I've improved tenfold."
The 32-year-old Fletcher (9-2) is a former club DJ, doorman and bus driver.
Dana White dubbed Ricci "the accountant" and "stockbroker" for his boyish looks. But the UFC president also marvelled at his predatory skills in the cage during "The Ultimate Fighter."
Ricci has known failure as well as success.
After developing a buzz as a young fighter, he was knocked senseless in April 2010 in his Bellator debut by Pat Curran.
The knockout left him with a mild concussion, prompting him to take eight weeks off from sparring. Mentally, he needed more time.
He says he spent 10 months in his mother's basement, "not very happy and not making the right decisions, not living the right way,."
He credits friend and fellow fighter Rory MacDonald's support and example for bringing him back to the sport.
Ricci is smiling these days, especially since he is getting to fight in the UFC in his home town.
"I'm so happy to be here. This is unreal for me. To not have to stay in the hotel. As soon as this (media availability) is done, I get to drive back home and have peace. It's a big change from the TUF finale."
There, at his hotel in Las Vegas, he was getting so many calls that he turned off his cellphone and unplugged the phone in his room.
"Then I'd be getting knocks on the door. It was just too much every day."
NOTES — UFC president Dana White confirmed that Jonny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks will get the next weltewweight title shot if he beats Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit on Saturday night. White also says the coming Mark Hunt-Junior dos Santos fight will determine the No. 1 heavyweight contender ... The UFC has decided to make its traditional fight bonuses a standard US$50,000. Previously they varied, depended on the size of the show. White said that wasn't fair to fighters who excelled on smaller cards.