When he first came into Bellator, Sam Sicilia brought in the name he’d made for himself as a “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant and a UFC veteran.
That, as we’ve seen in the fight business, can be enough to turn someone into somewhat of a target. After all, one could reasonably argue, by taking on someone who’s already gained some popularity, some of it might just rub off on yourself.
Sicilia, however, also brought in a three-fight skid. And though he snapped that in his debut, with a unanimous-decision win over ex-champ Marcos Galvao, he’s yet to feel like a target.
He’s hoping to change that, though.
“I feel like in this sport, once you get on a roll, that’s when (the target) gets on your back,” Sicilia told MMAjunkie. “Coming over after a couple of losses, I think mostly people wanted to see like, ‘How is this going to play out?’ Getting that win, first, is huge. And then we’ll see where it goes from there. Let’s see. You want the target on your back, so hopefully I’ll have it soon.”
Sicilia (16-8 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) gets another step towards that on April 28, at Bellator 198, when he meets Emmanuel Sanchez (16-3 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) in a featherweight bout at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., just outside Chicago. It airs on Paramount, with the rest of the main card, following prelims on MMAjunkie.
While it’s only Sicilia’s second fight for Bellator, after a preliminary-card debut, it’s already in a co-headlining spot – and against noteworthy competition in Sanchez, who’s coming off three straight wins, two of them against former champions.
Snapping Sanchez’s streak could reasonably allow Sicilia to nourish some “what’s next” thoughts in the cage. And he is doing that, a little bit. But the featherweight is also acutely aware that he’s just starting out his path in a new promotion. And, as boring as Sicilia knows that may sound, it’s one step at a time at this point.
“I don’t like to sort out the bracket, or to look too far ahead,” Sicilia said. “Obviously there’s a tough task ahead of me and I’m up for it. Once I show that fist, I can produce results before I start talking and asking for stuff. But, yeah, absolutely, after I get this win, then I feel I’ve got something – a resume. I’ve got to build a resume with Bellator.
“He’s on a roll, and he’s been in the promotion longer. I’m just the new guy coming over here and I’ve got to get on a roll, too, so that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
At least Sicilia got a start to his roll, with his win over Galvao. That one came after a two-year winless period, which involved the consecutive losses to Doo Ho Choi, Gabriel Benitez and Gavin Tucker that ended his 12-fight UFC stint.
Despite the skid, which Sicilia didn’t make excuses for heading into Bellator, Sicilia was optimistic about his fresh start. And now, with a win to show for it, he reflects on some of the circumstances that contributed to make it happen.
“It’s easier to focus on being more competitive, or keeping that competitive mindset than being kind of sold as a brawler and then sent all over the world to fight always the hometown guy,” Sicilia said. “I fought the Brazilian in Brazil, the Japanese guy in Japan. I was kind of playing a role. Now I feel a little, like I said, heard through Bellator, where they’re just letting me compete and do my thing.
“Even the whole thing – the fight week, and the lead-up for the fight. Everything was a little more relaxed and a little bit more about the fight than the entertainment aspect and the Twitter followers and all that kind of stuff.”
Of course, even the most carefree of fighters won’t tell you losing is a desirable experience. In the UFC, for instance, a win means double your pay check. But, as fighters will also often tell you, there’s the type of lesson you simply don’t learn by winning fights.
Sicilia has learned from his losses that the sun still rises the next day. And that, ultimately, there’s more to fighting than how it will look on your record.
“I’ve only lost one time where I felt terrible, because I didn’t give it my all,” Sicilia said. “I kind of lost and felt terrible about it, because I still had a bunch of energy, I didn’t leave it all out there. And that’s the only thing that I said to myself, (not that) going in there I have to win or I can’t lose, but I have to do my damndest there.
“That’s what makes me feel great as a fighter. Win, lose or draw, as long as I left it out there, then I can feel good about myself. Walk away with my head held high. I can’t walk away and not give it my all and lose, that’s a terrible feeling.”
For some, it’s the thoughts of gold that push them to get up in the morning and hit the mats. And sure, gold is pretty nice. But Sicilia, who’s had to deal with his share of self-doubt in light of consecutive setbacks, gets his drive mostly from this one basic idea: competing.
“I want to walk away knowing that I did my best,” Sicilia said. “And knowing that I actually got better an did the best to my abilities. To be honest, I want to walk away with a crazy highlight reel and I want to know that I did my damndest. That’s what matters to me.
“So, you come in with these dreams, like the belt and stuff. And that stuff can happen. But when you focus too much on that, you kind of lose sight of why you’re there. I just love fighting and that’s what my focus is.”
Now, that doesn’t mean Sicilia doesn’t think about being champion. It just means he knows there’s a process to it.
“Your focus has to be on the task at hand and then, eventually, I guess once the higher-ups start talking about it,” Sicilia said. “Even being the people’s champ – that’s why you fight. Once the people want to see you, then eventually that will happen.”
For more on Bellator 198, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.