<
>

Ricardo Lamas: I deserve my title shot

4/2/2015

Entering the UFC Octagon with a chip on your shoulder isn't necessarily a bad thing -- unless it's too big of one.

Featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas learned that lesson the hard way one year ago, when he challenged Jose Aldo for the 145-pound title at UFC 169 in Newark.

Lamas (15-3) admits he basically froze during the five-round fight. He struggled to pull the trigger, and the final scores reflected that. Aldo won each of the first four rounds; Lamas managed to take the fifth.

The Chicago native, who fights Chad Mendes in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Fairfax, Virginia, doesn't wish to make excuses, but he says he placed an inordinate amount of pressure on himself going into that fight.

"I felt like I was being overlooked," Lamas told ESPN.com. "I was taking out all these other top contenders and I kept getting passed up for a title shot. It was stressing me out and I felt like, when I finally got the Aldo fight, I put a lot of pressure on myself.

"I'm not taking anything away from Aldo. He won that fight, fair and square -- but I could have done a lot better."

You can't blame Lamas for feeling overlooked. In June 2012, Lamas defeated Hatsu Hioki via unanimous decision. Prior to the fight, the UFC had expressed interest in Hioki as a title contender -- but that interest didn't transfer to Lamas, even after he soundly beat the Japanese standout.

Four months later, a scheduled title fight between Aldo and Erik Koch fell through when Koch was forced to withdraw because of an injury. The bout was set to headline UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro.

Lamas received a phone call from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, who asked if he was interested in replacing Koch on the UFC 153 card. Naturally, Lamas jumped at the opportunity.

"They were scrambling, looking for someone to step up and Sean Shelby called me," Lamas said. "We said, 'Yes, we'll take it.' They re-did my contract and I was just waiting on the bout agreement. We signed the new contract in an hour. I was already making travel plans.

"They called me back a few hours later and said, 'Unfortunately, [UFC president] Dana White wants to go in another direction.' "

Instead of fighting Aldo, Lamas was booked to fight a healthy Koch in January 2013. He ended up making one of the biggest statements of his career in that fight, finishing Koch with strikes midway through the second round.

Although he had just dominated a fighter who had been pegged to compete for the title the year before, Lamas was once again passed up for a title shot. The opportunity went to Chan Sung Jung, and Lamas ended up sitting out the rest of the year.

"I felt like I deserved a shot after beating Hioki and then after I beat Koch, I felt like I deserved it even more," Lamas said. "Those two things made me stress out about the situation. That whole year leading up to the Aldo fight was pretty stressful."

A little more than one year after his lackluster loss to Aldo, Lamas believes he is one fight away from getting a second shot.

Should he defeat Mendes (16-2), Lamas says, it "should be clear to everyone" he deserves to face the winner of a July title fight between Aldo and Conor McGregor.

"I think with a win over Chad, there's really no argument," Lamas said. "As an opponent, he's an awesome opponent. He's a great fighter. He's very well-rounded. When he fought Aldo [in October], he was just very aggressive. He went after Aldo the whole time. That's how he fights now and I'm going to be ready for anything he throws at me."