This was no new territory for Ricardo Lamas. Over the last nine months, he's believed several times that he would be fighting for the UFC's featherweight title, only to have the opportunity taken away.
Once, he actually was offered a bout in Brazil against champion Jose Aldo on a month's notice. He quickly accepted despite the short notice and, for a few minutes or a few hours, depending upon whom you talk to, Lamas was going to fight for the title.
And then came the call that, no, the UFC was going in a different direction, and that it would be former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, and not Lamas, who would challenge Aldo.
But it was the most recent near-miss that stung Lamas the most.
On Friday, after completing a vigorous workout to prepare for a July 6 fight against Chan Sung Jung, aka The Korean Zombie, at UFC 162, Lamas decided to check his Twitter feed on his phone before heading home.
To his horror, he learned that The Korean Zombie would replace the injured Anthony Pettis in an Aug. 3 title fight against Aldo in Brazil.
The Lamas-Jung winner would have been the division's No. 1 contender. And while Lamas recognized Jung's accomplishments, he also pointed out that he was active and beating top opponents while Jung was off for more than a year rehabilitating an injury.
But UFC president Dana White felt Jung was the better choice to replace Pettis, and Lamas was left on the outside looking in once again.
"That just really bothered me, that I didn't find out from the UFC, but I found out from somebody else who saw one of Dana's tweets," Lamas said. "The guy tweeted something like, 'Oh man, Ricardo Lamas, that sucks. What are you going to do now?' My first thought was, 'Oh great, the Korean Zombie is injured.' "
But he would soon find out that the injury wasn't the Zombie's. Rather, it was to Pettis and the Zombie was filling his spot.
"I jumped on Twitter and found out what had really happened, and at that point, I had no words," Lamas said. "Then, my phone started blowing up with reporters texting me, looking for interviews. I didn't know what to think, but as the days passed and it settled in more and more, I was pissed and depressed. I'd gone through almost a whole camp and now what? Nothing. Typical."
White eventually phoned Lamas directly – the first time the two had spoken – and apologized for what had happened.
Lamas will be paid his show money to at least compensate him for the time he spent preparing for a bout that won't happen.
His father, Jose Lamas Sr., a refugee from Cuba who was fighting against the pro-Castro forces and was once sentenced to death at age 22 in 1963, was more outraged than Ricardo was and kept angrily shouting that White's decision made little sense.
Lamas Sr. left Cuba and emigrated to the U.S. with little more than the clothes on his back. But he is a rare man, one who didn't take no easily and was a quick study.
He soon became a powerful voice in the Spanish-speaking community in Chicago, and eventually ran Channel 44, the first full-time Spanish-language television station in Chicago.
Lamas Sr. and his family have spent much time over the years promoting mixed martial arts to the Hispanic community in Chicago. Ricardo, whose mother is of Mexican descent, became the face of the sport to Chicago-area Hispanics due to the efforts of his father and his brother.
MMA, said Frank Lamas, Ricardo's brother and manager, is big in Chicago because the family spent years educating the city's Spanish speakers about the sport.
The UFC recently landed a lucrative television deal in Mexico and is desperate to tap into the fight-loving Hispanic culture. Because of the work of the Lamas family, the door was opened in Chicago for the UFC.
"They haven't connected with the Hispanic market yet, not nearly as well as they can," Frank Lamas said of the UFC. "Ricardo is a perfect vehicle for them in helping with that effort. Here in Chicago, the Spanish media knows Ricardo and what is going on with him very well. That's a potentially huge market for the UFC and they have to hit it harder."
Having a Hispanic champion would make that much easier, though it's far from a given that Ricardo Lamas would be able to defeat Aldo and win the belt.
But he's reeled off four wins in a row in the UFC and has won seven of his last eight bouts overall. He defeated Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch in his last two bouts and, though he was disappointed he was bypassed by Pettis for the title shot with Aldo, viewed the bout at UFC 162 with the Korean Zombie as an opportunity to force the UFC to recognize him.
"If you keep beating the guys they want to give the title shots to, sooner or later, they have to come to you," Ricardo Lamas said.
But now, he'll sit and wait and see what happens in the Aldo-Jung fight Aug. 3. Frank Lamas said he's not going to take any bouts until he sees how things play out.
His brother, he said, will be fine. Ricardo, Frank said, shares the passion and fiery spirit of his father.
"My whole bloodline is full of revolutionaries," Frank Lamas said. "That fire is in our blood, to fight for what is right. First it was [former Cuban president Fulgencio] Batista, who was a tyrant, and my family was among those fighting against that. He was replaced by [Fidel Castro] who was even worse, and my father became a revolutionary to fight for the freedom and the rights of the Cuban people.
"That's in our blood. My father went through an incredible struggle as a very young man in Cuba to fight for freedom, which is why I say he's the greatest man I know. What he went through is almost indescribable. … But he passed that passion to do what is right down to us, and we're fighters, too. And though this isn't a revolution, it's a fairness issue and we're going to fight hard for what we believe."
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