Sam Sicilia made his way to the UFC via the fifteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, but he has struggled to build any momentum during his two-year tenure. It's time for a change.
On Saturday night at UFC 173, now the veteran, he faces newbie Aaron Phillips, who has just five professional bouts to his credit, while Sicilia has already fought five times in the Octagon.
Considering that Sicilia, despite his struggles, has knocked out or submitted all but one of the twelve opponents he’s defeated, would you really want to be that newbie lining up across from him?
That’s not saying that Phillips doesn’t want to be that guy. It’s his shot to come in and make a statement. It’s his time to step into the white-hot spotlight and shine on the biggest stage of mixed martial arts.
Sicilia, however, hopes to spoil the welcoming party.
“I'm fighting newcomers and stuff, so I know it’s a must-win for me,” Sicilia told MMAWeekly.com. “I gotta get in there and handle business.
“He’s gonna be down there smiling and having the time of his life when he’s trying to take my job, take something from me. You don’t want to be that guy.”
Sicilia knows that having amassed a 2-3 record in the Octagon, he doesn’t have a lot of room for much smack talking. That’s okay; he doesn’t need to talk up the fight. He needs to perform.
Gone are the days when he could just walk in the cage and then walk over his opponent, throwing bombs all the way.
It’s taken Sicilia a little time to adjust to life in the big leagues, where athleticism and skill are at an entirely different level from the regional scene. But adjust he has. He believes that he’s done the necessary work to turn things around and start a streak.
“I used to go in there and just blitz guys and knock ’em out. In the UFC, the difference is that when you knock ’em down, they pop back up,” said Sicilia. “It’s kind of like (going from) brawling on your own terms and growing with the sport.
“(Phillips has) just been given the biggest opportunity of his life, so you gotta expect the best out of these guys. But he doesn't have the tools to beat me, or the power.
“I’m at a point right now where I can fight anybody. If I was in the cage and they changed the opponent and brought somebody else out, I would fight ’em. It’s just staying focused and being where I need to be.”
Sicilia has always felt the pressure to perform, but it’s a different type of pressure now. In the past, performing meant a highlight-reel finish. When you’re always chasing that big finish, however, you expose yourself to the receiving end of it.
Having grown into his role in the UFC, Sicilia is now ready to take the pressure he feels and channel it into victories. If the highlight reel finish comes, so be it, but he knows that the strategy has to be more about substance and less about flash.
“Now, it’s just kind of up to me to put it together and string some wins together and be something in here,” he said. “Now, I’m just more focused on winning than being the human highlight reel.
“It’s unfortunate timing for Aaron Phillips, but he signed on the dotted line. I gotta get him out of there.”