Ricardo Lamas walked through the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Super Bowl media day earlier in the week, and his eyes just about bugged out.
The sheer volume of media covering the event was overwhelming.
"That was a pretty incredible thing to see," he said.
It was a sign that the moment he'd long waited for, his shot at the UFC's featherweight championship, was finally at hand.
It's a monumental task he faces Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 169 at the Prudential Center, when he takes on Jose Aldo for the title.
Aldo is one of the great fighters in the world, unbeaten for eight years, with a list of vanquished opponents that includes the greatest featherweights of this generation.
But Lamas, the son of a one-time freedom fighter in Cuba, will hardly be overwhelmed by the challenge. Whether he's up to the task physically will be proven in the cage, but this is the moment he's dreamed of for years and he feels serene as his time is about at hand.
"It's been a frustrating year because of thinking I had the title shot and then not getting it and being out so long, but now, here I am in one of the main fights on the card the night before the Super Bowl and it's almost like this is a dream," he said. "I couldn't have dreamed this any better. I'm just taking the time to soak in this experience."
Lamas' father, Jose Sr., once fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Fidel Castro against the regime of then-Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. He then later turned on Castro when he realized Castro was against the people's freedom and was sentenced to death in 1963.
He's still very much alive and is a successful businessman in Chicago. Many of the skills that have made Ricardo Lamas one of the world's best mixed martial artists – grit, tenacity, competitiveness, toughness – he inherited.
"My stubbornness, my will, my courage, those things I got from my father," Ricardo Lamas said. "He went through so much fighting for the right things in his life, and he never quit and never was afraid. Those are the gifts he gave us, and he's rubbed off on me and my brothers in that way."
Nobody, though, will be in there to help him against Aldo. He's going to have to figure that one out for himself.
Lamas said he believes Aldo has won many of his fights before they even started by intimidating his opponents. It's not much different than what Mike Tyson used to do. For much of his career, Tyson was able to make his opponents shrink, until first Buster Douglas and then Evander Holyfield stood up to him and bullied him back.
Lamas won't be intimidated, and that's half of the battle against Aldo.
"Every person loses and Superman exists only in the movies," Lamas said. "I'm not intimidated by who he's fought, because he hasn't fought me yet. I don't care that he destroyed Chad Mendes, or destroyed whoever else, because I'm a different person. I want to see what he can do with me and I believe, I truly believe, I can win this fight. "… I don't care that the odds are against me. I don't care that everyone is counting me out. This isn't a math equation we're solving here, it's a fight. Anything can happen in a fight."
Lamas is a wrestler, but Aldo has amazing takedown defense. Aldo has great ground skills, as well, but because his striking is so lethal, many opponents have tried to get him on his back to eliminate the damage.
But Aldo also has great flying knees and is so acrobatic and athletic –
similar to lightweight champion Anthony Pettis – that he can hurt opponents who are trying to take him down.
Lamas said his year-plus layoff has allowed him plenty of time to formulate the perfect plan.
"If he's trying to catch you with one of those [flying knees], for example, you have to have prepared for that scenario," he said. "You can't be desperate to go in for a takedown. There are certain moments where people have gotten desperate for a takedown. They'll be backing up and they'll shoot in from backing up.
"I need to not be desperate to take him down. I need to set up my takedowns very well and so I have to be willing to strike with him. If I can strike with him and establish that, then I can mix in the takedowns."
As Lamas talks about his plans, though, it's clear that attitude is a major part of what makes him so good.
Aldo is a fast starter, but Lamas plans to let him know that he's going to be coming and coming and coming. There will be, he vows, no breaks.
"I believe my tenacity and my will [are two of my] greatest attributes," he said. "I keep going forward and I'm always looking for a way to win. You could be beating me for 14 minutes of a 15-minute fight, but if in that 15th minute, you let up and make a mistake, I'm going to be right there and take advantage of it and finish.
"I'm going to be right there, and that has an impact. If as a fighter, you're giving all you have and the other person isn't backing down and is still coming, that messes with your head. I'm going to stay in his face and keep fighting until I get the job done."