With The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale just around the corner, featherweight fighter Sam Sicilia wanted to make sure he was thoroughly prepared for his fight with Maximo Blanco. In an effort to do this, he headed to Arizona’s MMA Lab and worked with UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, his coach John Crouch and a group of other skilled fighters.
“I’ve had no easy rounds down here,” Sicilia told GracieMag.com. “It’s a good, positive vibe.”
But before heading to the Lab, Sicilia came from a raw MMA background that led into being a cast member of 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter. He and his teammates practiced what they called “sik-jitsu,” and the fighter explained the roots of that along with a number of other things in the following Q&A with us.
GracieMag: Where did “sik-jitsu” come from?
Sam Sicilia: Actually, it was actually when I first started out of wrestling … I didn’t have anywhere to go with it. A guy that owns a (local) gym, his name’s Rick Little, started it in his basement, pretty much. It was just a bunch of hooligans who wanted to know how to fight. Just a group of guys kind of learning together. Then it got bigger and bigger, and then (Rick) put up fights in the Northwest. He got more money and got a gym. Then came guys like Mike Chiesa, Lyle Beerbohm’s up there, Cody McKenzie. Everybody just trains all around up there. But it was more of a good, tough group of guys … The passion was always there.
Is “sik-jitsu” more of a just a clever name or does it have more to do with your styles?
At first, that’s all everybody wanted to do was grapple. It just what really intrigued us all. So when we got to the gym that’s all everybody wanted to do. That’s what it was based on, but after you train so much you want to see what you can do. Then we started fighting from there, but I think the passion to grapple and watching it is what started that name.
How did your passion help you when you were a cast member of the The Ultimate Fighter Live?
That was my first taste of structured training. We never really had Jiu-Jitsu coaches (before) … so it just really put structure to it. We went in there very raw and soaked up a lot. Our passion was there, we just needed cleaning up in a lot of areas. They didn’t try to change our style at all, which I liked, but they just added to it — more stuff in our arsenal, really.
So being on TUF helped you grow, correct?
For sure, it was huge. I felt like I plateaued for a while, being really raw and just beating guys I was supposed to. And then once I got there it really shaped me as a fighter.
Being a former cast member, do you think the criticism of TUF’s talent level not being the same as the earlier seasons is fair?
I don’t think so. There are some off seasons, for sure, but I think there’s been some very talented seasons since then. The UFC is always growing, too, so we’re coming out with some pretty tough weight classes. 155 — coming off of that season, I went down after that because I realized these guys have huge frames. They’re not necessarily stronger than me, but they have huge body frames and know how to use their leverage. I think it was Season (14), the year Diego Brandao won, those guys are still all in the UFC … There’s still a lot of guys in the UFC off that show, a lot of talent … I’d say it’s pretty hit or miss, but I wouldn’t say the show as a whole went down.
How has the drop from 155 pounds to 145 pounds helped you?
Like I said, 155 is a pretty congested weight class. There’s a lot of studs there … I was fighting at 155 because I fought so often. When I turned pro, I fought 11 times in a year, and then I got on the show. Now that I fight more elite guys and I have time to lose the weight, it’s just a better move for me … It just made sense.
Do you feel better at this weight class?
Yeah. And I diet down and cut weight right. I do feel better, I’m in shape and feel healthy. So it was a pretty easy move for me. A lot of the 155ers get up to 185 (pounds) and I’ve never weighed that much in my life.
Your next fight is against Maximo Blanco at the TUF 17 Finale. Tell me how you break down that fight.
Well, his last fight with Marcus Brimage wasn’t how he usually fights. He didn’t move around a lot and didn’t really attack like he usually did. If I have to fight him like that, I’ll have to chase him down. I’m just going to keep a tighter defense, which is something we’ve been working a lot on. In his other fights he goes in there and strikes wildly and throws from weird angles. So if he does that, I’m ready for that, too. The key is just staying tight. I’m not going to gas or anything; I’m in shape.
Fighting on Facebook, do you feel like this is a make-or-break fight. Is there more pressure in that?
I definitely feel that pressure. I don’t want to be handed the pink slip. And I don’t want to take any steps backwards in this sport. I’ve been growing and I want to keep competing in it. On the main card, you gotta perform. Win or lose, you gotta go out there and put on a fight. Everybody sees it and that’s how you get fans. But if you go out and lose and don’t perform on the Facebook card, you’re on your way out. It’s been a good kind of pressure, though. It’s a motivating pressure. I think about it when I train. I think (Maximo) does, too. He’ll come out and get after it as well. That’s just something that stays on my mind. I want to stay in the UFC and I’m not done competing here. I got here by being very raw, and I want to continue to grow as a fighter and keep competing.
What would be the most outstanding thing that fans can expect from you in this upcoming fight?
I’m willing to beat him up for 15 minutes, but I’m going to catch him eventually. I see that happening. I’m not going out there looking for the one big shot, but eventually it’s going to happen. I used to be like ‘oh, I hope I catch him or hope I don’t get caught.’ I’m looking forward to 15 minutes of fighting, but if he wants out, I’ll give him a way out.