Many fighters will take up mixed martial arts after they participate in a tryout class and find they enjoy it. Other fighters specialized in another discipline, like wrestling, and decided to switch. Or, in the case of Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight champion Ricky Simon, fighting was literally a way of life.
“I grew up with four brothers, and we were beating each other up,” Simon told Combat Press.
He also grew up watching MMA with his father and older brother. As the second oldest of six children, including a sister, Simon started wrestling when he was eight years old and continued through high school. He took a break while attending college, but decided to pursue a fighting career after taking a class with his friend, Bellator lightweight Jake Smith.
Simon started his amateur MMA career in 2011 and went undefeated before turning pro in 2014 and amassing an 11-1 record.
“Ian Loveland really developed my striking game,” Simon said. “I just wanted to wrestle everyone as an amateur, but he made me more confident in my striking. Fabiano Scherner, my [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu] coach, has made more confident in my grappling, too. I can take anyone down and submit them.”
Simon currently trains with Loveland and Scherner at Gracie Barra Portland in Oregon, along with a pair of Bellator standouts — lightweight champion Brent Primus and veteran fighter Chael Sonnen — and the UFC’s Paige VanZant. Simon also occasionally trains with the UFC’s Tyson Nam in Hawaii.
“The previous team I was part of closed down, and I’ve trained with Brent before,” Simon said. “The best want to train with the best. Training with veterans like Brent and Chael helps you learn how to take care of yourself. I want to go-go-go all the time, but I’m learning about taking care of myself for the long term, and I like seeing top athletes and I take pieces from them.
“Brent is just a warhorse. I got to the gym early one morning and he was already there. He has a crazy routine, and he pushes me to push myself harder. Paige is always in the gym. She’s consistent. She’s not just a training-camp fighter. She wants to learn and grow, and she’s always wearing her gi.”
Although Simon has fought for mid-major promotions like King of the Cage, Titan Fighting Championships and the Legacy Fighting Alliance, he actually considers his win over Jeremiah Labiano for regional promotion Tachi Palace Fights in 2014 as one of his biggest victories.
“There was a lot of buzz going into that fight with Jeremiah,” Simon said. “There was some UFC recruiters there, and Jeremiah fought Tyson before he fought me. I cornered Tyson in that fight and Jeremiah won, so I wanted to get that win back for my team.”
Simon would go on to fight twice for Titan FC. He suffered his lone loss via submission against Anderson dos Santos in his last fight for the promotion in 2016.
“I thought I did everything right in that fight, but it taught me not to put so much pressure on myself,” Simon said. “I just want to have fun now. This is a stressful sport; if you’re not having fun, then why do you do it?”
Simon rebounded from the loss with four straight wins, including one in an appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series on UFC Fight Pass. Simon eked out a split decision over Donavon Frelow on the show. Even though it didn’t result in a UFC contract offer, Simon still enjoyed the experience.
“I was offered the spot on three weeks’ notice, and I hadn’t made 135 pounds in over a year,” Simon said. “It was a tough weight cut, but I did it. It was a surreal moment to be in The Ultimate Fighter gym, where I watched some of my favorite fighters.”
There have been some “close calls” when it comes to Simon receiving a contract from the UFC.
“They’re not ready for met yet,” said Simon, who considers himself a fan of Diego Sanchez, among others.
In the meantime, Simon won the LFA bantamweight title in his first fight for the promotion late last year. He bested UFC veteran Chico Camus to claim the crown.
“It was a dream come true,” Simon said. “Winning a title was a goal I set for myself, and being able to take on a veteran like Chico and win showed that the new-age fighters are here.”
Simon will make his first title defense at LFA 36 on Friday, March 23, against Vinicius Zani, who has a record of 11-4. Simon is not lacking in confidence going into his first fight as an LFA champion.
“I always give my opponents too much credit, so I have to give myself credit too,” Simon said. “I know I can break him.”
In addition to winning a title, Simon’s list of goals includes finally getting signed to the UFC, breaking into the top 10 and winning a title in the world’s biggest MMA promotion. He would also like to finally make a comfortable living plying his craft that has its origins growing up in a house full of brothers.
“I want to be able to afford to do this all the time,” Simon said. “It’s a grind, and I just want to make a living doing this and to keep beating people up. You can’t have a normal job while doing this. You have to travel and train to be the best. It’s the toughest part of the journey.”