- Brett Okamoto
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Canadian lightweight Mike Ricci is in for some night on March 16.
The event takes place in his hometown of Montreal. Several of his Tristar Gym teammates are on the card, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
"It's going to be a moment I'll never forget, right?" Ricci told ESPN.com. "These are definitely the ones that matter -- the ones you'll always remember."
Ricci, 26, has traveled an interesting path.
It truly began when he met trainer Firas Zahabi at Tristar, about six months after he'd been training himself and attending random classes. He drove to the Montreal suburbs to attend a class taught by St-Pierre, who he knew little about at the time.
"I heard 'GSP,' who is this GSP guy?" Ricci said. "I heard he was teaching classes so I drove over to a small gym in South Shore, which is like country area, and trained with him. That was the first time I met Georges."
Ricci compiled a 5-0 record to start his career, suffered a brutal knockout loss to current Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran in 2010, nearly retired, then eventually earned a roster spot on the 16th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Things were far from easy on Ricci once he got into the TUF house. In addition to the social strains the show has on contestants, the season featured welterweights -- meaning Ricci was fighting up a weight class.
"It was short notice," said Ricci. "I didn't have time to effectively gain weight. I could have ballooned up, but I didn't think it would be beneficial. My first fight at welterweight I won by TKO. Dropping a guy that size, I thought, 'Wow. I can hurt guys at this weight.' It gave me a boost of confidence right from the go."
Ricci went on to win all three of his fights in the house and advanced to the finals against Colton Smith in December. Given the very difficult time he had in the house, it almost seemed fitting something would go wrong in the finale.
Seven weeks prior to the fight, Ricci suffered a knee injury that would significantly shorten his camp. Colton smothered him throughout three rounds for the decision.
"When I went back home [from the TUF house], I really should have taken a break," Ricci said. "I ended up tearing my LCL in my knee. I was on the sideline for four weeks. I was ill-prepared. It probably would have been best to back out. Right away [in the fight] I thought, 'I'm in deep water. This guy is prepared. He has a good strategy.'"
Ricci is back where he wants to be this month, at 155 pounds. The opportunity to fight in his hometown in the packed Bell Centre is, in some ways, the reward for the path he's traveled, but hopefully the start of a new one, too.
"In my case, I feel I've improved by fighting at 170 pounds," Ricci said. "Adjusting to that different level of power and what not, it really taught me how to be a different fighter."
Canadian lightweight Mike Ricci is in for some night on March 16.In the span of about six years, Ricci has gone from a novice martial artist learning Kung Fu out of books to a meeting with Colin Fletcher on the main card of UFC 158.