Sam Sicilia will be making his tenth start in the Octagon when he lines up opposite Doo Ho Choi at UFC Fight Night 79 in Seoul, South Korea. That’s a mark that not many fighters reach in their UFC tenures, and it’s not one that Sicilia takes lightly. After all, it was a long road getting to his tenth UFC bout.
While Sicilia was wrecking guys left and right on his way up the regional circuit in the Pacific Northwest in the United States, he learned some hard lessons once he got to the Octagon.
He started with a stint on The Ultimate Fighter, losing his first bout by split decision, which set a dubious tone for his future.
Sicilia ran his record to 10-1 before his blip on the show. He won his first official UFC bout, defeating veteran Brazilian Cristiano Marcello on the season finale of the reality series, but then went on a run of alternating wins and loss, as he learned to adjust to life in the big leagues.
Now more than three years into his UFC tenure, Sicilia has finally strung together back-to-back victories in the Octagon for the first time. He credits his recent success to finally learning how to focus his efforts and best utilize his time.
Whereas the regional circuit allowed Sicilia to fight up to 10 or 11 times in a single year, giving him a perpetual outlet for his competitive zest, things are different in the UFC. Most fighters compete just two to four times per year. It was an adjustment.
“A lot of it is comfort with the build-up (to the fight). For all those fights where I was wrecking everybody, I was competing a lot. When you only fight three or, maybe, four times a year, everything kind of comes down to that moment,” Sicilia told MMAWeekly.com.
“It was really finding that balance between the actual fight and the sport. I’d go in there and freak out. I had a lot of first-round KOs. In the UFC, you have to find that balance.”
In Choi, Sicilia faces a fighter that is in much the same position that he was when he made his UFC debut. Like Sicilia, Choi rolled over the opposition while fighting for longtime Japanese fight promotion DEEP, wracking up a record of 11-1 prior to making his UFC debut late last year.
Choi knocked out Juan Puig in his first fight in the Octagon, taking him out in just 18 seconds. Most people consider it an impressive debut, but Sicilia believes it is something that could almost count against the South Korean fighter heading into Saturday’s bout.
“He beat up that local circuit, kind of like everybody else in the UFC. He beat that one guy (Puig) in like 15 seconds. He should beat that guy; he sucks,” said Sicilia.
“For me, this is almost his first UFC fight. You can’t really find out what it’s like in 15 seconds in there. And he’s gonna be in front of his home crowd and want to put on a performance, but really to me it’s his first UFC fight.”
After both men made weight, it appears Sicilia vs. Choi, a fight that matchmaker Sean Shelby has scheduled three times, is finally going to make it all the way to the cage.
Sicilia has been frustrated twice before by Choi dropping out in the lead-up to their scheduled bouts. Now, Choi gets to fight Sicilia on his home turf at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul.
“If I gotta go beat him up at home, that’s what I gotta do. I’m kind of making a career out of this, invading these places. They’ve sent me all over: to Sweden and Brazil, twice, and Japan,” said Sicilia.
“It’s just a business trip for me. The only time I’ve ever been affected by traveling was the first time I fought in Brazil. It was kind of a shock and we just gauged it from there (for future fights).”
Believing he has the right attitude for fighting abroad, Sicilia sees nothing that Choi brings to the table that should give him fits.
In fact, it’s an opportunity for Sicilia. He has won his last two bouts, finally starting to generate some career momentum, and he sees Choi as someone who is ripe for him to score an impressive third win in a row.
“He’s kind of a point-sparrer guy. He’s a counter striker. He’s gonna kind of play on his feet,” Sicilia assessed.
“This is a guy I should finish. This will be my tenth fight in the UFC. I feel like a veteran now. I know what I need to do to get the win and move forward. It’s just stay focused and the finish will come.”