by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com

(Photo by April Pishna – PishnaPhoto

(Photo by April Pishna – PishnaPhoto.com / Courtesy of Ring of Fire)


Former “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Mike Nickels is a study
in duality.


Covered head to toe in tattoos, with an imposing glare, you
could misconstrue him as a “thug” or something similar, but it’s far from the
truth. In reality Nickels is a well-spoken, inviting artisan whose love for
fighting is only matched by his desire to teach when his career comes to an


Yet at the same time, he is a fierce fighter in the cage,
unwavering in his pursuit of victory, which has both worked for him and against
him at times.


Coming off a loss to fellow former Ultimate Fighter alumnus
Stephan Bonnar at UFC 73 last July, Nickels has taken time off to concentrate
on his business career and to further his skills, leading to his return to MMA
this Friday night at the Ring of Fire.


“I’m feeling great,” he exclaimed. “Everything’s on track,
my cardio is through the roof and every time I step into the cage, I should be
the best fighter that I’ve ever been.”


He furthered his thoughts by stating, “I’m really looking forward
to see how this (Ring of Fire) fight turns out.


“The last fight I fought, against Stephan Bonnar (in the
UFC), it was the first time I really felt comfortable in a cage. I was in there
and wasn’t nervous at all and I couldn’t wait to hit him. I’m comfortable now
and I can really start working my game in there.”


At Ring of Fire on Friday night, Nickels will be locking
horns with Vladimir Vuckovic, a heavy-handed fighter who will be looking for a
big knockout in his American debut.


“I’m just going to go in there and do like Rickson Gracie
said and, ‘Flow with the go,'” stated Nickels. “I’ve got a little bit of reach
on him, so I’ll probably pepper him up a little bit, and if he gets past my
hands, we’ll take it to the ground.


“He’s stated in an interview that he’s not afraid to go to
the ground with me, and I hope that’s true because I’d love to get him in a
grappling match on the ground and see what’s up. If I get into any dominant
positions (on the ground) that’s it – it’s done – he won’t be
getting back up.”


If anything’s for sure, it’s that Vuckovic will be walking
into hostile territory, with Colorado being Nickels’ back yard.


“Fighting in Colorado is as good as it gets to me,” he said.
“It’s almost like I’m the headliner of the (Las) Vegas show or something.


“I walk out and I’ve got 6,000-8,000 fans cheering for me.
Everyone in Colorado has been super supportive of me, my fighting career, my
tattoo shop and gym.”


With the added incentive of returning to the big stage of American
MMA should he perform well in this fight and the coming year, Nickels will be
looking to deliver for his hometown crowd even more.


“Dana (White, UFC President) told me I’d be back, and I
asked them what I needed to do, and they want me to rack up a couple wins,” he


“So, my intention is to rack up those wins, get back in the
UFC and start a winning streak there. I feel like I’ve got a window of time to
do my thing and it’s no time like the present – I’m going to enjoy it as
long as I can.”


A fighter, an artist, and many things in between, there is
much more to Mike Nickels than what meets the eye. With the desire to one day
teach others still in the future, the present task at hand at Ring of Fire is
where he is firmly affixed to at the moment.


“I really appreciate everyone for the support we’ve gotten;
Enyo Athletics, Nutrition Zone, Colorado BJJ of Highlands Ranch, Muay Thai of
Colorado, Oscar Martinez, David Ruiz and all the guys at the gym,” concluded


“Vuckovic said he’s going to fight with a ‘never surrender’
attitude, and he’s expecting as much from me, which is good – because
that’s what he’s going to get.”