After needing only eight seconds to earn a spot in the house on The Ultimate Fighter: Live, it’s no wonder that Sam Sicilia was the second pick of bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz on the reality show.

Unfortunately for Sicilia, his momentum on the show stopped there, as he dropped a closely-contested decision to Chris Saunders in the round of 16. However, the Washington native will get another chance to make the UFC at the season finale on June 1 from the Palms Casino in Las Vegas.

In his way stands fourth-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Cristiano Marcello. Marcello is the oldest competitor on the show and possesses the most dangerous submission attack. That’s something that Sicilia is more than aware of heading into the fight.

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“I don’t want any part of being tangled up with that Brazilian,” Sicilia exclaimed with a laugh. “Our best chances (to win) are very cut and dry.”

Even with his time on the show, Sicilia knows that he may be in trouble if the fight hits the ground against his more experienced opponent on Friday night. Instead, he’s hoping to score his sixth knockout victory of his career.

“Our fight is just out there. He’s going to try to submit me, and I’m going to try to knock him out,” Sicilia told The MMA Corner. “Luckily for me, the fight starts out on the feet. That’s the game plan, keep it standing and try to sleep him.”

After 13 weeks of isolation from the outside world, the lightweight is thrilled to be out of the house. Yet that doesn’t mean he has any regrets from the experience.

“It’s unreal; I’m still soaking it up,” declared Sicilia. “I feel like it’s a UFC college. I learned a lot. I pretty much came in with raw talent, but I picked up a lot along the way.”

Under the tutelage of coach Cruz, Sicilia feels that he picked up the secrets of what it takes to be a champion in the UFC. That’s something for which he’s very thankful.

“I feel blessed that I got picked by Dominick Cruz,” said the fighter. “I’ve seen the next level now. I know how he trains and a lot of his mentality. You see it in champions.”

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“Dominick loves to goof off,” Sicilia continued. “But he walks in the gym with a smile and bam, it’s all business. He shuts all that off and it’s time to work hard. It’s that work ethic that is the biggest difference.”

While he wasn’t able to win the show, Sicilia knows that his fight with Marcello is the last hurdle in his path to the big show.

“Mentally, this is the biggest fight of my life,” he said. “I still have one very tough Brazilian exam coming up. I have to get through that.”

With the UFC within reach, Sicilia is ready to showcase what he has learned and do more than throw his self-professed “caveman punches” while relying on his heart and cardio to get him by. He hopes Friday night will be the culmination of his journey.

“This validates the whole experience,” Sicilia explained. “I’m not taking a step backwards. I’ve seen what this is, and I want it. I know he feels exactly the same way.”

Photo: Sam Sicilia (