“Stripper Ramsey” Nijem, as he was known while making it to the finals on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos, is one of the top up-and-coming lightweights in the world. While his nickname from his stint on the show sounds playful, he means nothing but business upon stepping into the cage.

The Palestinian-American fighter trains at John Hackleman’s The Pit camp in Utah and California with some of the best fighters in the world, most notably Chuck Liddell, Glover Teixeira, Court McGee and Josh Burkman.

Nijem, at 24 years of age, is one of a few individuals who have had the privilege and skill to create a big impact in the sport after skipping an amateur career altogether to make his MMA debut at the pro level. In April 2008, Nijem commenced his MMA career with a first-round submission victory over Ryan Miller in his hometown of Orem, Utah, setting into motion a chain of events that led to his eventual invitation to join the thirteenth installment of The Ultimate Fighter reality series at only 22 years old.

Nijem (R) throws a right hand (James Law/Heavy MMA)

As a member of Team dos Santos on TUF, Nijem racked up some nice wins before facing Team Lesnar’s Tony Ferguson in the finale. Ferguson caught Nijem with a left hook late in the first round, ending Nijem’s dream of winning the show, but putting a fire in his belly that drove him to two consecutive victories.

“The loss to Tony was really a tough pill to swallow,” Nijem said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Obviously, I was in it for one thing: to win the show. After making it to the finals and having all these hopes to win, it was tough. It definitely motivated me. It made me a better fighter. I feel like in my last couple fights, I was more dominant, smarter. I’m getting older. I was 22 when I fought on the show, and now I’m 24, so I feel like I’m learning more and more every day. I just keep on getting better and better.”

If there is one statement nobody can argue with, it’s that Nijem does keep getting better. Even though his record is deceiving at 6-2, he is 2-1 in UFC match-ups with his last win being a first-round TKO where he pounded out C.J. Keith. This is never a bad thing for a young guy with only eight total fights, all at the pro level.

“I actually broke my hand in the fight with C.J. Keith, on his noggin, with one of the first punches I threw,” described Nijem. “I had to come back from that injury, do my rehab and stuff, and now I feel great. I’m healthy right now. I’m ready to go. I’m in shape. My weight’s good. I’m working with a nutritionist.”

Nijem’s current camp is in preparation for his next fight, which comes this weekend at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz, against his arguably toughest opponent yet, season 15 TUF alum and instructor at Lauzon MMA, Joe Proctor.

Proctor, a nine-fight veteran, lost his only fight about two years ago via TKO on the regional circuit in his home state of Massachusetts. Since then, the 27-year-old has strung together four wins in a row with two by stoppage, including his first official UFC win, a first-round TKO of Jeremy Larsen in the TUF finale. However, Nijem is not overly concerned with his battle against Proctor.

“Joe Proctor’s tough,” Nijem admitted. “He didn’t do that great on The Ultimate Fighter, but he’s one of those guys that I feel is a tough competitor. He’s 8-1 and in the UFC. I want to go in there and put it on him early, push the pace, and do what I’m best at. Maybe get a couple takedowns, establish my range, and just keep it moving. I’m going to try to establish the pace and wear him out.”

Nijem definitely has a plan for Proctor. He may not know exactly what will go down, but he knows what he’s better at.

Nijem explained, “I feel that I’m more athletic than Proctor, and I’m faster and a little bit stronger. He’s probably got more experience than me. He’s been training a little bit longer, but I’m okay with that. Everyone I’ve fought has pretty much had more experience and more fights than me.

“I feel that he’s a good ground guy. Coming out of Joe Lauzon’s camp, you know his jiu-jitsu’s going to be good. You know he’s going to be working on his striking and his wrestling. He’s pretty good at catching people with his chokes. I’ve been practicing defending chokes. I’ve got to watch out, so I don’t get caught in a guillotine or end up on my back or something.”

Nijem (top) looks to submit his opponent (James Law/Heavy MMA)

As is customary with Nijem’s fast-paced style, he should be able to outpace Proctor from the get-go, and that is what he envisions will happen.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t go in expecting a finish, but I’ll go in there working for one,” Nijem elaborated. “I feel that, if I push the pace, land some big shots early, I might get a TKO or a submission. You know, catch him on his back or just find that rear-naked choke after I’ve worn him down. So I feel like a second-round stoppage, but I’m going in for a three-round war.”

As with any fighter, Nijem is definitely in the right mindset by expecting a three-round battle, especially against a trainer from the Lauzon camp. The Lauzon brothers and pretty much all of their fighters are known for having big gas tanks, and this will most certainly be no different with Proctor.

While many fighters try to focus only on their next fight, most also know that they always have their sights set on some future goal. Nijem definitely has a vision for the future.

“Hopefully, after this fight, I can get another one early-2013,” stated Nijem. “I would like to get a couple big wins in 2013 and work my way up. After this one, I’ll have three wins in a row, and I feel like that’s a task in itself in the UFC, no matter whom you fight.”

However, Nijem is still focused and motivated on the task at hand.

“I have a little more motivation fighting in my hometown,” Nijem confessed. “I want to put on a show for my friends and family. It’s a nice homecoming and I have a little extra motivation for this fight and training’s been going really good.”

It’s obvious that fighting and having fun are at the top of Nijem’s priority list, but what goes on in Nijem’s world, outside of MMA?

“I got a sweet mountain bike, so I’ve been mountain biking,” Nijem explained. “That’s one thing I really like to do, and if I’m around here, up in Utah, we’ve got amazing mountains. I like to go fishing. I pretty much just like to be outside and go camping and do whatever I can to be outdoors when I’m not training.

“When I’m training, all I do is in the gym or at the home resting. So, when I’m not training, I prefer to be outside. Hopefully, after my fight, I can take my bike and go down to southern Utah and ride around for a couple days. Have a great time.”

Most importantly, there is a side to Ramsey Nijem that most spectators will never see. The young man, while being born and bred in the United States, has a lot of family and friends in the Middle East that are the unwilling victims of a great deal of political strife right now, and he wants to both help them out and educate others about what’s really going on over there.

“One thing a lot of people don’t realize is how involved I want to be with my family and people I know to help them get out of their current condition,” Nijem revealed. “I have a lot of family that still lives in the Gaza Strip. A lot of people don’t realize that I have cousins and nephews and aunts and uncles and all kinds of people that are still living in third-world conditions that are living in the fear of getting killed every single day. I was blessed to grow up in the States, but I have a lot of family that didn’t have that luxury.

Nijem (top) delivers an elbow (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

“My dad grew up in a refugee camp, outside of Jerusalem, outside of Ramallah. And his mom still lives over there. And I still have family in Gaza.”

This promising professional fighter wants to squash any stereotypes that are brought on by the local news with firsthand knowledge of what his relatives are actually going through in the region.

“Anytime there’s a conflict, people look at the news, and say ‘Oh, these people are crazy,’ but they have to step back and realize that 99 percent of the population doesn’t want to be involved in this kind of conflict,” Nijem explained. “Everybody around the world has the same goals. They just don’t want to live in fear. They want to take care of their families and provide for their families. A lot of them don’t want to live in the kind of conditions they live in. It frustrates me when people write things about how these people are violent when they just don’t know. For the most part, these people just want to live peacefully and have their homeland.”

Nijem has the unique perspective of being a born and bred American with a close family in some currently conflicted parts of the world. However, even with his global heritage, he still has one focus right now, and that is defeating Joe Proctor this Saturday night in Seattle.

Nijem is bringing a tough camp, a ton of raw talent and a heart driven by world strife into the Octagon to rack up another UFC win in his climb to the top of the world’s most formidable lightweight division.

Ramsey Nijem would like to thank coaches John Hackleman and Jason Mertlich, as well as all of his training partners at The Pit. He would also like to thank his sponsors that allow him to fight and train full-time, most importantly, Will at VA Mortgage, Dethrone, Virtustream, and Sweet Sweat.

Top Photo: Ramsey Nijem (L) has his arms raised in victory (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator