Lightweight Mike Rio’s time on The Ultimate Fighter: Live was anything but what the Floridian expected from his reality show experience. A pair of nagging injuries—to his knee and ribs—not only prevented him from winning the show, but also competing on the season’s finale.

Now, as he prepares to face fellow TUF Live competitor John Cofer at The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale on Dec. 15, Rio is ready to close that chapter of his fighting career and begin the next.

“It’s funny, [this fight] is kind of like a start/finish line. I didn’t get to fight on the TUF Live Finale; I didn’t get to close that circle. Now I’m fighting on a TUF Finale, so I can close that circle with the fans and myself; a finish line. Right when that fight ends, my future starts with the UFC,” he declared in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner.

It has been six months since Rio competed on the reality show and more than a year since he last had an official fight. After recapturing his focus and drive on the reality show, the 31-year-old is thrilled to be back in the cage for his official UFC debut.

Rio (facebook.com/mikeriomma)

“I’m ecstatic, there’s no other emotion I can use to describe it,” Rio emphatically proclaimed. “I’m ready, anxious. My priorities are 100 percent fighting. I just want to get in there and fight already. I’ve been waiting for this forever, my whole fight career.”

Despite the long layoff, Rio is confident that things will go his way come Saturday night in Las Vegas. He’s relying on not only his experience, but a laid back approach to make sure he doesn’t do anything silly when he steps into the cage.

“I don’t think [the layoff] is going to negatively impact my performance,” said Rio. “I have to make sure that I don’t go in there and try things that aren’t there. I’m not going to be tense. I need to go in there, have fun and try to relax. Things will fall in your lap if you do that. I’m going to let it all fly and see what happens.”

Across the cage from Rio will be a familiar face in his castmate Cofer. Although the pair were on opposite teams (Rio on Team Cruz, Cofer on Team Faber), the pair bonded on the show—making the match-up a little more difficult. However, Rio is happy that this time he isn’t forced to live with his opponent.

“Cofer is a phenomenal person. He and I got along very well on the show,” recalled Rio. “We talk to each other all the time. It sucks that I have to fight another friend. I had to fight Andy Ogle on the show and now I have to fight John Cofer.

“This is going to be a little bit easier because I don’t have to live with Cofer, I don’t have to see him, talk to him. My training and my focus are on beating Cofer instead of being in the house where I wouldn’t have wanted to be mean to him. I wasn’t going to sit there and mean mug him in the kitchen or whatever. I get to stay focused instead of having everything else cloud what I really needed to do.”

Separate training camps or not, Rio isn’t ready to discount what he learned about his foe during the reality show. The pair match up in a lot of ways, especially in the wrestling department. Yet, Rio’s not sure it will matter when the cage door shuts.

“Cofer is a tough SOB,” explained Rio. “I saw him fight; we are from the same pedigree. I know for a fact that he is a ‘balls to the wall’ fighter, there’s no stopping him. I could throw a brick at his face, hit him, and he’d look at me like ‘that’s it?’ I know it’s going to be a three-round fight, but I’m expecting a five-round war with him.

Rio (facebook.com/mikeriomma)

“He is a great wrestler. He did great in college, and I did great in college. This is mixed martial arts, so when you add punching into that aspect, it trumps everything else. Your wrestling gets dumbed down, your jiu-jitsu gets dumbed down once you are getting punched…

“Just like your punching gets dumbed down when you are getting wrestled. It will come down to who wants it more. He hits hard, I hit hard. He’s a good wrestler, I’m a good wrestler. He’s got good jiu-jitsu, I’ve got good jiu-jitsu.

“We’ll find out who has the bigger gonads,” said Rio with a laugh.

While some might think facing a friend in the cage would be awkward, Rio says that’s not the case. In fact, Rio stays in touch with numerous members of the show’s cast and views competing against them as part of the business.

“I keep in touch with Andy Ogle, Cristiano Marcello, John Cofer, Joe Proctor, Mike Chiesa… pretty much everyone on the show,” he revealed. “The day that I found out that I had to fight Cofer, I text him ‘it looks like it’s you and me, let’s put on a show’ and he replied ‘hell yeah, let’s do work.’

“We’re still friends, we just have to go in there and beat the crap out of each other. We’ll have a beer afterwards.”

So what can fans expect from the Miami-based fighter once he and Cofer clash inside the Octagon?

“Redemption, everyone should expect redemption and relentlessness,” he said. “I don’t want my TUF career to end with a loss; it’s not going to happen. I’m 100 percent, and I’m going to go out there and give everything I’ve got. You’re going to see some big-time fireworks out of me and Cofer.”

Mike would like to thank Knights of the Octagon, ML Management Group, Training Mask, the Jaco Hybrid Training Center, all of his teammates at Zen Jiu-Jitsu and Enrico Coco. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeRioMMA

Top Photo: Mike “The Wolverine” Rio (facebook.com/mikeriomma)

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