The saying “hard work pays off” is used quite frequently in life, especially when it comes to sports, and even more so in mixed martial arts. One loss forces a fighter to work even harder to come back stronger the next time they step into the cage.

“Hard work pays off” has been the motto for Bellator lightweight David Rickels.

Rickels competed in the Bellator season-six welterweight tournament, reaching the semifinals before being defeated by Karl Amoussou via a split decision. Following the loss, Rickels decided to move down a weight class to 155 pounds, and was put into the first lightweight tournament since the promotion signed a television deal with Spike TV.

Known as “The Caveman” for his noticeable beard and entertaining personality, Rickels won back-to-back fights over Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer to put himself in the season-eight tournament final, one win away from a check for $100,000 and a future title shot.

Rickels (Wilson Fox/Sherdog)

“It’s pretty cool to physically be where I wanted to be for a while. The last tournament I was in, it would’ve been nice to beat Karl, but it was a very close fight,” Rickels told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I felt really confident going through that tournament, as I do in this tournament. It has paid off and got me to the finals.”

But standing in the way of “The Caveman” is a winner of six bouts in a row, Saad Awad. All six of those wins came by knockout or submission in the second round or earlier, including his semifinal knockout of Will Brooks in 43 seconds that put the newcomer to Bellator in the finals.

“It’s a fairly predictable game, but he’s pretty good at it,” Rickels said. “You know what he wants to do, and that’s knock your freakin’ head off.”

Even with that said, Rickels believes he will give Awad a much bigger test than the other fighters that Awad has beaten along the way.

“I’ve been training in stand-up and Muay Thai for quite some time now,” the lightweight stated. “I feel like I have the tools to defend myself a little bit better than Brooks and some of the other people he’s fought.”

Watching Rickels fight, it’s evident that “The Caveman” has an appropriate nickname for his style. Each time he steps into the cage, Rickels is looking to put on a show for the fans. It should come as no surprise that one half of the Bellator tournament championship is coming into the fight without a set game plan.

“Wherever the fight ends up, I feel pretty comfortable,” Rickels said. “I’m never much of a game-plan fighter, so I don’t have a strategy to take him down and submit him or anything. I think we’re just going to start punching each other and something is going to happen.”

Photo by Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner

Rickels (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

The Bellator lightweight division is arguably the toughest in the promotion. But Rickels has earned wins over each man put in his path. Even after fights against Woodard and Fischer, the 24-year-old could be faced with his most dangerous opponent yet in Awad.

“Everyone was dangerous in their own aspect. I feel like this guy is a little Karl Amoussou,” Rickels explained. “The toughest fight is always the one in front of me, and that’s the way I look at it.”

The light at the end of “The Caveman’s” tunnel is becoming much brighter, but he will first have to overcome a very tough Awad in the main event of Bellator 94 to finally see his hours of hard work pay off.

“First half of the fight, it will be pretty competitive. [But] as I build steam, I’m gonna look to put him away,” Rickels explained. “I definitely think it has the potential to be a pretty badass fight.”

David would like to thank his sponsors Onnit Labs, Lecheek Nutrition, Throat Punch Industries for some great t-shirts, Combative Sports Center, and JMTK. Follow Rickels on Twitter: @TheCaveman316

Photo: David Rickels gets his hand raised at Bellator 91 (Will Fox/Sherdog)

About The Author

Corey Adams
Staff Writer

Corey Adams didn't grow up watching mixed martial arts, considering the UFC was just getting started the year he was born, but in his teenage years, witnessed the action and has fallen in love with the sport. Corey was the first to join The MMA Corner staff -- other than founder Josh Davis -- and has been writing for the site ever since. Corey attends Austin Peay State University, where he majors in Communications with a focus on journalism. When he's not covering MMA, Corey is still writing on many sports with both local and campus newspapers. His favorite sports teams are the Atlanta Braves and Denver Broncos. Follow him on Twitter at the link below.

  • Sensing a bit of over-confidence. Rickels is good but Awad is a true badass. He almost seems unstoppable right now.