“Stripper” Ramsey Nijem earned his nickname wearing thongs and acting aloof as a competitor on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.  However, regardless of how aloof he acted as the fun-loving guy in the house, he has always been 100 percent professional in the gym and, more importantly, in the cage.

It was light-hearted fun watching him on the show, because his antics weren’t antagonistic toward other fighters.  But Nijem is gaining wisdom as he gets older, and he’s ready to show people that he is a professional fighter both in and out of the cage.

“I’m getting more mature,” said Nijem in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner.  “I’m not quite as crazy as I was when I was 22 [years old] on The Ultimate Fighter.  I feel like I’m maturing more as a man and an athlete.  I’m hoping to show that in the next fight, and the next couple fights.  I hope to keep improving as a fighter, and I’m taking things a lot more seriously now.”

As much as fans appreciated his goofiness on the show, it is important for his ongoing image that he perhaps hangs up the thongs for now.

Nijem (R) throws a right hand (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“It’s not quite time to hang them up for good,” Nijem said in reference to his festive knickers.  “I still have a couple of those.  I’m just hanging them up from the public.”

Well, that’s probably for the better.  Not that he ever wore them in the ring, but Dennis Hallman got pretty close at UFC 133 and an ensuing wardrobe malfunction almost lost him his job.

Nijem is on a very different path than Hallman.  Whereas Hallman has been released from the promotion, the Palestinian-American Nijem is currently riding a three-fight UFC winning streak and his last opponent was a tough one.

Last December, at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz, Nijem faced fellow TUF alum, and Joe Lauzon training partner, Joe Proctor in Seattle.  In a hard-fought 15-minute battle, Nijem took at least two rounds on each of the judges’ scorecards.  It was a back-and-forth war, but Nijem clearly dominated the fight.  After three rounds with Proctor, he definitely figured out what he needed to work on next.

“I couldn’t really successfully just score my takedowns and control the top of the fight,” Nijem assessed.  “It kind of forced a stand-up battle.  I did learn I can win those fights—win a stand-up fight.  I had a lot of work to do after that.  I just have to keep it tighter, stay tighter, and work on my combinations.  I did a lot better in the third round, once I relaxed and started to have fun.  I needed to work on doing that right from the get-go, just relax and let it flow.”

It is really important to come out ready to win against his next opponent, who happens to another TUF alum, only this one is undefeated.  This Saturday night at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez, Nijem faces a guy with a lot of buzz surrounding him: Myles Jury.

Although Jury didn’t fare too well on two different TUF stints—once on season 13 and once on season 15—he still has yet to lose in professional non-exhibition bouts.  In fact, in season 13 of TUF, he was unable to continue due to a knee injury, so he didn’t actually lose.  In season 15, he did lose to eventual finalist Al Iaquinta in a three-round split decision which could have gone either way.

Jury’s last fight was at UFC 155 on Dec. 29, 2012, where he took a unanimous decision win (in his first decision fight to date) over Michael Johnson.  All of Jury’s previous 10 wins were by first-round stoppage, either TKO or submission.  He is a very dangerous fighter that finishes almost every fight quickly.  This makes it all the more important that Nijem comes out of the gate ready to bang.

“I feel like it’s a really good fight for me,” stated Nijem.  “I’m excited, because there’s a lot of hype around Jury.  Definitely, everyone really likes him for one reason or another.  I feel really confident going into this fight.  He doesn’t really like to grind and stay outside and score points, and I always show up to fight.  I’m there to get in his face and push the pace and win the fight.

Nijem (top) drops a left hand (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“Right from the first bell, I’m going to be pushing the pace and going forward.  I’m going to be moving a lot and put him up against the fence and take him down and punch him.  I’m going to stay in his face for 15 minutes.  I’d love to get the finish, but I think this is going to be a 15-minute war.  It’s one of those fights that you know is going to be exhausting, but you just have to get yourself mentally prepared to go out there and say, ‘I’m not going to quit, no matter what.’  I have a feeling that he’s going to be in great shape, and I’m in great shape, and we’re just going to push the pace and see who’s got the bigger heart at the end of the day.”

Nijem is ready for a war and that’s what he’s going to get.  Both guys are extremely well-rounded fighters and can win in any fashion.  But Nijem, being the mature professional he is, has been preparing since the moment he found out about his next opponent.

“I knew about the fight before I even started the camp, so I was training, watching footage, planning camp and figuring out what the best way to approach this fight would be,” explained Nijem.  “I’ve had lots of time to prepare and get down to weight.”

The Palestinian-American fighter has been training out of John Hackleman’s The Pit gyms, which are home to such fighters as Chuck Liddell, Court McGee, Glover Teixeira and many other dominant fighters.  Nijem’s permanent home gym is in Orem, Utah, with head coach Jason Mertlich.

“Training’s been going really good,”  he said. “I’ve been having a great camp.  I have a lot of great fighters around me, a lot of good wrestlers trying to take me down and trying to beat me up.  I have partners that mirror his style and strike like him.  I’ve been training out at the camp at The Pit SLO [San Luis Obispo] and in Utah at The Pit Elevated with my coaches there, working ground, stand-up, and I’m feeling really good.  I’m in great shape right now to push the pace for 15 minutes.”

In addition to The Pit crew in Utah, Nijem has an up-and-coming training partner that he shares his last name with: his 20-year-old brother Adam.  Adam is also a Pit Elevated fighter and is 1-0 as an amateur.  He has been helping his older brother get ready for his next fight.

“I’m training with my little brother a little more now,” said Nijem  “He’s going to be a great training partner for me, once he gets more developed as an athlete.”

The Pacific Northwest native clearly has a ton of confidence in his camp, and that confidence will need to be in high gear as he tries to hand Jury his first loss this Saturday night.  After this weekend, he doesn’t have any specific opponents in his sights, but he definitely knows what he will have earned in one of the most stacked divisions.

Nijem (R) scores with an uppercut (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“If I go out there and put on a great show, I feel like I deserve a top-10 opponent, you know?” said Nijem.  “It will be my fourth win in a row.  I don’t have any specific names.  To be honest, I don’t even know all the 55ers.  I know a lot of them, but the rankings change so fast as people lose and win.  I just want to fight somebody in the top 10.”

While Nijem prepares to continue his climb up the tremendous mountain that is the UFC lightweight division, he plans on working on some literal mountain climbing, too.

“This winter, I signed up to go to an indoor climbing gym,” said Nijem.  “I started climbing again.  I haven’t climbed in a while.  I used to do a lot of it in college.  So I decided to sign up at an indoor gym, you know, so when it’s raining and snowing outside, I can go inside and get my climbing on.

“I’m planning a little vacation after the fight.  I’m going to go down to Moab for some mountain biking, climbing, hiking and rafting.  Right after the fight is the nicest part of the year.  It’s spring, it’s not too hot, and it’s just right to be outdoors.  I’m excited to go win the fight, and then go camping and enjoy the outdoors.”

Winning fights and climbing mountains, that’s what Ramsey Nijem is all about.  In just two years, he has matured as a fighter and a man since his stint on TUF, hanging up the thongs that sort of defined his character on the show.  At UFC on Fox 7, from HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., he looks to hand Myles Jury his first loss, so he can continue his climb to the top of the UFC lightweight division.

Ramsey would like to thank VA Mortgage Leader, Dethrone and The Pit guys, plus all the guys at his gym that help him get ready, and his coaches. Follow Nijem on Twitter: @RamseyNijem

Top Photo: Ramsey Nijem (L) celebrates (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)