In mixed martial arts, a fighter’s entrance to the cage when preparing for battle gets not only the fans at the arena fired up, but also the fighter himself. It allows the fighter to show their personality through the song they choose to blare through the speakers, what clothes they wear, or the props that are used. Some individuals—Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva—choose to be intimidating, whereas others like David Rickels prefer to be unique and entertaining.

For his Bellator lightweight tournament final bout against Saad Awad at Bellator 94 in March, Rickels took his “Caveman” persona to another level. To go along with his full beard, Rickels carried a wooden club over his shoulder and wore a saber tooth necklace around his neck. To his left stood a guy dressed in a dinosaur costume as prehistoric sound effects played throughout the arena.

Rickels said it cost him two grand to rent the costume and that he will not bring the dinosaur back for his upcoming fight, but it certainly is an entrance that will be very difficult for anyone to top.

“It came together really quick,” Rickels told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “We were just scanning YouTube and saw a dinosaur man, so we said, ‘Let’s call them and see if they like MMA.’ We called them. They were big fans of MMA and ended up joining in with the Caveman team for the final.”

Rickels (R) connects with a punch (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Not only has “Caveman” been making more and more fans in his time with Bellator, but he has also won every fight given to him since moving down to 155 pounds.

With a 4-0 record in the lightweight division that includes three wins in the tournament over Lloyd Woodard, Jason Fischer and Saad Awad to make him $100,000 richer, Rickels says he is just getting started with this current run.

“I would describe it as exhilarating, fun and awesome,” he said. “It’s something I love to do, so to go on a successful run feels really good. I think I’m growing with each fight. I’m getting better all the time, and that’s what you’re seeing.”

His win over Awad not only earned him a giant paycheck, but also a future title shot. Dave Jansen was expected to receive a crack at the champion at Bellator 96 after winning the season-seven lightweight tournament, but he suffered an ACL injury that forced him to the sidelines. As a result, Michael Chandler’s title defense was pushed back to July 31 at Bellator 97 from the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., and Rickels was promoted to the role of the challenger.

Rickels wasn’t prepared to receive a call from Bellator regarding his title fight anytime soon—he says his initial reaction was “Oh shit!” after hearing the sudden news—but he quickly adjusted his preparation so he would be ready to step back inside the cage.

“I was like, oh dammit man, like I knew this was gonna happen. I should’ve been prepared,” Rickels explained. “But the thing was, I was training a lot of our guys and not training myself. I was doing a lot of eating at buffets with greasy food, so I was really high up in weight. That was my biggest concern, but I came to the conclusion I could do it and the weight has come off excellent. I’ve had a really good diet this time and feel great.”

The lightweight has already faced quality competition on his road to the title shot, but will without a doubt face his toughest test when he meets the champion, Chandler. Rickels may not stack up well in all categories. Chandler is a former All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri and should hold a distinct advantage in that aspect of the fight, but Rickels hopes to take Chandler out of his comfort zone.

“My thoughts basically are he’s a tough-ass dude,” Rickels stated. “I think he’s a good fighter. He’s got a wrestling pedigree that I don’t have, but it’s a fist fight and I don’t plan on just wrestling the whole time. Hopefully I get to elbow and knee him in the face or something. My plan is to beat him up more so than try to wrestle around.

“We put a little bit of focus [on the wrestling]. Mostly, what we’ve been focusing on is getting my ass into five-round shape and making sure I’m moving the whole time so I’m in his face fighting right back with him. He likes to come out and bang, so I wanna make sure I can keep up for five rounds.”

When you look at the landscape of the mixed martial arts world, you normally don’t see fighters under 25 years of age receiving a title shot, but it is becoming more common in this era with so many up-and-comers working their way to the top quickly. At 24, Rickels is one of them, though even he did not expect a title shot to come so soon.

Rickels (standing) finishes his opponent (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

In fact, “Caveman’s” focus when he began his professional career just three years ago was not to make a run at a championship, but to have viewers across the country see his face.

“I just set one goal at the time when I started as a professional, which was I’d love to get on TV,” he said. “I did a couple fights for Bellator, got on TV, and was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ Then Bellator signed me for the 170-pound tournament and my goal was to win the tournament, but [it] didn’t work out. I got into the 155 tournament and thought the same thing—my goal is to win the tournament.

“I like to set goals for myself, and right now, the goal is to bring that shiny, metal strap back to Kansas.”

The plan is in place for Rickels to capture the lightweight title. Now it’s all about execution. This is a moment any young fighter dreams about for their entire career. Rickels is now at the point where it has become a reality. “Caveman” has one focus going into the fight that will potentially add to the memorable career he has had thus far.

“Deep down inside, emotionally, it would mean the world to me just to hold that belt and embrace that moment,” Rickels admitted. “I’ve thought about it over and over again, just holding it for like 30 seconds. That’s what I wanna be able to look back on and be like, ‘Kids, this is the pivotal moment where all of my hard work came to this.’ After all the hard work and dedication I put into the sport, it would be awesome to have that end goal be a shiny belt.”

David would like to thank his sponsors Onnit Nutritional Supplements, Lecheeck Nutrition, and Get Some Fight Wear. Follow Rickels on Twitter: @TheCaveman316

Photo: David Rickels walks to the cage with his pet dinosaur (Keith Mills/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.