Construction engineers exist for a reason. Anyone can probably go out there and build a structure that, if they pile enough stuff from the bottom up, won’t fall over, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It takes a solid, yet efficient, foundation, proper horizontal and vertical support, and a body to protect it, which usually consists of walls and a roof. At the end, it’s most important that a usable space is left over, which is the only go from the get-go. Building an MMA fighter is not much different.

Most pro fighters have a background in some form of combat arts. The most common backgrounds are wrestling, kickboxing and submission grappling. From there, the fighter needs to train to be well-rounded, healthy, conditioned and ready to fight on a moment’s notice. However, divisionally, there is a sweet spot for every fighter.

Roberts (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Roberts (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Guys like Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, B.J. Penn and Randy Couture have fought in multiple weight classes, but have found that they are most efficient in one, and that’s usually the one where they were most successful. The foundation was already there. Machida is a karate expert, Belfort and Penn are BJJ black belts, and Couture and Sonnen have solid backgrounds in wrestling. All of them became well-rounded, world-class fighters, but they found more success in that sweet spot. The same is the case for Victory Fighting Championship featherweight champion Ryan Roberts.

Roberts works in the construction industry, estimating huge industrial projects for a material supplier in Omaha, Neb. He knows what it takes to get a project done from the ground up, but he also understands the limitations based on the scope of the project. The same rings true for his MMA career.

In his 30-fight pro career, Roberts, who stands at about 5-foot-6, has fought guys who fight from 170 pounds all the way down to 135 pounds, which is a huge swing—just ask Kenny Florian.

Florian entered the UFC as a middleweight, eventually dropping to welterweight, lightweight and featherweight, where he looked so emaciated and weak that he could barely hold his own. That’s not a good situation for a BJJ black belt. The foundation was as solid as can be, but the structure was flawed. Roberts knows exactly how that feels.

In his last fight, the Nebraska native fought L.C. Davis, another longtime vet who holds the VFC bantamweight strap. The two met at VFC 41 in December, and although Roberts won the match, the title was no longer on the line after he missed weight by a few pounds because he was beyond the scope of his own structure.

“I don’t think I’ll ever fight at 135 [pounds] again,” said Roberts in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I was at 4.76 percent body fat at 156.6 pounds. I lost all that weight in 18 hours, and that’s just not healthy for me.”

At one point, Roberts actually hit just under 135 pounds, but when he sat in the pool to cool off from the sauna, his body absorbed just enough water to put him over and he had nothing left to lose. As a true professional, he didn’t back down, but he gave up his purse, got in the cage and put on one hell of a show. After five rounds of back-and-forth action, he took the split decision.

“It was a great fight,” Roberts stated. “L.C. came out a little tougher than I expected. He came out strong, and in the second and third round, he started putting it on me. When he got me at the end of the third round, that kind of woke me up and made me realize I was in a fight. It lit that fire that I needed. I was really able to take away the fourth and fifth round without any question.”

Roberts and Davis are both respectable fighters that think highly of each other. Both men were fighting for lost loved ones, as both had siblings murdered in the months leading up to the fight. It was tough, emotional and bittersweet, which was great for the fans.

“As far as an overall experience, it’s exactly the type of fight I like to be in,” admitted the Nebraskan. “I don’t want to fight any pushovers or any easy fights. Every fight I have from here on out, I want it to be the toughest damn opponent it can be. That’s why I train my ass off and train for every fight like it’s my last fight. It was an awesome experience and was one of my most meaningful and fun fights.”

Well, ask and thou shalt receive.

After that fight, Roberts took some time off and headed up to Colorado with his nephew for a week of snowboarding. He turned his phone off and spent some time clearing his head after such an emotional battle.

Upon returning home, it took about a month before the next call came, and this one is a doozy. At the end of January, Roberts was offered to fight none other than former WEC bantamweight champ Chase Beebe. This is another huge fight for Roberts against a guy he really looks up to.

“I’m excited to fight him,” admitted Roberts. “I’ve been a fan of Chase’s for quite a while. I watched him in the WEC. He’s one of Clay Guida’s kind of guys, and I’ve always liked Clay Guida’s guys. They’re always tougher than shit. When I had that name thrown at me, I jumped all over it, and said, ‘Absolutely.’ Shit, I didn’t think I could get better than L.C. Davis outside of the UFC, and I think they just found me somebody.”

Roberts (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Roberts (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Beebe is a former bantamweight, but he has fought at featherweight, too. This fight, however, will be for Roberts’ featherweight title. Roberts wanted tough, and he got it.

Beebe was a four-time high school state wrestling champ in Illinois, has 17 submission wins in his MMA career, and has only been stopped five times in 36 fights.

“He’s a stud, he’s an outstanding guy, and he’s tough,” said Roberts. “It’s exactly what I wanted. I think we’re both pretty similar. We both have that wrestling mentality. I think my stand-up is a little bit better than his. That being said, I’m going to try to keep it up on the feet, try to come at him and try to get that knockout.

“I’m expecting him to come out hard-nosed. He always comes out tough. He’s going to be coming forward, and I’m going to be stepping and jabbing and popping and throwing, and he’s going to be looking for the takedown. If it goes down, I’m comfortable with that. It would actually be nice to be taken down to my back, so I can work some of my jiu-jitsu. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do that in an MMA fight because, typically, I’m on top.”

On paper, Roberts is a much more well-rounded fighter, holding seven knockouts and three submissions, but when he does get stopped, it’s almost always by submission. Beebe’s strength is in grappling, but Roberts, despite those losses, is no slouch on the mat.

Both men will come out looking for that stoppage. Although Roberts knows he has more power standing, he is expecting a five-round fight, if need be.

“With someone like Chase, you never really know,” explained Roberts. “You can just beat him to a bloody pulp, and he can just keep on coming. There might be some point at which I need to pace myself, because we’re going the distance again. But I can guarantee you that I know if I want to make it to the next level, I’ve got to finish somebody of his caliber. That is going to be a priority in my mind the whole time.”

Just like constructing a building, it’s all about one level at a time. Right now, Roberts is on the brink of a big next step, but before that can happen, he needs to lay the groundwork by getting through Beebe in dominant fashion. Although a record with 10 losses on it doesn’t exactly scream UFC material, it’s important to point out that the majority of his losses were in the middle of his career.

In the early part of his career, Roberts went 10-2-1 with one of his losses coming from UFC vet and former WEC title contender Donald Cerrone. This run led to a shot in the UFC against BJJ expert Marcus Aurelio, which Roberts, by no surprise, lost via first-round armbar. After that, he had a rough streak in which he dropped six in a row. However, in the 11 fights since then, Roberts has looked solid.

In the last four years, Roberts has gone 8-2-1, and only one of his losses was by stoppage. His win over Davis was a huge statement, as Davis was on a four-fight winning streak, including three TKO victories, before entering the cage at VFC 41. Beebe could just be the win Roberts needs to move to the next level.

As with any project, things are moving along in phases, but there is a long lunch break ahead before Roberts will be able to start working on the top floor of his fighting career.

“I’m in the process of building a house, and, in doing this, I’m required to do quite a bit by myself,” Roberts said. “I kind of need to get this fight done and focus on that, so I can get my family where they need to be. At that point, I’ll regroup and take off. I’m hoping, in a perfect world, that after I beat up Beebe, that I get a phone call from [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and start moving in that direction. But I am going to have to take a little bit of time off, probably four to six months, and focus on getting into my house—the whole move, transition and everything else.”

Building a career, growing a family, and now constructing a home—that’s what Roberts is all about. The home is the only project of the three that has a true deadline, so after his fight, he’ll get his family settled in their new digs, and then it’s on to the next level of his career.

With the physical structure and skill set he has built, Roberts has found his sweet spot in the featherweight division. A win over Beebe in Roberts’ first VFC title defense will certainly look impressive in the eyes of the matchmakers. However, this will be a tough test for the two champs, who meet in the cage this Saturday night as the headliner for VFC 42 at Ralston Arena in Omaha, Neb. Roberts knows, no matter what, that this is a can’t-miss fight.

“It’s a former world champion and a future world champion going head-to-head. Who wants to miss that?”

Ryan would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at Premier Combat Center, as well as his family and all of his supporters. He would also like to thank his sponsors, Strasburger Orthopaedics and Soldier Sports. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @AreYouReadyMMA