Athletes often confess that they learn more from a loss than they ever do in the face of a victory. Mike Rio is no different.

“The Wolverine” has entered into battle nine times over the course of his four-year professional mixed martial arts career. In those nine outings, he has only tasted defeat once.

Now, with Las Vegas as his destination and a spot in The Ultimate Fighter house as his goal, that single loss might just give Rio the edge he needs. You see, the loss wasn’t just to some fighter you’ve never heard of, or a random UFC veteran, but rather it came against a man who has successfully navigated the same trials that now lie ahead for Rio. That man was The Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Efrain Escudero, who claimed a unanimous decision victory over Rio last July at Championship Fighting Alliance 2.

“Wow, that fight with Efrain Escudero completely changed my mental(ity) towards MMA and my training process towards MMA,” Mike Rio told The MMA Corner. “I think just fighting him – just losing to him – made me a one-hundred times better fighter because I’m just that much more focused, that much more tweaked, that much more trained. It just made me better all-around.”

Rio (R) battles Efrain Escudero at CFA 2 (William Musacchia/Sherdog)

With such an eye-opening experience behind him, Rio thinks he’s better prepared for the gauntlet of fights he’ll see on The Ultimate Fighter, which is making its move to the FX cable network after a 14-season run on Spike TV.

The Spike TV era featured a six-week production season for the show, with episodes airing after the fighters had already returned home from filming the show. That won’t be the case this season, as the 15th installment, which debuts on FX on March 9, will span 13 weeks and features live fights each Friday. If previous seasons’ fighters thought they had it bad, one can only imagine how mentally taxing the house could be for this cast, Rio included.

“I don’t think it’s going to hit me as hard mentally as it would some of the younger fighters, because they haven’t – some of them have, some of them haven’t – really felt that kind of lifestyle,” the 30-year-old explained, citing his background in wrestling as mental preparation for what’s to come. “(I’ll be) trying to keep myself as busy as possible. There’s only so much you can do and after doing it for so long it gets kind of boring and tedious.

“I’m not a big reader, so I’m going to try my hand at reading a little more. Maybe a little bit of writing; I don’t really write either so I’m going to try a journal or something, put my thoughts on paper, just to keep myself sane.”

One coping mechanism we won’t see Rio utilize is pranking his fellow competitors.

“I’m not going to be hot or cold,” Rio said with a laugh. “I’m not going to be Mr. Prankster Guy, but I’m not going to be Mr. 100-percent Serious either. I don’t like pranking people because I don’t like to get pranked back!

“I want to go in there and take it seriously because it is a business and I need to go in there and do my job and win The Ultimate Fighter so I can get into the UFC. But also it’s an experience that not many people get a chance to do. I want to go in there and experience it and have fun in there.”

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Thirty-one other men stand between Rio and the Ultimate Fighter award. While the skill and experience levels vary from one fighter to another, Rio isn’t looking at any of his fellow cast members in particular as the top guys to beat.

“I’m going to go after everybody like they are the No. 1 contender,” Rio admitted. “So I can’t look at anybody else other than that, and if I do, I’m kind of shortchanging them and taking it easy on anybody. So everybody in there is holding the belt, to me. I’m going after everybody like I would go after the UFC title belt.

A decorated wrestler at both the high school and college level, Rio quite possibly enters the competition with the best wrestling skills of any of the participants. His wrestling will no doubt be a large part of his game plan, but his main focus is just to determine his own fate.

“I don’t want to let it go to the judges, I don’t want to let it go to the cards, I just want to finish everybody,” said Rio. “Whether it’s a TKO, a submission or a knockout, I want to finish everybody. That is my goal: to finish everyone.”

If his past performances in the cage are any indication, Rio won’t be out of his element regardless of where his fights take place. Beyond the decision loss to Escudero, he has only made it to the judges’ scorecards in one other outing while stopping opponents four times via strikes and three times by submission.

“I personally think my chances to get to the finals from here are higher than normal because I’ve been around for a while and I have a style that you could say dominates people, like wrestling, takedowns, stuff like that,” said Rio, who splits his training time between three gyms.

He works on his grappling at Zen Jiu-Jitsu with coach Enrico Coco, does his kickboxing at Young Tigers with coach Manuel Lopez and works on CrossFit training at The Health Joint with Ulises Garcia.

“I’ve been back and forth to all of them – jits, more live grappling; kickboxing, more technique and learning the combos a little bit better, trying to sharpen up; and my CrossFit gym is all about just trying to get my lactic acids out and trying to bring that cardio up,” Rio said, describing his training routine and what he’s been focusing on in preparation for his time on The Ultimate Fighter.

Rio will have a new coach for the 13-week stretch in Las Vegas. It could be Dominick Cruz, the reigning UFC bantamweight champion, or Urijah Faber, the current top contender to Cruz’s belt and a legend who enjoyed a long run atop the WEC’s featherweight division.

“Faber is the guy that I kind of tried to model my fight style after when I first started,” explained Rio. One of Rio’s friends pointed to Faber and told the rookie fighter to fight like “The California Kid” and that Faber’s style was Rio’s ideal style. “I’ve been watching Urijah Faber since the beginning of my fighting career, and that’s the guy I’ve been chasing to fight like and be like, (with) his aggression and style.”

Even if Rio ends up on the opposing team from Faber though, you won’t hear him complain.

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“You have two talented individuals on both sides and I would be honored to be on either (team), it doesn’t matter,” Rio said. “Dominick Cruz is holding the belt, so it’d be fantastic to have the UFC champ teaching you one-on-one.”

“The Wolverine” looks forward to all the new faces he will encounter during the course of the season. With 31 foes in front of him, he’ll have to run through a number of opponents before realizing his goal of winning the season and making his way into the UFC, but Rio is ready to start that journey.

“I’m going to take it day by day, just the same mentality as wrestling – one match at a time. I don’t care who it is, but I’m going to take every person one at a time, as seriously as I can take them. And I’m not even going to look past him until I see them.”

Rio would like to thank ML Management Group for all the time and effort they’ve put in for him, pushing him and never giving up on him. He would also like to thank his friends, family, fans and teammates. Finally, he would like to thank his long-term sponsor AdvoCare.

Top Photo: Mike Rio (Anton Sterlin Photography)

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