The last few months haven’t been kind to Ricardo Lamas.

Ever since the Chicago native completely wrecked top contender Erik Koch in Lamas’ hometown earlier this year, it seems like he keeps on getting the short end of the stick when it comes to earning a title shot. Twice the opportunity for Lamas to get into the cage with Jose Aldo has presented itself, and twice the UFC has passed on the fight, leaving Lamas and his fans wondering why “The Bully” can’t quite seem to break through the glass ceiling that leads to a title fight.

To earn a UFC title shot, a fighter usually has to do two things: win often and do so impressively. Ever since entering the Octagon in 2011, Lamas has done both. His UFC debut against Oklahoma wrestler Matt Grice was a complete success, as “The Bully” showed off his improving stand-up game and finished Grice inside of the first five minutes with a head kick and punches. When the fight first took place it was impressive, but after seeing the absolute beating that Grice took from Dennis Bermudez in his last UFC bout, Lamas’ power suddenly looks downright scary.

The win over Grice got the ball rolling for Lamas, but it was his next few fights that proved that Lamas was ready to fight the absolute best in the division. “The Bully” next stepped into the cage against fellow WEC veteran Cub Swanson, and while Swanson put on a valiant effort in his first bout in over a year, Lamas shut down the Greg Jackson-trained fighter and earned himself a second-round submission. After a three-round grappling battle against top Japanese fighter Hatsu Hioki, where Lamas used his jiu-jitsu to lock in several near submissions in order to take the unanimous decision, Lamas was ready for a shot at a top-ranked contender and he got one in Koch.

Koch was scheduled to fight Aldo for the title multiple times during 2012, but injuries to both fighters ended up causing the bout to never quite come to fruition. When former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar decided to cut 10 pounds and head down to the featherweight division, Koch ended up getting pushed back in line a bit and was instead slated to fight Lamas a month before Aldo vs. Edgar took place.

When Lamas and Koch finally met in the Octagon, it wasn’t long before Lamas was making his claim for a title shot. “The Bully” opened up a massive cut on Koch’s forehead and the ensuing ground-and-pound was absolutely brutal. Lamas earned the TKO stoppage in the second round, and after beating the former top contender for the belt, it looked like the Chicago native was finally ready for a shot at the big time.

Lamas made it clear that he wanted the winner of the Aldo-Edgar bout that took place the following week at UFC 156. The only other fighter with any sort of claim to a shot at Aldo was “The Korean Zombie” Chan-Sung Jung, but he was nursing an injury and it looked like the door was open for Lamas to stride in and take his title fight. However, after a close decision win for Aldo seemed to set up Lamas’ first chance at UFC gold, an unlikely title contender came down from 155 pounds and stole his spot.

Despite the fact that Lamas did far more to earn a featherweight title shot, it’s hard to fault the UFC for deciding to give the opportunity to Anthony Pettis. Even though he has spent his entire UFC career at lightweight, Pettis is one of the premier strikers in the sport and a stand-up battle against the dangerous and explosive Aldo had many fans salivating about the exchanges the two would provide on the feet.

Since Lamas was out of luck, he accepted a fight against Jung at UFC 162, a full month before the Aldo-Pettis bout, set for August 3rd. It was pretty clear that the winner would get the next shot at the belt. Soon after, the unthinkable happened and Pettis went down with an injury just six weeks before his fight.

The UFC had two very solid options to replace Pettis in Jung and Lamas, and while “The Korean Zombie” may have been the sexier, more fan-friendly pick, it’s a highly debatable one. Looking strictly at what both fighters have done since entering the Octagon, it’s admittedly close. Lamas’ four-fight winning streak in the UFC has been a thing of beauty, but even though he has dominated several high-caliber opponents, his run hasn’t been quite as memorable as Jung’s. “The Korean Zombie” pulled off the first twister submission in the Octagon in his UFC debut, an awe-inspiring finish that earned Jung “Submission of the Year” honors in 2011. He followed that up with an insane seven-second knockout of former title challenger Mark Hominick in Hominick’s home province of Ontario later that year at UFC 140, and topped off his run with a “Fight of the Year” candidate against Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC on Fuel 3 last May.

Overall, Lamas may have beaten slightly better competition and earned an extra win during his UFC run, but Jung has been finishing tough opponents in style and has a strong cult following due to his exciting style. Lamas has a legitimate reason to be upset, but the two fighters are so close in both rankings and resumes that it’s tough to make a strong case for one guy over the other.  In the end, the UFC opted to pick the fighter that is likely going to make the promotion more money. Considering the circumstances, it’s hard to fault the UFC.

It’s hard to not feel for Lamas a little bit, but considering how close he was to earning this shot at the belt, odds are he’s going to find himself in a UFC title fight in the near future. The featherweight division is full of talented fighters right now, but none of them possess a winning streak equal to the one “The Bully” has put together over the last two years. Lamas may be able to sit back on the sidelines and wait for the winner of Aldo and Jung to emerge. There’s always the threat of Pettis coming back and once again ripping the title shot out of Lamas’ hands, but as long as “Showtime” stays north of 145 pounds, Lamas has an excellent chance at being next in line. A lot of fans (and probably Lamas himself) have been left wondering just what exactly Lamas needs to do in order to finally get a shot at the title. The answer is patience. With patience, the opportunity may just fall right into his lap.

Photo: Ricardo Lamas (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.