CHICAGO (January 18, 2010) — Undefeated Canadian lightweight Mike Ricci, a regular training partner to fellow Quebec native Georges St-Pierre, is the latest highly-touted MMA prospect to sign an exclusive contract with Bellator Fighting Championships, the promotion announced today.
The 23-year-old Ricci, who will enter Bellator’s 155 lbs. tournament with an unblemished pro record of 5-0, trains alongside GSP under the famed Firas Zahabi at his TriStar gym in Montreal. Zahabi told Bellator on Sunday that he thinks Ricci is “the next big thing” to come out of Canada.
“It’s a long road to become the next GSP, but Ricci is the farthest along that road of anyone we’ve got,” Zahabi said. “He’s still earning his stripes, so to speak, but if he continues to progress, I think he’ll be right up there with St-Pierre.”
Like GSP, Ricci brings a well-rounded approach to the cage that draws upon extensive training in Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, Zahabi said.
“He’s up for a much bigger challenge on an international stage and Bellator gives him that chance,” he said.
Ricci is the first fighter to be named by Bellator as a participant in its eight-man Season 2 lightweight tournament. Bellator will also conduct tournaments at 145, 170 and 185 lbs. with the winners of this year’s tournaments being declared No. 1 contenders to Bellator’s current roster of champions. Season 2 begins April 8th.
“It’s very exciting for Bellator to acquire a fighter with Mike Ricci’s pedigree,” said Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney. “This announcement should give everyone an idea of the kind of talent they’re going to be seeing in our lightweight tournament this spring.”
Ricci began training in MMA at the age of 19 while also playing college football for Vanier University in Montreal. Soon afterward, he elected to give up football in order to train full-time with Zahabi.
His maturation process as a fighter, he says, has been greatly accelerated by training alongside St-Pierre and other TriStar regulars like Patrick Cote.
“What’s made me improve so much in a short period of time is helping guys like Cote and GSP in their training camps,” Ricci said. “It’s also helped my confidence. When you set a goal of being a world champion, it may seem far-fetched—but not when you train alongside guys who’ve already achieved that.”
That experience, however, is only part of his close involvement with world-class competition. He also trains regularly with the Canadian Olympic wrestling team—which has helped hone his defensive skills.
“I really pride myself on my defense,” he says. “I think I’ve only been hit like twice in my whole career. I think that really separates me from my competition.”
Ricci said he is looking forward to Bellator’s Season 2 tournament both because of the high level of competition and the international exposure he hopes to gain from the promotion’s historic TV distribution alliance with FOX Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo.
“I’ve gotten to the point in my career where my coach thinks I’m ready and I think I’m ready to take the next step,” Ricci said. “I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”