Standing in the center of the Octagon in Rochester, New York, Davi Ramos didn’t look like a guy who had just earned his fourth straight victory in the loaded UFC lightweight division.
In less than 18 months, the standout Brazilian grappler had amassed four wins to put himself on the doorstep of the Top 15, but as Paul Felder came over to speak to him about his performance against Austin Hubbard, Ramos bore a closer resemblance to a dejected fighter being forced to talk about what went wrong than adding another win to his resume.
“I don’t feel there was much wrong with that fight,” began Ramos, looking back on his efforts in May as he prepared to return to the Octagon this weekend against Islam Makhachev at UFC 242 this weekend in Abu Dhabi. “The only thing is I was disappointed a bit because in all of my fights, I never want to fight for three rounds. I want to finish the fight and in that fight, I couldn’t finish the fight. That’s why I got a little bit disappointed.”
Like most competitors, the 32-year-old Ramos is his own harshest critic, and after making relatively quick work of Chris Gruetzemacher, Nick Hein and John Gunther in his first three appearances in the 155-pound weight class, being unable to put away the promotional newcomer Hubbard didn’t sit well with him and he expressed those frustrations in the moment.
Now that he’s a couple months removed from the fight, the former ADCC Submission Grappling world champion is able to take more of a wide-angle view of his effort and see the positives that emerged from his efforts in upstate New York.
“Every match, I expect much more because I trained so hard for that fight,” explained Ramos, who made his UFC debut as a short-notice replacement against Sergio Moraes in March 2017, fighting up a division and losing by unanimous decision. “I expect a lot in every fight, so that’s why I was a little disappointed in myself. I want to finish the fight — no matter how, I want to finish the fight.
“But in the end, I watched the fight and thought, ‘I didn’t fight bad,’” he added. “I improved a lot on my striking game and continuing to improve is the key. I’m not always going to be able to go in there, take the guy down and submit the guy; I have to improve in every aspect.”
While the first thing Ramos did when speaking with Felder was downplay his performance, the greater takeaway from the streaking Brazilian’s post-fight conversation with the man he’ll share the card with Saturday was that the only person he was interested in calling out was reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
This wasn’t like the time Dong Hyun Kim called out then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre after beating Nate Diaz at UFC 125, where the surging South Korean was dead-serious, but had no shot at sharing the cage with the French-Canadian superstar at the time.
No, this was more of a declaration of intent — a notice to Nurmagomedov and everyone else in the 155-pound ranks - that Ramos plans of making his way to the top of the division and he’s willing to face whomever it takes in order to get there.
“I don’t want to come to the UFC and be ‘one more guy,’” said Ramos. “The UFC has a lot of guys, but I want to be a different guy, I want to be a champion and if I want to be a champ, I have to do what the champ is doing and give all my life to training.
“My eyes are on him (Nurmagomedov) because he is the champion now and I want to beat the champion and be the champion,” he continued. “I feel his game is perfect for my game. What he does in all his fights, all of the Top 15, all of the Top 5 guys are very good matchups for him, but I’m coming.”
MORE UFC 242: UFC 242 Broadcast Schedule |Khabib Talks Being Undefeated | Khabib ESPN Interview | Free Fight - Poirier vs Alvarez 2 | Poirier’s Pride | Khabib Training Gallery | Free Fight: Khabib vs Johnson
Although Nurmagomedov will compete on Saturday night, it won’t be against Ramos; he’s facing Dustin Poirier in the highly anticipated main event to crown the undisputed UFC lightweight champion.
Instead, Ramos will square off with the undefeated grappler’s training partner and protégé, Islam Makhachev, in what is a crucial matchup for both men.
The 27-year-old Makhachev has long been hailed as a Top 10 talent and currently sits at No. 15 in the rankings. He’s earned five straight victories heading into Saturday’s showdown with Ramos, dispatching a collection of tough, veteran talents before getting a run for his money from impressive newcomer Arman Tsarukyan back in April.
More dynamic than Nurmagomedov, but far less dominant and imposing on the ground than “The Eagle,” Saturday’s contest is a chance for Makhachev to make a statement by halting Ramos’ run of success, but his Brazilian foe isn’t particularly impressed with what he’s bringing to the table.
“They are all the same,” he said regarding Makhachev and the collection of fighters from Dagestan who train together. “They all fight the same, so I hope he does what he does in all his fights. I’m waiting for that, so let’s see.
“This is a big chance — my chance,” he said of the opportunity to compete on Saturday’s pay-per-view main card. “I don’t have any pressure. I’m not feeling anything; I’m just coming.
“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody — I just have to prove to myself what I can do, so I’m pretty confident,” Ramos added. “Every day, I say the same thing — ‘Thank you God for giving me this opportunity’ — because it’s not easy to get Top 15, Top 10 guys. They don’t want to fight anybody who is below them, so this is a big opportunity.”
As for how he sees this weekend’s big opportunity playing out, Ramos has no interest in straying from his strong suit once the Octagon door closes.
“My game is BJJ — I’m a grappler — so of course I’m going to be trying to do what I’ve been doing all my life; I’m not stupid,” he said. “But I’m training for everything and I’m 100 percent prepared for everything and I’m going to give all I have.”
Don’t miss a second of one of UFC’s biggest events of the year. UFC 242: Khabib vs Poirier early prelims start at 10am ET on Fight Pass. Prelims, headlined by flyweights Joanne Calderwood and Andrea Lee start at 12pm ET on FX.
At 2pm ET, lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his belt against interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.