David Rickels returns action for a record-setting nineteenth time at Bellator 185 this Friday. The always charismatic “Caveman” will take on Brennan Ward in a bout that promises to bring fireworks to Uncasville, CT’s Mohegan Sun Arena. Rickels vs. Ward will serve as the co-main event of the evening, putting the Caveman right where he wants to be, in the spotlight.
Just prior to fight week, Rickels spoke to Cageside Press about Bellator’s recent growth, the fight with Ward, and his Caveman persona, which will be on full display at Bellator 185.
Rickels, as he put it, has been with Bellator “most of my life” and has seen the promotion move from the Bjorn Rebney era to the modern-day Bellator MMA under Scott Coker. So what has that transition been like?
“I feel like it was a caterpillar, and that caterpillar climbed a tree. In that tree it made a cocoon. And then Scott Coker, that beautiful butterfly, came out!” said the Caveman with his patented sense of humor. “That’s exactly what has happened with Bellator, man. It’s blossomed into this beautiful thing that’s been fun to watch. It’s been a journey, I’ve had so much fun on the path, and there’s still more to go.”
Along the way, that journey has seen Bellator pick up a number of top talents acquired outside the promotion. Have any caused the Caveman to jump up and yell, maybe swing his club a little in excitement?
“Rory was definitely one of them, that was one of those ones… him and Lorenez Larkin, those were ones where you’re just like ‘damn, they just stole somebody in their prime.'”
When it comes to Bellator bringing people in these days, Rickels feels like “they’re not taking people who are has-beens, that’s just a different level. They’re just getting to that level where they can do that, and it’s really cool to see.” It doesn’t just stop with the fighters, either. In the broadcast booth, picking up people like Mike Goldberg and specifically Mauro Ranallo has been big. On that latter, Rickels pointed out that “if you watched Pride fighting, you can’t hear his voice without it resonating.”
Not to mention the signing of Gegard Mousasi, who will take center stage just after the Caveman Friday night. “The system has been disrupted” when it comes to the UFC, Rickels suggested. On the Bellator side, “it’s only gone up. Their stock keeps raising.”
Once again Friday, David Rickels will be fighting at welterweight. It’s the second straight fight at 170lbs for Caveman, who fought Michael Chandler for Bellator’s lightweight championship in 2013 at Bellator 97. That came after Caveman had topped the Bellator Season 8 lightweight tournament, an accomplishment in itself. Would he contemplate a move back down to 155?
“Never, ever am I going back to 155 pounds” Rickels told us. “Never.”
“I think I lost a lot that I didn’t realize I was going to lose. One thing about getting to ’55 is that I was in phenomenal shape. I would never, ever, ever get tired” he explained. Yet at the same time, “I had to kill myself just to get there. I would be doing three or four days, at the same time, I’m not eating anything. I tried all these different diets, I tried all these recommendations, this and that, man, at the end of the day, I just never ever felt good.”
“I actually had a safe, where I hid all the food in my house” Rickels said. “I would put all the food in there so that at night I wouldn’t wake up binging. I had a hard problem waking up in the middle of the night binging, so I would hide all my food”
“It got to the point where I was like ‘dude that’s an eating disorder, you have a serious problem'” he admitted. “More so for my health, I’m just not cutting weight anymore.”
So what’s the biggest difference with Caveman having moved up to welterweight? He’s happy. “That was the big thing. Happy. I felt so much better. The stress levels were so much lower. People don’t understand, the last two weeks [prior to a fight] for me were honestly hell. It was hell. Every day all you could think about was ‘am I going to make weight, am I gonna be able do it, is it gonna suck? How bad is it gonna suck?’ That’s all you think about all day, is the weight cut. Why am I focused on my weight cut instead of the fight?”
Life as a welterweight is quite different with those issues done away with. “Much easier, no question. The focus changes, the stress levels come down.” Crucially, Caveman Rickels explained that “I’m able to train more, because I’m eating healthy. My body feels good when I’m training. I think there’s just a lot of positive things that come with fighting at your natural weight.”
Not to mention avoiding potential pitfalls. “There’s a lot of research coming out too [showing] that a lot of your concussions can happen from not enough water in your body.”
Then there’s the possible liver issues. “I’ve been with guys that we had to take to the hospital while cutting weight, because their livers were about to fail.” Scary stuff. As for where Rickels is at, weight-wise? “I’m about 180 right now. I eat whatever the f** I want, really. I mean I eat healthy, I eat healthy food, but if I’m hungry, I eat. No more ‘can I eat this piece of chicken? How many calories is this?'”
When David Rickels steps into the Bellator MMA cage Friday night against Brennan Ward, it will have been his nineteenth time going to war for the promotion. What does he attribute his longevity in the company to?
“I really want to think that [it’s] my skills, as well as my willingness to entertain everybody, have a good time out there, and never turn down a fight. Being loyal to the company, being a company man… there’s a lot of that.”
Caveman is also grateful for the opportunity. “Everything I have today, everything, my house, my car, I own a business, I own two businesses actually, I owe to Bellator” he told us. “If I wouldn’t be getting the money from them to do this sort of stuff, there wouldn’t be that entrepreneur Caveman.”
Ultimately, it’s a good situation. “I’ve never got off the phone with somebody at Bellator and been pissed off. They just seem like they’re happy to please people, as best as they can. I’ve been happy – no complaints.”
Now twenty-eight, Rickels has just hit his fighting prime, and is set to club a few skulls in his new weight class. So how is he feeling these days?
“I just feel like everything’s there. Everything’s in place. My body feels physically in its prime. I feel really strong at 170. I train with a 185’er, Chris Harris, who fortunately for this fight is very similar in size and skill to Brennan Ward, so I’ve been training with him almost exclusively. 170 feels damn good.”
Speaking of Ward, this fight feels like a no-brainer: two guys who are willing to throw down and really go at it on any given night. So how did it all come together?
“I don’t know if they saw it, but I called him out a while back, six months ago or something like that. I put together a list of guys I’d like to fight, he was on it. I don’t know if Bellator saw it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that ‘if I put those two guys in the cage together, it’s going to be exciting.’ It was an easy match-up to make.”
And one that the Caveman is very excited for.
“I really think it’s going to be a war dude, I really do. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, some s*** to prove at 170, man” he exclaimed. “And he’s coming off two losses, his back’s on the cage. I think you’re going to see two wolverines f***ing going.”